Ysolda and I have been pursuing our craft tour with gusto. It now appears to be extending out from Edinburgh in several directions. The other day, we traveled a bit further than usual on the East Coast Mainline, and hopped on a train to York. York is one of my old stomping grounds, and there are many reasons to visit. It is a great compact city in which you can literally walk through a whole millennium, admiring fine examples of British architecture from the Roman to the Victorian. It is home to one of the most important Gothic cathedrals in Northern Europe. And the light in York is always particularly beautiful — something about the flatness of the landscape and the soft colours of the stone. None of this interested us, however. We went to York for buttons.
In York, Duttons for Buttons is something of a local institution, and, if you ask me, it deserves to be a national one as well. For Duttons is so much more than a well-stocked haberdashers with friendly, knowledgeable staff, selling an excellent range of needlecraft and dressmaking supplies and notions. Duttons is, in fact, the spiritual home of the button, a palace, a shrine, a hymn to that tiny and miraculous combination of decorative form and function . . .
Buttons exemplify the appeal of the numinous and miniature. They are ordinary things, neither jewels nor sweeties, but there is still something precious, sensuous, near-edible about them. And, unlike jewel-things, buttons have an important functional point to make. If fabric is the language, then buttons are the grammar of our clothing — openings, pauses, closings — as well the decorative accent of any outfit.
We all know the singular pleasure of poking around in a button box — the delight of handling, arranging, and admiring lovely button-things. Now imagine that box-sized pleasure magnified to the size of a shop, and you have some sense of just how great it is to be in Duttons. There is the satisfying knowledge that you have over 12,000 kinds of buttons to play with and choose from. Then there is the space of Duttons itself, with its medieval beams and wobbly floor. The shop fittings have stayed the same for forty years or more — the buttons are displayed, floor-to-ceiling, in worn, compartmentalised cardboard boxes, which you can examine on pleasing tables that pull out from the button-wall.
The sheer range of Duttons buttons is frankly amazing. There is glass and acrylic, wood and cloisonné, in an incredible array of sizes, styles and hues. And what makes some of this stock so precious, is that so much of it is discontinued. Many of the buttons sold here have their stylistic origins in the 40s and 50s and are literally at the end of the line. The nine buttons you buy for your coat or cardigan might be the last few available anywhere. Superlatives really cannot capture the sheer wonder that is Duttons. If you are lucky enough to live in West or North Yorkshire, you will also find branches in Ilkley and Harrogate.
Here are some of my spoils.
Oh, and by the way, York is brilliant for many crafty things other than buttons. These include Betty’s . . .
(the mere phrase ‘selection of miniature cakes’ on the menu made me stupidly gleeful)
. . . and of course, beer
. . . the subject of other posts.
And just a quick a note about the owlet – – I was very interested in your comments, and in Franklin Habit’s remarks about the same issue, to which Lucette linked. After reading both, I was filled with a militant desire to chat to mums in the street, and ask their kids to wear my sweater. Over the past few days I’ve tried this with mixed results. Unlike Franklin, the problem I discovered was not the attitude of the parents to the weird-sweater-brandishing-person (all were interested, most were helpful) but simply the age and size of the kids on offer — I’ve just not been able to find any 1 year olds! In Duttons, for example, I got chatting to a lovely mum with an equally lovely toddler, but when we matched kid up to sweater the latter turned out to be much too small. And just when I was beginning to think that, since toddlers seem to be clearly the most numerous, or at least the most publicly available size of kid, I’d better just knit another sweater, I received an email from a someone and her just-one-year-old who may well turn out to be my owlsend. Hurrah! More soon.