Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Vegetable ivory - Vegan and eco friendly buttons from early 20th century

Although named after ivory, a controversial material from today's perspective, it has nothing to do with African wildlife. Tagua nuts come from corosso palm tree in south America. They are 100% vegetable and sustainable material, only resembling the authentic ivory in colour, hardness and the grain, which is a bit more tree-like. However, since modern plastic was introduced, they have become less and less popular.

Vegetable ivory buttons can be carved and dyed into small pieces of art!

Friday, 11 November 2016

How to make a sew-on duffle coat toggle closure - tutorial

Duffle coats are all the rage, back from 1970 (and 1990s, and... well, they ARE practical and men love their casual sporty air). Today I am going to show you how to make a complete sew-on closure for a duffle coat, using toggle buttons and leather. We will also need some leather straps or similar.

First you need to decide on the shape of the leather pads. They may be square (that's the easiest to cut) or triangular and rounded on the corners. This is my favourite, though I prefer elongated triangles personally, like those you can see in the pictures above. If you are not inspired to design your own shape, you can use the measurement from the picture below to trace them onto your leather.

Once we have chosen the style and colour, and also decided if it is going to be made of genuine leather (I buy mine from a remnant basket, and one such piece is usually more than enough) or faux leather (a cheaper option, but perhaps not as durable), we can copy the shape of the pads onto the wrong side of the leather. Faux leather works with pencil and colour pencils, but for genuine leather you will need to use a pen. Make sure you are ON THE WRONG side. You can also draw the pads directly on the piece of leather. I traced my triangles using the dressmaking copying paper and traced them the same way as I do with fabric.

I like to use best the space and use up all the leather, so I copy the pattern pieces very close to each other. This also saves time and work when cutting them out.

Once we are ready, and we have enough pieces (just make sure you have drawn a few extra pieces in case anything goes wrong while cutting), we can start with the rotary cutter. It is very useful as it cuts well through any leather (and also your skin...). To finish, we can use a smaller cutter or very sharp scissors. These will not work, though, with thick leather, but on the other hand, will be great for faux leather.

Now we will need the straps. It is really up to you how long they will be. Make sure you take into account the size of the toggles or buttons you are going to use, as sometimes extra length is needed. I will use 11 cm - 4 3/8" long straps. Cut your leather strap into even pieces. You can also make them from leather, for better matching. These should be wide enough to prove strong, but thin enough to go through the holes of your buttons! I used 4 mm - 3/16" wide straps.

I made the straps for the off-white colour closures
and bought a leather thread of 3 mm wide for the black ones. 

The next step is to glue the straps to the pieces of leather. This is temporary, so you do not need to use a very strong glue. Glue gun is OK as long as you use just a tiny bit of it, as it may create bulk you do not want. If you are using super glue, make sure you apply just a bit, and towards the center of the pad, as it hardens and you still need to sew the closure to your coat. The best is of course a special glue for leather. Then I use pegs to make sure they are pressed well and long enough. Remember to thread the buttons BEFORE gluing, and also, make sure they are all facing the same way.

Make sure you have made one the same number of loops as you have buttons. Now we are ready to sew them onto the coat. My advice is to glue the closures temporarily to the wool - otherwise who know how they will end up. Here, machine-sewing is as good as hand-sewing. If your closures are made of genuine leather, it is advisable to make holes beforehand for hand stitching. If  you are machine-sewing them, remember to set the stitch length to 3, for example, as to short stitch will make the closure prone to breaking. I use special needles for leather, which I do recommend.

Et voilà!

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Boot buttons

Nowadays, most footwear is designed to fasten with Velcros, zippers and snaps, some have shoelaces, and some even have parts made of elastic to minimize the fuss with fastening and unfastening. But in the olden days, especially women's boots had a row tiny buttons on metal loop shanks. They were popular until 1940s, when other closure systems became more widespread.

The boot buttons above are quite a luxury compared to most of the kind, made of glass and painted in beautiful colours, like mint green or pale pink. Most boot buttons, however, were made of enameled metal, and the colours were far less exciting.

The last few of the boot buttons here are made of lucite plastic and metal. Really small pieces. No wonder women took a long time to get ready, when they had to fasten all the buttons up the calf, even if they had ankle boots. Nonetheless, in mid-19th century, someone has come up with a very clever idea how to speed up the process and a button hook was conceived.

The button hooks were useful also for waistcoats and gloves, which usually had planty of tiny buttons.

