Sunday, 11 April 2010

My father found some buttons

recently. They were in a drawer with some old cassette tapes that had not been touched for more than twenty years. We do not even have anything to play them on. As they are mostly lectures and some music my mother liked but the rest of us did not the tapes were of little interest. He tossed those out but he kept the buttons.
We think my mother must have bought them on their trip to Tasmania because the timber is uniquely Tasmanian. They were still sealed in their little plastic packet. The bark is chocolate brown and the timber itself is honey-coloured. They are pretty but there are only six of them and they are rather small - which is possibly why my mother never used them.
My father made inquiries of me. What would you use them for? Knitted garments. How big should buttons be? I showed him various sizes. How many should there be in a set? I explained.
I knew what he was thinking.
He has a store of timber. He has collected it over the years. He has picked it up in the wild or rescued it from what other people has dumped. Once he obtained a rubbish bag half full of huon pine that a shop outfitter was throwing away. Huon pine is incredibly rare and precious. You may no longer cut down a huon pine tree - and rightly so. They take thousands of years to grow. The grain is incredibly fine. Once, they actually made railway sleepers and fence posts from huon pine. They had no idea back then how valuable the timber would be. My father has always his small store of it sparingly. He is determined to waste none of it. He has beech and birch and various oaks, leopardwood, gums, mulgas, olive, walnut, blackwood and jarrah. He has small pieces of timber from all over the place. All of them have been rescued from other people or found lying on the ground. He has only ever bought timber from renewable and sustainable resources.
So, the rare timbers are precious. They are also often incredibly complex and beautifully marked. And some of the pieces have been so small that he has not, until now, known what to do with them. Buttons however do not take a lot of timber. He is experimenting. They are fiddly to make but he is relishing the challenge. The present buttons are round. He is turning them on his tiny metal lathe. He is puzzling over the problem of making "square" buttons. They need a slight camber at the edges. He has read the books on buttons I borrowed from the library for him. There were not that many wooden buttons there. We looked at buttons in a shop in the city. Nice, but we both liked the idea of working buttons.
The buttons will be plain for that reason. It is the timber which is a work of art.


Sheep Rustler said...

We have a few beautiful items of huon pine bought in Tasmania from wonderful craftsmen - a couple of round boxes used for keeping necklaces and cufflinks in, a rolling pin that I handle with extreme care, and a needlecase. My husband loves things made from beautiful timbers so I often buy him something for a special occasion if I see something really lovely, made from a labelled timber by someone who obviously loves the material. Just keep the buttons as objects of beauty. I have several sets of buttons made from wonderful materials that I may never use but are just lovely objects.

catdownunder said...

I have some wonderful pewter buttons I bought in Norway - the only thing I could afford - that I have never put on a garment. I might one day but, you are right, they are lovely to look at!
Some of these are going to be really lovely - the mulga has come up beautifully. None of it is easy to work. The timbers all tend to be very hard.

Holly said...

Buttons are wonderful - if you want comparisons - go look at for what people are making and selling.

Pewter on Norwegian sweaters - wood on everything else - only way to go!

Rachel Fenton said...

Buttons are most lovliest of man made items surely. I have hundreds. Sete, odd ones, and anything in between. I like to look at them and hold them and thread them on coloured strings then put them all away again. Sometimes I use them. I sew them on tops to hide stains or holes and I change them to give a tired thing a new life. Rarely I sew them onto dolls and give them away.
And I wrote a line about wooden buttons in a novel...I once had a small piece of what I was told was African box wood. It looked black with a spongy cork like bark - would have been from a branch I imagine...

Anonymous said...


What treasures! I love timber anything, and buttons of any kind, and I am hoping that Butch will consider making buttons from scrap timber sometime in retirement. (But first things first, the bookshelves!)

As stamp collectors don't use their stamps, I don't use my button collection either, but do play with them from time to time!

Judy B