My New Old Buttons

comments: 33

Buttons2Last weekend Andy and I went with our friend Shelly (who is the generous, patient angel who makes my crazy web site ideas turn into actual web site pages) to a little button sale. Shelly is an avid button collector, and does extremely cool things with buttons that I will show you when she gets her web site all the way she wants it. She belongs to the local button society (I think that's what it is) and invited us to attend a little gathering of button ladies at a suburban hotel on Sunday. Andy and I were gonna just hang out together, because it's so rare that we actually have a weekend-day off together, but I thought the button thing sounded like fun so he came with. Shelly and I sidled around looking at old buttons and within a half-hour Andy was already holding court at a table in the back surrounded by a crowd of older ladies, all telling him their medical histories and showing him their buttons.  Predictably, he was having quite a fine time. He got some cool Portland and Chicago police buttons so we all went home happy.

Pho_bob_cristobelle_lg There is something so essentially optimistic about having a collection, any kind of collection. I find such little gatherings of like-minded souls very touching. When we arrived, a bit early, the ladies were all still eating the strawberry cake that was the dessert part of their luncheon, sitting at their little tables. After the lunch, they brought out the buttons they wanted to swap or sell, and many of them were on pieces of tagboard, all carefully labeled with tiny handwriting. The cards were incredible in their detail, and arrangement. I spent most of my time at the "poke boxes," which are boxes of buttons for a quarter or so, and you just dig through and pick out the ones you like. Everyone was so nice, and it was so relaxing, listening to them talk buttons. It's a topic I don't know a thing about, but, you know, buttons themselves are pretty darn charming whether you know anything about them or not. I made these (and there are more here on the site) from what I got there.

Pho_bob_basket_lgI thought about all the little "societies" having luncheons at that very moment, all over the world. It is so easy to watch the evening news and feel hopeless. In the face of such daily terrors and troubles, how could it matter, to care about something so small (or big, or weird, or purple, or whatever it is that turns you on)? To say "This is important to me. I care about it enough to keep it nice, and label it carefully, and share it with you" seems such a sweet, hopeful, distinctively human thing to do that I couldn't help but feel moved by the scene, and the subject matter -- all this care shown for the dear, homely little button! The most hardworking, humble, and often-invisible of objects. Why do people collect coins, or stamps, or stickers, or erasers. What are we doing when we find ourselves longing for the one eraser we don't yet have. To stake out a small territory of order and carefulness within the chaos of the universe -- as every collection of anything seems to be -- feels like an achievement, somehow, when it's often hard to see the point. I want to believe there is a reason for it, and perhaps want, too, to believe that the reason is not about the thing itself at all, but more about our ability to find ways to mitigate hopelessness. And practice love. I don't know. What is it.

Pho_bob_bristol_lg The hotel was so shabby, the lighting awful, but the setting seemed to speak to this feeling. The room itself was actually beyond irrelevant -- it seemed symbolic of something, all ugliness and junk. When I'd picked out my own little bag of cuties, I found Andy sitting happily with one lovely lady to whom he'd been talking for quite a while. She showed us all her favorites. We hadn't a clue what time it was and didn't care, the afternoon seemed open and slow. She was so pretty. I felt the lack of grandmothers in my adult life quite keenly then.  I would like to spend time, sifting through buttons and listening to stories about the 60s, Arizona, what it was like to move to a town where you knew no one, to make a friend who collected buttons and start a new hobby that would last forty years. "Oh, it's fun!" she said. I feel like I could learn a lot about things there. I wish I had a grandma. Maybe there are lots of different kinds of grandmas. Maybe they don't need to be yours at all to work their magic on you. I felt different when I left.


What a wonderful way to spend a weekend! and yes, I too wish I had a grandmother to tell me stories and share her collections with. Delightful post...

Hi Alicia, I just got back from my trip to Arizona where I spent a month with my Auntie Flo who is 81. She's been the only grandmother figure in my life and is an important link to my Dad's side of the family. It was quite an experience to hang out and listen to all the old stories and spend time with her friends - a lot of people don't understand why I did it (it wasn't a 'vacation' in the traditional way) but you just said it all perfectly!

Grandmothers are so wonderful!
Not everyone with the title is deserved, of the full breadth of it's meaning.

My Gram-Sugar and Spice, is so delightfully 'grandma' that I try not to be too greedy with her, by keeping her all to myself.

She is the surrogate Grandma to many of my friends, and they love the gentle warmth she gives them..
I'm sure if she knew you Alicia, she would be happy to give you some Grandma pats (Grandma style- hair stroking)

Let's be generous with our Grandmas, and let's be grandaughters to many other fabulous older women too..