As you can see, the buttonhooks came in all possible shapes and sizes, with the handle made of various materials. The collection above, from Bedford Museum, shows hooks with wooden and bone handles. I can also see some antler handles here, and below, a few luxury silver ones.

Button hooks were so ubiquitous that some companies used to give them out for free as a form of promotion, with the brand name of the company engraved on the handle. I guess these were really useful! You can read more about the history of this unusual invention on this website dedicated to buttonhook collecting.

Nowadays, boot buttons, if they are sewn to boots and not glued, are usually only for decoration, with an alternative, more practical closure concealed somewhere else.

These boots are no longer for sale
but you can find plenty more on etsy!

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Button Craft ideas

Looking for things to do with buttons? I have put together a list of nice button crafts, which include some embellishment and up-cycling ideas. Maybe you get inspired?

  • The second one is my very own project, with buttons glued to hair pins. Make sure you use really good glue, for example Araldit - that's available in Spain.

  • Button jewellery, a possible DIY project, although you can also buy it. This one is from a great place in Porto, where you can buy some amazing pieces. 

  • For more advanced - soutache jewellery, using actually buttons instead of cabochons. I really like this idea, because some buttons are real jewels!

  • Another project of mine, this time a button hair clasp. Perfect match for my green sweater! This one is relatively easy, just glue the buttons to a blank metal clasp and make sure they hold well together!

  • Buttons sewn to a shirt collar from Proper Lovely blog. What a nice way to give some life to a plain white shirt! I guess any plain colour shirt would do as well.

  • A button bowl - there are plenty of tutorials on line, explaining how to glue the buttons over a balloon. It seems that you get the best result not by plastering the buttons all over the place with glue, but patiently pasting them one by one, using just a bit of glue. Also, instead of a balloon, you can use your favourite salad bowl on the inside, layered with aluminum foil to protect it. And use a cake tray to make this button tray for pens and pencils.

This photo has been re-posted so many times that I found it impossible to reach to the original post and author. Thanks in advance for pointing to the creator of these amazing pieces. 

  • And last but not least - buttons used in crochet flowers. I absolutely adore these! The tutorial is actually in Italian, but the pictures are so great you will understand it without reading, as long as you have some crochet practice. 

Time to get some wool now...

I will be updating this list every time I come across an interesting project (or get illuminated with a new idea) so stay tuned!

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Button stamps

Dear all,

Until recently, I used to buy the button stamps for envelope decor on Etsy, from other sellers - something very practical and time saving. But then I asked my stamp provider if she could carve one specially for me. She said she was very busy and could not carve any custom stamps....

That's when I decided to try my hand at stamp carving. I bought a set of 3 tools (very cheap in TIGER store full of craft ideas), which were good for the beginning, but not as good for carving lines, so I had to order an extra tool online. I also purchased some rubber for carving. And then sat down and started playing with my new toys :)

I used my own vintage buttons designs

The first button carved in rubber was not as impressive as I expected, but I guess it is normal. I had to learn how to handle the tools and I did not know how deep I should carve at first. But with some practice I managed to improve my skill and carved some more pieces.

It was this small button you can see at the bottom here that first inspired me to carve.

This is how my envelopes look now :) Do you recognize that black button
All in all, carving rubber stamp is not that difficult. I had a lot of fun doing it and I think I will continue as long as I have the inspiration from my vintage buttons :)

Rubber stamps provide just one possible idea how to decorate envelopes with orders. Do you have another favourite way of doing it?

Friday, 7 October 2016

Celluloid - the indispensabe spy's equipment

Celluloid buttons were the very first I could identify among my buttons. I could clearly see they were unlike the other buttons. And I was not wrong. But first I have to explain myself why I used this unlikely title for this post. Celluloid sheets formed part of basic spy tools: as it is a highly inflammable material, these sheets helped them destroy classified information before it reached the hands of the enemy. During cold war it must have been something very common (I mean both destroying and acquiring classified information). Nowadays spying is more about hacking, so more silicon than celluloid is used in the industry. So let's get back to the buttons.

A range of celluloid buttons from my original collection.
Some have already sold out. 


- was the very first thermoplastic in history. It is actually made of cellulose, although mixed and exposed to other substances. It was invented as early as mid-nineteenth century, but it was most commonly used for button production between 1930s and 1950s. Other uses were, for example, in photography and movie films, toys, like dolls; table tennis balls and the already mentioned celluloid sheets used to destroy secret notes.

Celluloid buttons can preserve the dye really well. Look at these 1950s buttons.
Some 1980s plastic buttons may have faded, but not these.

