Buttons of Dreams

Several of you left comments or sent me messages regarding my button dilemma (for which many thanks). But the biggest thanks must go to Jayne, who told me about the amazing buttons of Lionel Nichols. (Warning! Prepare yourselves! The link takes you directly to button heaven!) Sixty years ago, Nichols fashioned beautiful glass buttons by hand for London couturiers. His daughter, Dixie, has inherited his collection, and now offers the remaining buttons for sale in seasonal collections. To quote Dixie’s website:

“For two decades, 1946 to 1966, L. Nichols produced what were probably the most interesting and original buttons in England. I have boxes and boxes of buttons, many of them unopened for decades, a treasure trove built up order by order as extras had to be made to ensure that a matched set could be found for each garment, in spite of the irregularities of the hand made process.”

All of Nichols buttons are unique, and many are quite staggeringly beautiful. Perusing Dixie’s collections, I was reminded of just how precious-seeming and utterly desirable buttons can be (more thoughts on which here). Indeed, in terms of their beauty, the care of their craftmanship and their sheer rarity, these buttons really are almost jewels. . . and their prices quite rightly reflect this. . . in any case, when I spotted the buttons you see above I knew I had to have them for my 1930s/40s inspired cardigan. This is the first time I have ever made anything in which the cost of the fastenings has outweighed the cost of the yarn, but these really are superlative buttons.

This cardigan does not have buttonholes: rather, I’ve used clear snap fasteners and a taped reinforcement on the inside of each of the button bands to secure the closures and help the cardigan fronts to keep their shape. Most people use grosgrain ribbon to do this, but I tried this linen tape I had knocking about, which seemed the right sort of colour.

Does it sound weird if I say that I really enjoyed stitching the tape to the inside of the button bands? And am I allowed to admit that I am quite proud of my almost invisible stitches?

I secured the snap fasteners and buttons using strong quilting thread. Then I un-plied a few lengths of the corriedale yarn I had used to knit the cardigan, and, with a sharp sashiko needle, covered all the stitches that were showing on the right side of the garment with the single-plyed yarn. I also went all-out binding and blanket-stitching the shanks of the buttons: they are quite heavy, and need lots of reinforcing to sit correctly.

(the Nichols buttons have been updated with new metal shanks that are well-made and well-glued)

Anyway, I’m pleased with my finishing – which has resulted in a cardigan that closes neatly without undue stretch to the front bands. . . adorned with some extra-special buttons.

I really am stupidly happy with the Nichols buttons and, since they were attached to the cardigan, have been revelling in foolish button joy.

(Pics and specs of the whole shebang tomorrow. Can you tell I am excited?)

35 responses

  1. These are indeed the buttons of dreams!

    I am nearly always displeased by the effect of a knitted buttonhole + button effect; the knitting usually swamps the buttons and then the buttonhole usually stretches, thus misshaping the knitted button band.

    Your method is superior.

    Reinforced button band + snap fasteners + BUTTONS OF DREAMS = a winning solution to knitting/button misery.

  2. I’m excited right along with you – the colour looks superb and there’s (almost) nothing better than finding the perfect set of buttons. I’ve also been thinking about reinforcing some of my buttonbands, especially where the yarn is inclined to stretch, and may have to get som ribbon or tape.

  3. They look exactly like little, melting ice cubes. Buttons of dreams indeed! Your excitement is infectious, and I can’t wait to view the whole garment. I am also rather envious of your button sewing prowess, am I alone in hating the whole business of attaching buttons?

  4. Wow they look really good and the winding round of the shank stem is a really clever way to stop the buttons drop when not done up. I agree with Charlotte they do look exactly like just melting ice cubes, I shall always think of those that way. I love the expression “buttons of dreams” its up there with “a prince amongst button makers” Anyway thanks to all the lovely things you have written a whole flurry of people have asked to be added to the list to get updates when I add new buttons to the site. So your blog has Power and Influence which is good to know. I Googled to find out what had happened and here I am to say thank you

  5. Anyone who does’t understand your joy need not ask for explanation. If you don’t “get it”, you won’t understand the explanation. Button lust; one of life’s decadent pleasures.
    Buttons worthy of your gorgeous cardigan!

  6. I went button shopping today, and bought plain, plasticy things. They are, however, RED buttons to go on a dull heather gray sweater, so they’ll pack a punch.

    Your excitement is palpable, and I totally get it. I’m really looking forward to the finished pics of your sweater.

  7. Wow, Kate, these are amazing–thanks for sharing! There are a couple of things I’m currently looking for buttons for, but also, looking at the website, I was envisioning knitting things just to be able to use these buttons! (Not sure my bank balance will thank you, but I’m excited!) And I’m also really looking forward to seeing your latest creation unveiled tomorrow! All best, Marina

  8. Odd that I’ve seen the Lionel Nichols buttons before, but they’ve never grabbed me until I saw them on your cardigan. I am impatient to see the whole thing!

    I completely understand your foolish button joy; I bought tiny square vintage glass buttons for my first cardigan (still in progress, aargh!), and nearly did a little dance in the shop when I saw them. And then I went and bought more buttons just because I liked them. What is it about buttons? I have such strong memories of the ones in my mum’s button box.

  9. They are perfectly lovely! However, please do save the 3 green ones for another green sweater in the future. They are too amazing on green wool to languish in a button box.

  10. The buttons are definitely worth reveling in, they are gorgeous. Since I’ve just recently had my own joyful button experience I understand the feeling that sometimes those tiny details really do make all the difference.

  11. Thank you for sharing the link to the Nichols buttons — they are exquisite. I wish my wallet wasn’t looking so empty right now. I had a button bliss experience when I recently sewed buttons onto my first sweater. Now I can’t wait to finish the next one so I can go button shopping again. All the time carefully sewing and reinforcing goes quickly when the buttons are exactly what one wants (or, in your case, even better than you imagined they could be).

  12. Thanks so much for the link to the Nicholls buttons – an interesting story behind some outstanding creativity. Your button photo reminds me of underwater creatures full of mystery.

  13. Thankyou for the link, I have ordered some buttons, such a find in these days of mass production. The buttons you choose are perfect for your cardigan, cannot wait to see a full photo.

  14. Oh they are beautiful,one of a kind, and lovely against the green.
    Thanks for explaining your fastening method, I have long been disappointed with knitted buttonholes. In fact, have you ever heard anyone enthuse about them? Even Maggie Rhighetti says “buttonholes are bast*rds!”. Shall try the grosgrain and snap method on my cardigan when finished. Not forgetting beautiful buttons!

  15. Hi Kate,

    I am currently knitting a Neep Heid beret for my mother for Christmas. It is a great design so I will probably make one for myself as well (even though I look extremely stupid in berets). Looking forward to the pattern for your beautiful cardigan!

    Take care, and keep knitting!

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