The Button Jar

Perhaps button jars have gone the way of the darning egg (unlamented!) but I think most women used to keep one, full of the buttons removed from wornout clothing. The buttons were saved for replacing lost ones, or for sewing new garments—a pretty common thing up through the sixties. Then the clothing itself was recycled, as we would call it now, as rags for cleaning and household projects, or perhaps as quilt or blanket material.

I remember playing with my mom’s jar of buttons when I was very young; all the colors, textures, and sizes, made it fascinating. Probably she told me some of the stories about where particular buttons had come from, though I don’t remember that. I have my own small button jar, and if I’d had kids or grandkids, I would have gotten it out once in a while on a rainy day.

Mine doesn’t have such interesting buttons as my mother’s jar did; buttons are simpler and cheaper now, throwaway items, and I haven’t gone in much for fancy clothing, while my mom during her single days working in San Francisco used to save up for some special item at I. Magnin’s. Still, I’ve accumulated a good variety.


Somehow I ended up with one or two items from her collection, though: two big metal buttons with a Latin motto (“Our hope is God”, and I liked the Latin but did not absorb the sentiment) from a corduroy car coat I had in high school,


and (my favorite as a child) the metal wolf’s head.


I suppose this wolf was from a cub scout uniform, but there were no cub scouts in our extended family, so it remained mysterious in origin and attractive to the imagination.


Above, old buttons. Below, Watercolor “Out of the Jar V…..Antique Buttons” by Janet Mach Dutton.


If you were wondering about what a darning egg was, here’s a drawing of one so you can go to your wood-lathe and make your own [courtesy of].

Button JarDarningEgg.jpg

The result will be a device that goes into a sock, to provide shape and support while darning a hole. Below, one made from a piece of chestnut stair railing alongside a sample of the railing. My mother had one, lacquered black, but I don’t remember ever seeing it used.


2 thoughts on “The Button Jar

  1. I respect those who do sew, knit, and crochet, like those who garden or keep little orchards or hens. All these activities connect us to a form of reality that can be elusive. We are a tropical ape that forgets what sustains us. Loved the button pictures, so lovely they are.

  2. This takes me way back! I well remember my mother’s crammed button jar. I used to play with them, make up stories (of course) about the oddly shaped ones–but don’t recall ever sewing with them. Beautiful photos. Thanks for the memories.

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