Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Button Tin

Recently my mind slipped back to that most useful and versatile of all cupboard treasures ... the button tin. As a child I remember buttons that were housed in a large oblong battered blue tin, whereas my own button tin is smaller and round, but blue and battered. They both started off in pristine condition. Continual use brought about the battered state.

Not only were these tins a storage container for buttons, they were a means of keeping children entertained on a wet day. My button tin has wonderful pearl buttons, some with shanks, some with two holes, and some with four. Hidden in the corners there are also pearl beads that have been strung together in many variations for many purposes. Tiny bracelets for a doll, a necklace for a child who wishes to be a princess for a day, and once, sewn onto a dolls' blue tulle and satin evening gown for a glamorous Ball.

There were brass buttons off soldier's uniforms, brought out and polished at regular intervals, admired, and at the same time a sense of gloom permeated the room as we contemplated exactly what had happened to the soldier.

There were large buttons, red, green, brown and white that had come from overcoats. I do not recall what happened to the coats. There were clear glass buttons that one used if a matching button could not be found and it was urgently required. No one will notice, we were told. There were boring white pyjama buttons, that were strictly utilitarian and functional. These survived endless washings and after the material had worn to a threadbare state the buttons were cut off and placed in the tin ... their life was not over.

On a cold day children were allowed to play with the button tin. Spreading newspaper onto the table and carefully tipping the buttons out began a fascinating hour. Stories could be woven around a lone purple button that shone like a rainbow in the light. We learned to add and subtract with buttons.

"How many red buttons?"

"If there are three red buttons and two yellow buttons, what is the total number of buttons?"

"And if we take a red and a yellow button away, how many left?"

Memories could be shared as one child recalled the green buttons with the curly edges came from a jersey knitted specially for them by Aunty. A minor skirmish could arise, as another child asked why they hadn't a jersey knitted by Aunty. The fact that Aunty had made that child a teddy bear, which became a favourite bedtime toy, was overlooked. Diplomacy ruled the day.

Today as I look around buttons in the haberdashery corner of the local craft shop my eyes are caught by the myriad of buttons of different shapes ... smiling faces in all colours, teddy bears in pastels for a small child's clothing, animal shapes that are dreadfully difficult for a child to fasten as a trunk or a leg or tail can be caught on the wrong side.
The button tin has its place in today's home ... remembering to cut buttons from old clothing is a chore that we tend to overlook, until we need 'just the right button' to replace on the jacket or shirt or blouse that suddenly popped. Buttons can be a bridge from the past and be one way of retelling family tales.

1 comment:

janjan said...

I collect buttons, buttons buttons everywhere. But I have made a couple of jars up for the grandkids, just for them. I've bought bracelet elastic and they spend hours threading on buttons, playing tiddly winks, counting games. Its a wonderful way to keep them quiet. I've still got the buttons my mum sewed onto a jumper back in 1966, I hated that jumper. It was green and lacy and everybody else had new bought jumpers and I had to make do with a homemade one. But what did I know back then.