I was reading through other people’s ABC Wednesday offerings today, and Molokai Girl had used her button box to illustrate the letter ‘B’, and it brought back such a flood of memories!
You see, when I was a child, most households had a button box of some kind, and Mum was no exception.Â She’d had to learn to be thrifty in the post-war years, and the habit was so ingrained that she wouldn’t have dreamed of throwing away a worn out garment without first salvaging what she could in the way of fabric, trimmings, zips and fasteners.Â The fabric would be folded, the trimmings wound into figure-of-eight bundles, and zips would be sorted into sizes, and they would all be put carefully away.Â Most of it went into the big wooden sewing box, all except the buttons, which were tossed into the button box.
Mum’s button box was a battered old red and white Oxo tin, about six inches square, and about three inches deep, and if I was at home sick, or if she was busy, and I was bored, out it would come to entertain me. Â She would spread two or three broad sheets of newspaper on the floor, and tip the buttons and assorted bits and pieces out onto the paper, and I would spend hours happily sifting through the heap, matching up button sets, picking the cotton out of old hooks and eyes, marvelling over the fancy crystal buttons, the wooden buttons, the shanks and the squares and the mother-of-pearls, and the great knobbly coat buttons – and also, the non-buttony oddments which I would find in there, and which were many and varied.
I would have to watch my fingers, because there were always a few pins lurking at the bottom – dressmaking pins, and drawing pins – and also those little gold coloured paper fasteners that looked a little like old fashioned clothes pegs with their shiny round heads and two flat ‘legs’.Â I would try to make them ‘walk’ sometimes and they’d end up all twisted and crumpled no matter how hard I tried to straighten them!
Then there were the belt buckles, which looked so strange to me, because they had no prong for the belt holes.Â I could never see how they would work.Â And there were small flat cards with metal snaps attached – actually stitched on with white cotton thread!Â Â A bobbin or two would sometimes get in amongst the buttons and I remember once finding a very strange shiny metal device with a little hinge in it and bits sticking out in all directions .. I puzzled over it for a while, then held it up and asked Mum what it was and she told me it was a foot. Â A foot!Â I gazed at it in bewilderment, until she glanced up again and saw my face and explained.Â It was a ‘foot’ for a sewing machine – one of the many she could change to do different jobs with. Â I have my own sewing machine now, but I only use two or three of the feet that came with it: the straight sewing foot, the zig-zag foot, and the zipper foot.Â I still don’t know what the one in Mum’s button box was for – maybe it was a piping foot?Â Something she didn’t use often, that’s for sure.
One thing I used to love to do was sort through the pile and find all the Co-op tokens.Â The Co-op used to make its own money in those days, in the form of tokens.Â I think they were perhaps paid out as dividends to the members and there were often a few in the button box.Â They came in different shapes and were made of some kind of pressed lightweight metal, with the design and the amount of money they were each worth was embossed onto them. Â I used to stack them up and feel quite rich, but then my pocket money in those days was 3d.Â That’s three old pennies, which were each worth 2.4 of the new pennies, of which we now have a hundred in each pound.
I used to love finding these treasures, but I used to love the feel of the buttons themselves, too, and the noise they made as I swept my hand through them to spread them out and uncover new ones. Â It’s an enduring memory, along with the feel of the wool carpet under my knees, and the crackle of the fire, and the sound of my mother’s knitting machine going zzz-i-i-i-p – zzz-i-i-i-p, or the clatter of the sewing machine as she worked on yet another commission to earn that all-important extra cash.
Even now, whenever I have reason to go to my button box, searching for a set of buttons for a project, I remember those childhood days.Â Little me, sorting them into colours and types, making piles of all the shirt buttons, linking the safety pins together, unravelling the waste thread that had got caught up in things, and then, when my time was up, tipping them all back into the tin in a great heap and folding the paper ready to use as tinder for tomorrow’s fire.
My own button tin contains slightly different oddments toÂ those in my Mum’s box.Â That’s my tin up there.Â It’s smaller, and to my mind, quite boring by comparison, but it holds its own memories – for instance, there are dungaree clips among the buttons, and they used to be worn by my second son when he was a toddler.
So, does that button box stir memories for you, too?
‘Let me take you back to your childhood … ‘
*Oxo box picture by kind permission of ‘chinafinda1′ on eBay.