Little white buttons

While searching through an old sewing basket the other day, I came across these old linen buttons. I've had them for many years and they are not unfamiliar; usually I  simply admire the packaging and place them back, but this day, I took a proper look at them. I'd guess they are Victorian in age, or at the latest, Edwardian. Most of the buttons are still there, unused. They have a robust metal plug in the centre, because after all, they were almost certainly everyday shirt buttons and had to be hard-wearing.

I looked more closely and realised that they were all neatly blanket stitched around the edge - and such tiny stitches. Although this shouldn't have been a surprise, because the packet does proudly boast 'hand-made' on the cover. But hand made by whom? As an everyday item, they would have been made in their thousands - mass produced, but not by a machine. I have a feeling that whoever made these would have been in much need of the pitifully low wage that would have been paid for the creation of these 'Superior Quality' buttons. 

Those painstaking little stitches have been preying on my mind as I wonder - who made them? I think it's safe to assume that this would have been 'women's work' or even a task for children in those days. Were they paid by the hundred? Per packet? How many of these innocuous buttons would have had to be stitched, in order to earn enough for a loaf of bread? Was anything paid at all? After all, workhouses and homes for 'bad girls' or single mothers were very much a feature for poor people back then, often perceived as feckless and undeserving. Perhaps sewing these was a required unpaid task to stop the 'Devil making work for idle hands'. 

Let's not forget that linen frays quite badly, especially at this size, so careful handling and concentration would have been required.

I think those industrious hands and fingers would have been quite sore at the end of a day's work, whoever was making them. So I put the packet back in the old basket where they live, with mixed feelings and sent a thought out to the anonymous sewer, who stitched these workaday buttons so beautifully, for so little reward.  


Karren said...

They are amazing, and thank you for sharing with us. I can't imagine these used on a shirt to be pushed through a buttonhole each day. Seems like they'd wear out very quickly. You're right, incredible workmanship, and probably paid a pittance to someone poor who needed money very badly.

Lin said...

WOW. Whoever made these had very good eyes and was very skilled...although I am sure they weren't fully appreciated.

This reminded me: my MIL just passed away and everyone has been asked to list an item from her home that they would like to have as a remembrance. I asked for the hand-stitched quilt that her mother made. It is a throw...made of tiny one-inch squares that have been quilted in each square. Imagine how tiny these squares are and you will know why I wanted that quilt. I fully appreciate the work even if no one else does.

Gretel said...

Oh goodness Lin, yes, how precious - and how lovely that you, who truly appreciate it, will love it now.

Pam said...

Oh, goodness, yes.

Kerry O'Gorman said...

...yes, all those thoughts and also what I was thinking (as one with degrading eyesight!) that there was probably terrible lighting in some of these factories! It would be an interesting shadow box project to use them in, the package and perhaps if you could find an old photo of a button factory?? They are precious!

Gerry Snape said...

The McClelland farm in Armagh where my father was born grew flax and retted it in the retting field before sending it on to the big linen factory in Darkley.
linen in my blood!

Jess said...

How amazing are they?! Such tiny detail! Close up they look like little pies. You did the right thing, they absolutely need to be treasured. xx