I was lucky enough to meet the lovely Jen Best from Beaker Button at Yarndale in 2014 and was fascinated by her Dorset Buttons, so I was delighted when my oldest son bought me this book for my birthday last week.
I had a quick catch up with Jen who told me that this was her first book and she is now preparing her third and fourth – busy lady! All of them have been funded by Kickstarter which has proved to be a fantastic way to bring more information and designs about these traditional buttons to us all. You can find the funding for her third book here and it closes on 20th March.
The history of the Dorset button is fascinating. At it’s height the production of the buttons employed 4000 people across East Dorset for over two hundred years from the 17th Century onwards. Instead of using labour in a factory, the button makers worked from home which meant they could fit their production around working in the fields. In 1851 at the Great Exhibition a button making machine was demonstrated which was the beginning of the end for this heritage craft. The WI and various other organisations have kept the tradition alive and now Jen has become one of the major proponents of this largely unknown craft.
Making Dorset buttons is a little addictive but I have to admit the first one I made was an absolute shocker. Jen had some advice for me, ‘Keep practising’. Like any craft you get better the more you work on your technique – I think sometimes we assume because we are good at one or two crafts we should be able to pick others up quickly. I can tell you she is right. They do get to look better and then you become intoxicated with all the permutations and combinations. My son, who is studying 3D design at ManMet, also got inspired and wants to try to make a chair or stool with a button as the seat. I can’t wait to see if he can pull it off.
This book features some lovely accessories and jewellery ideas. “One of the most important things about these projects is to use really good wool or thread to get the very best results and start with colours you really like,” says Jen. She uses metal rings for her buttons and has even worked with closed stitchmarkers, which sounds pretty hardcore to me, but you can use plastic as long as you aren’t going to dry clean your garment. My office is opposite a large B&Q so I am going to have a little explore to see what they have to offer that I could use.
I’m going to keep working on my technique and will show you one of mine when I get a bit better.