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Do-It-Yourself: Button Up

Thread, artfully arranged, takes a fastener from ordinary to elaborate

Photography by Tom Green

Buttons of silk or mohair threads decoratively wrapped over wooden, bone or horn “molds” commonly adorned men’s garments throughout the 18th century.

Patterns with names like “death-head” and “basket” could be had in single hues, multicolored, and gold and silver threads. Available from London merchants, but also made by local tailors, a few dozen buttons were needed for each suit.

As these styles of buttons fell from use, so did the skills in making them. Mark Hutter, Colonial Williamsburg’s first master tailor, has reconstructed the technique by examining decaying originals. He shares his technique here. The next time you are in the Historic Area, stop by the tailor at the Durfey Shop and look at the variety of buttons.

The buttons of this 1790 silk embroidered waistcoat were wrapped in three different colors of thread. (Jason Copes/Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)



Wrapping thread (silk buttonhole twist or pearl embroidery cotton)

linen thread

Needle, Scissors

Wooden button molds