This was a wonderful post...I've been blessed with many older ladies in my life and have learned to appreciate so much of the simpler most important things about living from them. I always feel better about myself after leaving their company...what a gift that is to give!

What a sweet post. I was lucky to have a very long, sweet relationship with my maternal grandmother, with whom I was very close. She died exactly 2 years ago and I miss her dearly. Thanks for sharing your story and your buttons - they're both lovely.

What a lovely post. I think most people could learn from the older people around us. They all have wonderful stories to tell. I don't have any grandparents anymore but I will forever remember things they shared with me. I was around my moms parents from age 6-17 and they rubbed off on me in so many great ways that I had not even realized until becoming an adult but I'm glad they did!

It sounds like your Saturday was unexpectedly lovely - my family called those Serendipity Saturdays when I was growing up. :)

Your writing, as always, is fantastic. Thank you.

I can't get over how truly lovely each little button flower is here. As an image, all are incredibly striking, but it is how each button is amazingly framed... elevated.

Yet another reason why I love coming here.

AndreaVee says: March 15, 2006 at 06:19 PM

Oh. My. Goodness. Are these button flowers going to be for sale? I adore them. You are so talented. I love your blog and coming here to read it.

your button collection makes me happy. :) love your flowers.

you felt different when you left and I feel different every time I read one of your posts - thank you:)

One of my very fondest memories I have is my Aunt Mac and I searching through the big button bins at Beverly Fabrics back in the 70s. A penny a piece. I still have the buttons I chose that day, wood, leather, floral, numbers, striped, bright, and fun. All special, just like her. Your post reminded me of her and I thank you for that.

Those are very pretty button flowers. I was just speaking to a friend about our lack of grandmas. We were complaining about not being taught "domestic" crafts and frustratingly having to teach ourselves. Your adventure sounds very enjoyable! About buttons - when I was a child and my mom would go shopping at the department stores, I remember hunting on all fours for what seemed like hours collecting bits of string and buttons. My mom would always make me give the unbroken buttons to the saleslady, though!

Your button flowers are darling! Ive been working on something similar in my head for awhile. we'll see how it works out!

A while back i heard about a new york school district that collects items to recycle. They send all of the recycled items to artists that might reuse them. I emailed and asked for buttons. They just emailed me back today and i will see 7 lbs. of buttons in my mailbox in april! yay!

Oh, this post makes me want to go digging through the closet to find my grandmother's button box (even though it's the middle of the night!) Some of the buttons were from HER mother. On rainy days, she would bring the box out, and let me sort through them; I would pretend it a was a treasure chest of precious jewels. Thanks for bringing back such great memories (& reminding me I need to share this experience with the little girls in my life!)

Hi Alicia-- i'm coming to portland for the first time next week, and was wondering if you could point me in the right direction of cool places to check out. i'll only be there for 2 days, but i def. want to check out a glimpse of the diy community...and your shop of course!

I've never seen something so cute then these before !! Your button flowers are the most beautiful of the univers !! I love them ! Smooches

You write wonderfully!
Especially the grandmother part;
my grandmother died when I was five (now I am almsot 25), but still I am missing her so much.
I would love to hear her stories and spend time baking or whatever. But thankfully I have my memories from her. How very sweet she was...

I feel different after I read this!
Actually now that I think about it I feel different after I read all your posts, my blood pressure slows as I dive into your unfolding stories.

A lovely post (and lovely buttons!). Thank you for sharing all the bits of yourself that you share!

A "Button Society" ohhh that sounds like so much fun! I picture a bunch of women sitting around sipping tea and trading buttons *sigh* we have a street where I grew up named: Old Button Shop Road :)

Yey Buttons!
You will sympathise with my 'disaster' last week when my 7ft tall drawer tower housing a 20 year collection of beads, buckles and buttons was discovered face down with all the drawers hanging out!

They were all in individual colour or style grouped tubs. It is still lying there, blocking the door. I'm scared to move it incase I make it worse

Looks like you did a great job at selecting beautiful colored buttons. I can't wait to see the new website your friend is starting. It sounds most wonderful.

Love your blog and I especially enjoyed this post. Making me miss my grandma. It has been almost 2 years since she passed away at 92. She was so very wonderful to me and her unconditional love was such a treasured gift.
Love the photo of all your buttons, and the little flowers using some of your buttons are just adorable. May I ask how you get the scalloped circles so perfect? I am guessing maybe a die cut machine? If you get them so perfect by hand, I bow down to you!!!

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


post a comment

About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at