One of my collections is designed to make the most of our existing wardrobes: upcycled clothes, shoe clips (of which more later), fat quarters and buttons make up the collection. There’s nothing like a new set of buttons for giving life to clothes and this is the story of my how my stoneware buttons come to be.
I’m very lucky to have access to the pottery and kiln at Hive in Shipley. A community kiln is greener – their kiln only goes on when there is enough clay to fill it and all the unused clay gets recycled. It’s also social as there are several experienced potters who use the drop in too. I love making buttons… I love how experimental buttons can be and also the meditative precision needed to smooth the edges, create neat holes and finish them properly.
Yesterday, on my walk down to Hive, I paused to collect kerbside plants as I spotted them.
(They are all very common, but even so I only picked very small amounts from big groups so as not to interfere with their growth and return next year.)
My buttons start as croxton clay so that they can be fired at the higher stoneware temperature – this makes them stronger than earthernware. It’s rolled to a consistent thickness by using wooden guides on either side. Cutting strips, I can cut squares that either become square buttons, or form the basis for cutting circular buttons.
With the batch I created yesterday, I wanted to use the plants as a texture and pattern for the buttons – a traditional technique with gorgeous results. This (slightly blurry, sorry) image is of the Groundsel being gently pressed into a round button:
Here are the first few buttons, using buttercup, shepherd’s purse and groundsel – they still need some work to smooth the edges and don’t have holes yet. The clay takes the print best when wet, but then I have to wait until it’s dried enough to create neat button holes.
This is the full collection waiting to dry enough to put the holes in. The maple leaves look great as statement buttons for a shawl or jacket, but took rather a long time to cut out neatly! I can’t wait until I can put a pale green glaze over them. The groundsel were my favourite for the beauty of the marks they made so I made two sets… and a larger brooch front.
Making holes is a five stage process. To create a neat finish you make an initial hole, slice off the excess clay with a kidney from the back and then remove any loose clay at the front. So that your thread doesn’t get stressed once you’ve sewn it on, I push a paintbrush into the hole for a sloping edge and then neaten it again.
The previous batch is waiting to be bisque fired (the first firing) and with some of these buttons, I used underglazes for some really strong and vibrant colours. I’ll put a transparent glaze over the top when they are stone fired.
Finally, here are my first two batches. The ones at the bottom have been glazed and refired already. The white ones at the top are waiting for me to glaze them. I used a vintage lace on some of the second batch, which I’m going to highlight in dark blue and cover the rest of the buttons in white.
The only drawback to a community kiln is that I can’t control when the firings will happen. So while I’ll definitely be taking my first batch to Brighton at the end of the month, the other batches may not be available until Saltaire festival. Whether you’re making do, making new clothes or just can’t resist lovely shiny things, I hope you’ll find good uses for these buttons.