How to identify celluloid

The most remarkable thing about celluloid buttons is the sound they make against each other. If you have ever played table tennis, you will identify it easily. If not, maybe you could try it? It is a valuable lesson.

Another thing is its weight. Celluloid buttons are much lighter than acrylic or casein buttons. And you can actually perceive this difference just by taking it in your hand. No scales needed. This is an advantage when considering using large buttons in a sewing project. Also, you can identify them easily wth no need of extra paraphernalia, like when testing for bakelite, even outdoors in a street market.

Never use hot needle for testing celluloid! While this method may leave a horrible mark on most other materials, celluloid may burn spontaneously. Better take the table tennis lesson.

Also, celluloid is very brittle. It is easy to break, crack and chip. Sometimes this characteristic was even taken into account in the button design, so it would have a rough finish:

This celluloid button was designed in a way that any cracks will just add it extra roughness.
This one is unused, so it looks perfect. 
Unfortunately, not all buttons are designed this way.
If you see the image in full size, you will notice the cracks :(

How to handle celluloid

It is very important to remember, that this material is highly inflammable. Not only does it catch fire instantly, completely destroying the piece, but also, it may go on fire when exposed to high temperatures (for example, keep them away from hot iron or oven).

Because they are so easy to break and crack, they should not be stored together in a bag. When sending them overseas, I usually wrap them generously in bubble wrap, so that they do not touch one another. I would aso recommend removing them from a garment if you are planning to wash it in high temperatures, or before leaving it at dry cleaner's. If you have some really nice pieces sewn to your favourite dress or blazer, chances are they will get broken in the process. And never ever use a hot iron when the buttons are still sewn to a garment, also for your own safety. The same for dry cleaner's: they don't check all clothes, just press them as they are with the same industrial stuff. You may lose the buttons, and the drycleaner's shop along with them.
Plain caramel brown buttons, made of celluloid, on a vintage button card. These could be used in a coat, but remember to remove them before washing or leaving at dry cleaner's!

Thursday, 29 September 2016

How to open a successful shop on Etsy

I am aware this is not the first nor the last post on the Internet to explain how to do business on Etsy. Actually, I don't think one post would be enough to answer this question properly. Nevertheless, I will try to explain some basics, in order to help anyone wishing to start a successful business on their own or simply looking for advice on how to improve. This is especially valuable to anyone who thinks they have good skill or interesting items to sell, but can't find a buyer locally. Etsy is a worldwide exhibition window and only you can put limits to it. Jobs in Spain are scarce these days, and Etsy can make you a living.

Today, 3 years on and more than a thousand sales after I ventured on this project, I have 2 shops and lots of stock to post. I have hundreds of satisfied customers and all-stars reviews, which I am really proud of.

This is the current look of my original shop on etsy.

As you may have read in my initial post about how I found the buttons, I started from scratch and was ready to spend €5 on my business. Later I learnt that if you get invited to open a shop, you can start for free. Well, €5 was not such a big sum and I must say I recovered it quite quikly, but if you do not want to risk even that little, click HERE (if the link does not work properly, email me).

Know your competition

First of all, before you decide to bother yourself and waste time on opening an on-line buiness, it is advisable to a market research into similar items on etsy. Are there many people selling the same thing? Does this thing actually sell? Does it have any special added value? What kind of customers may be interested in it?

If something doesn't exist on etsy,chances are, you have misspelled it. Otherwise, which would be very unlikely, you would have to assume that nobody sells anything like it, which could mean that IT DOESN'T SELL: But, as I said, this would be really strange. (You wouldn't believe what sort of stuff people sell on line...)

If there are too many websites selling similar items, think of the added value, or uniqueness of your products. There are lots of shops selling handmade jewellery, but not too many sell jewellery made of natural materials like seeds. There are lots of buttons out there, but not too many which are larger than 40 mm, and the bigger, the more sought after!

Also, you can see how the prices range among the competition. You shouldn't, of course, make your product way cheaper, because people may suspect it is worse quality.  But if you are the most expensive, people will prefer to buy from someone else.

It is a good idea to find a role model among shops selling similar items, one that you would like to become, say, in two years' time. It is really motivating and makes it easier to establish short-term and long-term goals.

Stock up your shop

Once you have opened the shop, you must fill it with stock! Use all the free listings, or at least 30 to begin with. If you think you do not have enough range to post 30, think of something easy to make or post and make lots of colours (like these peter pan collars), or post the same item twice if you have two, using different photos and descriptions. Also, this will give you insight to what is more attractive, which description works better etc.

