Thursday, January 2, 2014

Woven button tutorial - back-stitched buttons



As you may have seen in my last post, I have been making woven buttons recently. This time I actually remembered to take photos of the process so that people could learn this excellent technique from the photos. I will always be grateful to Lady Ysmay de la Mor who taught me this technique many years ago at a collegium.

First, start with a wooden bead of the size you want your button to be. Some beads are very rough inside the hole and this can snag and break your thread, so I have a bead reamer or circular fine file on hand to smooth rough edges.

Cut off a long piece of thread. I usually use crochet cotton because it covers well, is durable and comes in a range of colours, but I have also used embroidery silk and embroidery cotton floss. For a small button, I usually cut off about a metre and a half of thread. This is usually way too much and gets lots of snags, but leaves me with no worries that I will run out of thread part way through and leaves lots of thread left over to do a buttonhole loop at the bottom.

Find a medium size needle. Too big is unwieldy and too small will stop you threading the eye with crochet cotton. I like tapestry needles and crewel needles. Tapestry needles are good; because they are blunt there is less chance that you will accidentally go through a thread spoke rather than under it as you weave. Thread your needle with your thread and take the thread through the bead. Tie it off around the bead, making a 'spoke'. Don't tie it off ridiculously tightly, remember that you need to be able to put your threaded needle under the spoke. Gently pull the end of the thread and wiggle the knot inside the hole in the bead where it won't be seen.



Once you have knotted off your thread, wiggle the knot down inside the bead where it won't be seen



Make at least another five 'spokes' evenly around the bead. You don't need to tie these off. I like to work eight or ten spokes for a small bead but have done more. Some people work clockwise or anticlockwise, it is a personal choice.

Making the spokes. You can have an odd or even number.

I personally like ten spokes for this size bead. Try and get them fairly evenly spread out around the bead.



Take the thread up through the centre of the bead and work a stitch from the very edge of the hole to the next spoke. Take the thread under the spoke, over the top, and back under. This is the back-stitch. It accentuates the spines or spokes, giving a decorative raised effect. (If we used an over-stitch here, the button would have flat sides.)


Make sure that you weave under the spoke threads and be careful not to pierce them with the needle


Keep repeating the process over and over, all the way around. Make sure that you keep the tension fairly even and ensure that the threads are laying nice and flat and covering well to ensure no gaps show through. If you do this, you should be able to cover a white bead with dark thread and not worry about any white showing through.

At the beginning, it looks like a lumpy mess. Have faith; the spines will become more apparent as you work down the bead.


The raised effect over the spines is starting to be very visible


As I weave my thread through, I keep a finger or two looped through the long part to stop it twisting up. This is mainly because I use such a long thread and the crochet cotton really wants to snag after it has been woven around a few times. I tried beeswax to make it behave, but then the thread didn't sit as nicely or cover as well, so now I just keep a finger in the loop to reduce snags.


More than three quarters complete!



All the weaving is complete 

After some time, your bead will be covered. If you want to add decorations, now is the time. You can thread a small bead onto the thread and anchor it in the centre of the hole in the wooden bead or add a knot in the centre, add decorative over-spokes in another colour, or (my personal favourite!) add a fluffy tassel or pom-pom in the centre hole of the wooden bead in the Elizabethan style.

A woven button with a bead added on the top


An Elizabethan style button with a very short pom-pom or tassel decoration on top




When the bead is fully covered, I usually take the thread back down through the centre of the bead to the bottom. I turn the bead over and secure my thread through one of the now fully covered and raised spokes. Then I take the thread directly across to the other side of the hole (making a small loop) and secure the thread there. Then I take it back to the original stitch and secure it there again. This is the base of the shank (or loop) to sew it down. (Some people I know use the left over thread end to sew the button on, but I really like to a button-hole loop so that I can cut the buttons off easily for laundering. I just use normal sewing thread and sew the buttonhole shank onto the garment.)

Two loops across the hole which are secured and will be stitched over with buttonhole stitch to make the shank 


Don't make the shank base too tight. It needs to have a little but of give- you will be buttonhole-stitching across it to make the shank. When you have done this, secure your thread, knot off and take your thread through to a place on the shank where it is not obvious, and cut off the leftover thread. Then sit back and enjoy your handiwork!

Working the shank


Working the buttonhole bar or shank at the bottom of the button

The buttonhole stitched shank almost finished


The finished button showing the buttonhole bar or shank to stitch it on to clothing with



Two completed buttons

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