Whenever I go to Bridport Art’s Centre for a craft fair, I meet a lovely lady called Marcia, she makes buttons, Dorset buttons. Here she is concentrating on the tiny stitches.
Marcia has been making Dorset buttons for about 8 years, but the craft, known as ‘Buttony’ began in 1669, in a small Shaftesbury workshop, belonging to Abraham Case. The buttons with names like High Tops, and Dorset Knob became the most popular ones in England in the 17th and 18th centuries, spreading to Europe and even to the colonies. I’d be interested to know if anyone in Australia, Canada or the United States have ever come across them, Ruth perhaps?
As demand for buttons increased, so the cottage industry grew, with many farm working families finding that they could earn more money, without the drudge of hard labour on the land.
In 1851, at the Great Exhibition, the Button making machine was introduced. This struck a fatal blow to the workers, some chose to emigrate to the colonies, those that remained suffered dreadful hardship.
The skills of Buttony have not been lost, they are still being skilfully and artfully made by people like Marcia. She makes the Blandford Cartwheel design among others, and has brought their beauty into the 21st century, making them into lovely bracelets, earrings, brooches and cuff-links. She’s also created an ammonite shape alongside the usual round. Here is some of her work.
And what could be nicer than a bold cartwheel brooch adorning a beret?
Marcia says, ‘As a farmer’s daughter myself, the realisation of what these peoples must have suffered, is my inspiration to be part of a growing interest in bringing this beautiful craft to the attention of the modern world.’
Thank you Marcia for your enthusiasm about Buttony and your lovely company!