Remember taht shops with just a few items will not get many visits. Or no visits at all.

Make photography your priority

While Etsy keeps repeating this all the time, giving you lots of tips, you may want to get some basics. If you are a professional photographer, you know what to do without advice. But if you are an amatuer, just like me, you will see that it takes time to learn the skill. However, in one of my previous posts I wrote a short guide for anyone who wants to take good product pictures for selling purposes.

If you follow this advice, I am sure you will be able to attract customers with your photographs.

Product titles are key

This is the most important part of SEO on Etsy. You must make it clear what your product is here, and also match the search terms you potential customers may use. To do this, you could do a research by looking for similar items on Etsy. This way you will see what search terms you yourself are using - write these down - plus, you can get an idea from the top results of how to write a successful title.

Use 3-4 word phrases, including the main keyword in each. For example:
Black leather handbag, natural leather purse, large shoulder bag

Ideally, these should be joined into longer phrases, which will make them sound more naturally, like:
Black leather handbag with long shoulder strap

Make sure you use the most important keywords at the beginning. To find out what is most sought, you can use google keyword tool. Remember to use all the synonyms here, as well as in the product description.

Also, words like "beautiful", "amazing" and "pretty" will not work. Not only because beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but simply because, nobody uses these terms to search for anything. Have you youself ever looked for anything by typing 'beautiful'?

Product descriptions

This part should also start with a short description, more sentence-like, of your product. The first words are the most important. I initially made the mistake of writing: 'A lot including 7 large green buttons' at first, missing the hits for buttons. And few people look for 'a lot including'. Now I usually start with something like 'Extra large buttons' or '7 blue buttons', or 'a buttton card with'

Do not make your description too long. I doubt whether many people would read more than a few lines of it anyway. Make sure you have enlisted the most important features. I use a list, like the one below (this one is from a buckle description):

colour: dark brown
diameter: 90 mm / 3 9/16"
Suitable for 54 mm / 2 1/16" belts

Do not include all the shipping options and shop policies here. These have a specific space on your shop page. Also, if you want, you can pinpoint the most important questions in FAQ, which will be displayed right below the description, also on mobile devices.

You can also add information about the manufacturing process, care, or even the item's history if it is a vintage object. These are usually interesting to read. But do not ramble on length.

Mind, that on mobile devices, and that includes tablets too, the item description is not displayed at first sight. And few people click on "more info" (they even prefer to send a convo with a question about something they could easily read there). So, if you have some important characretistics, for example in my case, the button size, add this in 'Variations', even if there is only one size available. This will add an extra line in the details column, visible also on mobile devices. I started doing that when more and more people suddenly started asking me a lot of questions about the dimensions, although the information was already provided in product descriptions. I soon changed all listings to include this extra line of information, and guess what? I don't get these questions anymore.

Tags or Search Terms

These are for sheer SEO purposes, so make sure you do not add too many descriptive words which are not used but potential buyers. But... how to know what is used in search?

  • One way to do it is to go to Stats and check all the most popular search ter
  • ms over a time, and use these or similar. But you can only do that after your shop has been running for, say, a month in the very least.
  • Another way is to use the google keyword tool to get some real numbers. 
  • Again, you may imaginne you are looking for this item and see what you use. 
  • Go to the 'Search for items or shops' field and introduce one word, for eample 'buttons' and one space. Etsy will automatically give you some hints on what you may be looking for. These are popular search terms. 
  • Don't be afraid to experiment. A good idea is to use one completely unique tag out of 13 which will be unlike anything else. For example, I used klingon style for one of the buttons. Now guess what? Somebody actually used it and clicked on the buttons. You may discover a whole world of strange search terms that people use!
If you choose the right category for your product, this will add some valuable tags to your list. Look at the first four keywords, with capital letters. These were added automatically, and they are really strong.

Avoid tags like 'round buttons'. Obviously, some buttons are round, but if you someone is looking for buttons, they will just write 'buttons', unless they specifically want triangular or square ones. I did that at the beginning too, as I didn't know how to use up all the 13 tags.

One of the most important things I have learnt about the tags is that you should use two or three words instead of just one for every one of them. At the beginning I did not know that and used tags like:

'button', 'black', 'large', 'flower' etc. 

Believe me, hardly anyone visited my shop. And then I dug the Etsy blogs and in an old discussion post some suggested this to someone else. I decided to try it and BOOM! My stats sky-rocketed! Now I usually use:
'black buttons', 'large buttons', 'flower buttons', etc. 

