Do you remember playing with your mother’s or grandmother’s button jar as a child?
As small children in our house, we used to sort my mother’s button collection (some of which had come from her mother) into colors, sizes and patterns and made pictures with them. Most of the buttons were small white or black ones but we delighted in picking out and admiring the pearly buttons, the shiny gold ones, the odd shapes and others with intricate designs.
In those days we didn’t think much further than this, but as we grew older we realized that the buttons actually came from real clothes and we would imagine these clothes, the age of the wearers and the occasions they were used for.
While button collecting has been a recognized hobby for nearly 100 years (National Button Society, n.d.) and there are even ‘button societies’, the contents of these button jars or boxes would have been collected for their potential use in replacing lost buttons as clothes were handed down from one child to another.
The button jar is still here and the buttons bring back memories as I recognize elongated black buttons from a duffel-coat I wore when I was about 10 years old, fancy blue buttons from a cardigan my mother knitted for me and lots more.
I have made a lot of artworks as an adult, several of them involving buttons. One of these was a pillowcase that I completely covered with sewn on buttons of every kind imaginable. A couple of years ago I brought this pillow into the nursing home and left it on display for a few weeks. It was amazing to see the reaction of the residents to this. The interaction was great, residents and visitors touched the buttons, discussed memories that it invoked with each other and with me and there were some great stories being shared.
As a result of the interest, I put up a notice for visitors to say that if they had any buttons collected and weren’t going to use them, we would like them to make art in the nursing home. The response was great, and people were pleased to put the buttons to use. The sentimental value of the buttons had been so great to them that they couldn’t throw them out and they were delighted to see them going to good use.
Long ago, necessity required that more people learned to sew and mend at an early age. Today’s world is often a bit different; we live in a more ‘throw-away’ society and the thrift of the old days is not so prevalent.
You might be surprised at how many different levels buttons can stimulate in a person. Not only are buttons visual, they are also tactile and they can bring out memories and emotions. You can collect buttons and make craft projects out of them. They also create a social experience for people as they are a great topic of conversation.
Reminiscing is such a rewarding and versatile way to connect with someone.
Works Cited: National Button Society. (n.d.). Retrieved from nationalbuttonsociety.org
Maria Brady is co-founder of mariasplace.com, a free online activity and education resource for caregivers and seniors. Maria has a background working with older adults in many different settings including being an activity coordinator in a nursing home. Maria and her team are so passionate about people thriving as they age that they have put their hearts and souls into this project. The site is full of ideas from creative activities to mental challenges and education and everything in between.