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Antique and Vintage Button Jewelry Design

Updated on February 25, 2016

Vintage Rhinestone Button Clasp

Use a vintage button as a clasp to create striking handmade jewelry.
Use a vintage button as a clasp to create striking handmade jewelry. | Source

Antique Glass Metal Buttons on Ebay

Finding really good antique and vintage buttons...the ones made of glass or metal are my favorites...takes time. Ebay is a great place to start your hunt but be careful because before you know it the bidding price is much higher than you'd like to pay. Pay attention to size when you're bidding, unless you are so captivated by the seller's photos that you MUST have the item. Some sellers include a coin in photos to show the size of the buttons for sale. Others will list size in the item description. Ebay bidding wars over gorgeous buttons can be quite intense. The head rush of online shopping has led me to place ridiculously high bids on gorgeous glass buttons from England and even Australia. My largest button was likely an ornate shoe buckle. It is over 4 inches wide. The center stone is the color of apple cider.

While not useful for jewelry pieces I plan to sell, these exquisite button treasures do have a special spot in my art studio, reserved for materials I will either entrust to a museum or eventually use for my own jewelry. Ebay auctions are very addictive, especially for those of us who are competetive. Outbid? How could someone outbid me? Use some restraint or you will soon have more buttons than you can possibly use.

Beautiful Button Jewelry by Susan Davis

There are lots of books available about making jewelry with buttons. They can be strung on every material from wire to C-lon thread and even sewn onto leather. Take time to flip through several books so you can get ideas. One of my favorite books is Beautiful Button Jewelry by Susan Davis. The pictures are exquisite. Each section features a different type of button: Victorian Metal, Jet Glass, Mother of Pearl, Bakelite, Calico, and Celluloid plus others. Since the pieces use particular types of buttons for each accessory, you might not be able to exactly duplicate the ideas shown, but the techniques are timeless.

Grandmother's Buttons

Susan Davis founded Grandmother's Buttons after creating a pair of earrings from her grandmother's sparkling jet glass buttons from the 1930s. People at the craft fairs where Davis originally sold her handmade, one-of-a-kind button jewelry pieces were surprised by her clever use of something so practical into wearable art. Nowadays, artists use not only buttons, but also hardware pieces, assorted charms and trinkets and everything but the kitchen sink to make jewelry.

Stacked Button Jewelry with Vintage Buttons

Creating jewelry by stacking buttons together is one technique I love. Find buttons that vary in size but complement each other. On the top of the stacked buttons, add a small 4 mm crystal bead as an accent. You can wire the stacked buttons together with a fine gauge wire or sew them onto a wide piece of elastic for a unique cuff style bracelet. For delicate beadwork, I use Fireline beading thread. It doesn't fray, stretch or unravel.

The pictures are amazing and you are sure to find inspiration in Davis' book. Don't expect to master all the techniques in one weekend. The stacked buttons used in the Stacked Celluloid Button Brooches project are large celluloid coat buttons from the 1920s and 30s. She adds a pin back to the back of the large button with jewelry glue. You can use a pin back with or without a bail, depending on if you are planning to wear your piece as a brooch or necklace.

Stacked Button Cuff Bracelet

A Victorian metal button stacked on top of a celluloid coat button creates a dramatic statement.
A Victorian metal button stacked on top of a celluloid coat button creates a dramatic statement.

How to Identify Celluloid Buttons

Not sure whether your button is celluloid? Here's how to find out. Microwave a small bowl or mug of water for a minute on high and dip the very edge of the button in the water. Does it smell a bit like Vick's Vapor Rub? (Camphor smell) If it does, the button is celluloid.

Antique or Modern Buttons...Figuring Out the Age by the Shank

Most of us don't know the difference between an "antique" button and a modern button. Modern buttons refer to those made in 1918 or after. Prior to 1918, buttons had a looped or twisted wire that was embedded in the metal back. If you turn the button over and see the wire shank, it probably was made before 1918.

Use A Button For A Gorgeous Clasp

Vintage buttons make gorgeous clasps. On the other end of your bracelet or necklace, you can string a series of 4mm crystals or glass beads to form the loop. A great idea that really showcases a gorgeously detailed button is to use the button as a clasp toggle. I have been using this technique for several years but have only recently seen other designers doing this. This makes your button a statement piece. It does require using a bit of restraint, which I've never been good at. How can I decide which button to use when I've got such a massive collection? A vibrant peyote cuff deserves a stunning clasp. The contrast of rhinestones with colorful glass beads is delightful. Check out the Mermaid Cuff above. A word of caution about peyote's completely addictive. Once you get the hang of this stitch, you will return to it time and time again. If you haven't learned it yet, watch the Youtube tutorial and get started. Even if you're only using the simplest glass sead beeds, they will look so elegant and be transformed into a work of art. Use a good beading thread like Fireline. Don't even think about skimping on bead thread because your work needs to hold up well for years to come. Fireline does not stretch, fray or unravel like cheap beading thread. Get the good stuff if you are serious about your jewelry design. The large seed bead multicolored mix is from Hobby Lobby.

The Start of My Vintage Button Jewelry Career

At a craft show in South Carolina, I was approached by a buyer from the Upcountry History Museum in Greenville, SC. A bracelet that I had made from modern buttons and glass beads caught her eye. Each bead and button was individually knotted onto a thin strip of leather cord. The clasp consisted of a stunning button. This button bracelet was inspired by a jewelry design book I found at my local library. Originally, I made the piece in just a few colors. The History Museum showcases work made by local artisans and the buyer was on the hunt for new work to add to the gallery.

Since I lived in Charlotte, I was not considered local enough but since my work was related to the textile industry, through the use of antique and vintage buttons, I was welcomed into the gift shop. This was the first time that a shop approached me as an artist. My designs were selling in other shops on consignment but I had never sold my work wholesale to a buyer before.

Excited, I rushed home to figure out where I would find these antique buttons. After weeks of scouring the internet and waiting for the mail to arrive each day so I could inspect my purchases, I had aquired quite a vast collection of vintage and antique buttons. Now, some of the most exquisite buttons that have passed over my fingertips have been turned into wearable art that will be around for years to come.

Get Started With Peyote Stitch Beading

Vintage Button Jewelry

Have you used vintage buttons to make jewelry?

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Peyote Stitch Bracelet by Heather Walton

Peyote Stitch Bracelet
Peyote Stitch Bracelet | Source
Use a vintage button to create a gorgeous clasp.  Check out my tutorial for making a Gypsy Button Bracelet.
Use a vintage button to create a gorgeous clasp. Check out my tutorial for making a Gypsy Button Bracelet.
Pictured above, blue glass Czech self-shank buttons.
Pictured above, blue glass Czech self-shank buttons.
Gypsy Button Bracelet by jewelry designer Heather Walton of Charlotte NC
Gypsy Button Bracelet by jewelry designer Heather Walton of Charlotte NC
Typewriter Key Jewelry
Typewriter Key Jewelry

Gorgeous Rhinestone Buttons


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