It doesn't matter if you repeat the key word several times. Google may not like it, but it will help you gain visibility on Etsy. It is important that you understand that Etsy and Google SEO do not work the same way. It is really great to be found on Google, but even more important to get found on Etsy.

Your appearance shows you are a professional

We may not judge a book by its cover but we certainly measure the professionalism by the image a shop gives. This is why you should upload a shop logo, a background picture and a banner (I use this one for packaging slip). Ideally all of them in coordinating colous and themes. Your picture is also a sign that you are a professional - but also a human. No scam. You can use other professionals to help you out. There are thousands of designers on Etsy, specialised in Shop logos and banners. You can also have a go and try to make it yourself.
Don't worry about the background picture - you can improve it later. To start with, you can use a picture of your range, for example, clothes on pegs, I used to have a picture of several button cards, simply cropped into the measurements that Etsy required.

I was lucky, because my sister, who sometimes does graphic design, and also calligraphy, designed a logo for me. With it, I created a nice background composition, using my items.

This is the background photo of my newer shop. I used the same logo for branding purposes.

I use free software for that, like IrfanView and Inkscape. At some point I even used MS PowerPoint to put together some compositions.

Make sure you select a few nice items as featured listings, which will appear at the top of your shop. This will draw people's attention to them and plus, it will add 4 more items to your first page, which is especially important if you do not have too many items.

Add new items regularly

It is definitely a bad idea to add all your items the very first day and then just sit down and wait what happens. The Internet loves fresh content and it is insatiable. So it is best to keep feeding it regularly, but little by little. Later on you will have to renew the listings (they only live on Etsy for 4 months). This will give them new life, and it is also a good moment to revise them and change a part of the title or tags to something that works better.

New and renewed items also pop up on your fans' main sites. So do the Updates, which are pictures you can upload from the mobile Sell on Etsy App. These are also a good idea to bring your buttons to potential buyers, but you will have to install an app on your mobile or tablet. While it is convenient to have it on a device with a camera, it is best to upload quality pictures, taken with a normal camera, as they will be displayed also on computer screens.

Etsy shop updates are best when they include a picture of an item during the production process or a finished product in use, rather than just a repeated detail picture, although sometimes it is not a bad idea to post a close-up photo which is not the main product picture.  

* * * * *

Don't forget about social media, the word of mouth and some good old business cards to promote your shop. Well, how to promote the hop after it has been opened could fill one or more new posts...

I hope you have enjoyed reading this post and even more, you found it helpful. Making mistakes is normal. Learning from them is intelligent. And if you can, avoid them by reading posts like this one.

Good luck!

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Déboutonner la mode - My most treasured Book

This book is the catalogue from an exhibition I went to see while visiting Paris last year. It was a surprise visit. Our host offered to take us to Louvre, though not to see the main exhibition, but a small one, dedicated to fashion jewellery and buttons and their history. While the jewellery section, which turned out to be really small, offered some interesting pieces, it was the button exhibition that really impressed us (not only me, a regular button enthusiast).

The book was also a surprise, as I got it as a present.

My book and some antique French buttons

The book 'Déboutonner la mode' shows some of the items I saw in Louvre just as they were displayed, with high quality close-up photos. They were grouped by technique and material, for example, the buttons below are made of natural materials, such as feathers and even sunflower seeds!

I do encourage you to see it in a larger size!

I was really impressed by the oldest part of the exhibition, where we could see embroidered buttons. What a precision! - I thought, but then, it was explained that first the fabric was emroidered and only then it was turned into fabric covered buttons. Otherwise, I guess, it would be entirely impossible to achieve such precision.

antique embroidered buttons on a, XVIII century suit

Lots of world famous designers were mentioned and their works shown. I especially liked this piece, with butterfly buttons, featured in a big size in the book.

This one is even more impressive in person.

The greatest lesson for me to learn was about the button master Henri Hamm. Until last year I had never heard of him. But his buttons formed the core part of the exhibition, with some 900 pieces designed by Hamm. I am really happy I have the book to be able to read more about this great man, even though the it is in French and I do not speak that language. I think I can cope with some written French.

A great art deco button designer

Obviously, the book offers much more than this, and if you are interested, you can buy it here. If you know French, you will be able to learn a lot about fashion and button history.

Tilte: Déboutonner la mode
Author: Veronique Belloir
Language: French
Published: 2015
ISBN: 978-2-916914-54-1