Dorset Buttoned Up

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.

db1Marcia 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!




25 thoughts on “Dorset Buttoned Up

  1. How Wonderful is that! Years ago I use to make all my clothes and bought buttons at the fabric shop but to see these is amazing. So intricate a design. I love to do stitchery but haven’t for some time now due to my very bad eyesight (although I am thinking of trying again as I do have a magnifying glass). Thank you so much for sharing! 🙂

  2. I’ve never heard of Buttony, Gilly, but what lovely things they are. How long does it take her to complete one? Thanks for such a lovely share. 🙂 🙂 Hugs, sweetheart!

  3. What a wonderful post, Gilly. I love hearing about old crafts being revived – or maintained. There is a movement in Croatia to prevent the loss of lace-making skills: I spoke to a woman in Dubrovnik who’d learnt from her grandmother, and was demonstrating her skill in the old town. Such arts are so time intensive, and so beautiful. I’d love a button brooch for my beret! Thank you for introducing me to Marcia and buttony, and for a glimpse into the pleasures of your crafty side.

    1. I would love to make a button for your beret. If you could tell me what colours you would prefer, and how to send it to you, it would be a pleasure to send one to Croatia!!

      1. Would it also be a pleasure to send one to an Australian living I n Warsaw?? I was only travelling in Croatia. If so, red and black would be my colour scheme. Let me know price and method of payment and I’ll let you know my address

  4. Dorset buttons and button-making in general are certainly having a resurgence of popularity. Although the buttons are fairly quick and simple to make, they can instantly transform the item they are used upon.

  5. Thanks to Marcia for preserving the traditional hand craft. How very special and beautiful.
    Thank you, Gilly for introducing her artful works and the historical information to us. 🙂

  6. These buttons are unique. I wish I’d been with you, Gilly. Thanks for the mention! I’m sorry I missed it initially but so happy you asked how I liked them. Fuzzy brain from time change? that’s the day of nine hours on the train. Forgive me. The buttons are very cool!

  7. I’ve never seen one of these before, but now I’m going to have to be on the lookout for them. I love unique handmade details like this! And how special that there are people continuing the tradition.

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