Grandmother's Button Box

20170520_185003Grandmother’s button box was always kept on her sewing machine desk. it was more of a small canister, really, made of tin with a terra cotta colored plastic lid. There were images of Victorian era people shopping for fabrics and notions. I do not remember a time without it’s presence. The button box was another constant thing in my day to day world, reassuring to see and comforting to touch, a delight to open and explore.
The tin sits there with it’s old-timey pictures on it, full of mystery and promise beckoning to you–young or old. Beneath the cover you know you’ll find her timeless collection of buttons and other random treasures that inevitably make their way into boxes and tins in all sewing room-safety pin, snaps and more. It is an archaeological dig site–artifacts of days gone by, treasures and the wisdom of the ages lie within. All you need to do is dig in!
Giving in to the anticipation, you plunge your hand in and soop them out, sifting buttons through your fingers. falling back into the trove with the most satisfying jingles and clickety clacks of metal and plastic! In that moment these ordinary bits and bobs are the most extraordinarily precious objects you’ve ever held in your hand. They exist to be studied, counted, sorted and inspected again and again. The buttons are alluring and exciting and full of tiny fairy adventures with Tink, The Borrowers, Thumbelina and perhaps even Ariel on any given day. Exciting and mysterious, full of never-ending stories you make up anew with each time the box is opened. It is a great privilege to be allowed to open it and play with these magical jewels!
Later on buttons were part of my first sewing lessons. So many things to learn about buttons in sewing! So many things that button sewing teaches you in sewing too. Patience is one of those things. Buttons are final details on a project, but are often the most important and the most noticed. Buttons taught me to pay attention to the details, take care to make them secure, but neatly–one of Grandmother’s hallmark traits too. Sew each stitch with love.
While sewing buttons, one has time for inner reflections and daydreams. Sooner or later you begin to consider the history of a particular button in the box. She told me stories of where many of them came from, whose clothes and in what season. Sometimes there was a funny story about how the button came to be in the box or about the person who wore it. So now the button box was a treasure trove of family stories and history. Buttons from Grandmother’s childhood clothes and one or two from Grandaddy’s time in the army. There were some from her mother-in-law, my great Grandmother, Estelle. Her buttons were always fancy and fashionable. She was an incredibly snappy dresser and gifted seamstress too. Her button sewing taught me precision, as did her life. But those are other stories, for other days. Estelle’s buttons added to my fashion knowledge and enthusiasm.
Among the sparkly button treasures, sorting, sewing, stories and daydreams there was wisdom gained as well. Saving extra or found buttons is an obvious one–you never know when you might need a button. Throwing them away would be wasteful. Many things are useful for more than their originally intended purpose–this was a lesson Grandmother taught me time and again, in so many more ways than the button box. Follow the trail of stories in your breadbox. Like breadcrumbs, they can lead you home. Listen to the lessons of patience and persistence and care about the details in your life as well as on your shirt. Make it secure–do the job right the first time. You may be glad you did. A job worth doing is worth doing well. All these may be cliche, but they are cliche for a reason. Listen to the stories of your grandmothers and grandfathers. And remember that even the old, shabby looking buttons are still useful, still beautiful and they carry the wisdom of the ages.

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