Buttons and Bows: EOTWQ

Here’s a little something to wile away a snowy January night, if you’re not already tucked up under the duvet.

My mum died about 14 years ago and I “inherited” her Singer sewing machine. When it was purchased in the 1930s it was powered by hand / treadle, but at some point she had it converted to electricity and incorporated into a wooden cabinet with drawers for all the sewing equipment, and a cunningly designed top which slides off when you want to use the machine. Since 1998 it has been moved around my house and gradually crammed full of my sewing stuff; young Munday’s toys and all sorts. Today I decided to tidy it up, and found mum’s paraphernalia still under the rubble; bits of lace and elastic from her old petticoats; hooks and eyes; wool for darning socks; old Yardley’s Lavender soap boxes full of ribbons and bows; name tags; needle cases; a complimentary sewing kit from the hotel we stayed in for my brother’s wedding in 1968 and Easter chicks I made as a child. It was a strange feeling, like finding a time capsule. So my questions are:

1. Do you have a similar experience to share?
2. Do you keep things in case they come in handy, or
3. Do you chuck things out rather than have a load of clutter?
4. What can I do with my chocolate box full of buttons?

Links to any relevant music are welcome, as always. Have fun!

65 thoughts on “Buttons and Bows: EOTWQ

    • 1) I’ve got a bunch of 1980s digital car radios bought for cheap from junkyards. I’d power them off 12v power supplies because they were very good receivers and could tune in several radio stations that I couldn’t otherwise hear.
      I also have a factory AM radio out of a 1970s Freightliner truck – the kind of rig my father drove when I was a wee lad. I never got to ride in his truck but had always wanted to.

      2) I keep as much as will fit in my toolbox. Being in a 1BR flat puts a big damper on how much stuff you can accumulate.

      3) Threw out several years worth of sports magazines just recently. Agonized over the decision for months before doing so.

      4) My nieces, knowing that I didn’t have room for a Christmas tree, got me a small 18″ artificial tree and decorated with ornaments made from buttons. Just sayin’

      • Should also mention that I put the magazines (over 50 lbs!) in a *recycling bin* to stay on Mother Earth’s good side.

        The car-radio-on-12-volt-power supply is my own “redneck sound system,” but others have done it too. There’s videos on YouTube showing how to build one using the power supply out of a scrapped computer.

  1. 1) Well, not really, due to being a vagabond i’m not a pack rat. My mom wants to leave me her engagement ring, i told her to leave it to my niece, all i want is the university portraits on her and my dad.

    A humiliating recent sort of experience – on Thanksgiving my niece brought her nice new-ish boyfriend for dessert, and we were looking at a board collage of family photos. I pointed to one and said, look, i was pretty once, wasn’t i. My sister said, that’s me, you fucking idiot. And it was. We look nothing alike either.

    2) Nope, see #1. I’m a vagabond and take my chances.

    3) I go through periodic weedouts of crap. Getting ready to move on a dime here soon, so i need to go throgh and chuck all of the junk mail i’ve let accumulate.

    4) These are keepers. I need a button right now for a coat and can’t find one anywhere in town, there are no fabric or sewing shops.

    • “on Thanksgiving my niece brought her nice new-ish boyfriend for dessert”

      Makes a nice change from pumpkin pie I suppose.

    • Sorry, I laughed about the photo. And you’re right about keeping crap, that was partly why I was tidying up. I don’t seem to have time for the last 14 years or so, not having a job now I’m suddenly aware of all the sh*t I haven’t dealt with at home.

    • Before I moved house, my sister came round – I was so hoping she’d take a whole lot of Mother’s stuff, but she was only interested in her rings. She said would I mind if she had Mother’s wedding ring? Of course I didn’t mind…and neither did I twig. My sister got married four months after that.

      • Ha! I don’t trust myself, i’d probably sell the ring if i was broke. Also, it’s platinum, and i don’t have the skin color for it, i wear gold. If i ever get married, a simple gold band is enough for me, i don’t need a rock.

      • But my mom does want to leave me a strand of pearls my dad left here, those i’d probably make use of. And subsequently leave them to my niece, most likely.

        But i’m hoping i’m not in a postiion to inherit them for a long time yet.

      • She had rock for an engagement ring (which she got 6 years after they actually married – they were too poor for a rock when they got engaged / married) and she also had a platinum wedding band with very tiny channel diamonds. That is lovely, but can’t wear the color.

      • I lost mum’s engagement ring down a crack in the bathroom floorboards, but when the bath leaked and the kitchen ceiling had to be replaced, a very nice builder managed to find it for me. (Every cloud, etc.) – I don’t dare wear it though, I am hopeless with jewelery.

  2. 1) I’m afraid am preparing a similar experience for my kids with all my knitting paraphernalia – our little flat is gradually being taken over by the mountains of yarn I’ve been acquiring of late. Which leads us nicely on to questions 2) and 3)…of course I never throw anything away, I am the Queen of Clutter, and
    4) I’ll take it!

    Zalamanda – I love ‘If I Had A Ribbon Bow’ by Maxine Sullivan which was the version I heard first.

  3. 1 – I do not have that experience yet as I am lucky both my parents are alive and in good health thank god.

    2 – I do usually have a craft project I am doing and I often modify clothes I buy in flea markets but I rarely keep things “just in case”

    3 – My apartment is quite small so I usually am very strict with about clutter. I usually sell some of my older clothes to second hand stores when I buy new things to make room for them.

    4 – you can use buttons to decorate almost anything ! ! ! But I think they are nicer if you make a little cover for them using scrap material. Here is what I mean . .


  4. 1. Depending on which sort of experience we’re talking about… Don’t knit, and sew only for emergency repairs; Mrs Abahachi tries to knit every so often, but it’s a bit difficult with four cats, at least two of whom are convinced that the only reason anyone would ever have a ball of wool is so that they can play with it. As for inheritances, both my parents are still alive; I do have a 1960s vintage Crombie inherited from my paternal grandfather, which is lovely for the cold weather, and the pewter tankard of my late father-in-law.

    2./3.: Both: I do tend to keep things like screws, nails, other DIY things, spare parts etc., but am also a basically tidy person. Generally I manage this by buying limited amounts of new stuff, preferring (say) to wear clothes until they fall apart – which doesn’t go down especially well with Mrs A.

    4. Tiddlywinks?

    • Hmm, yes. I didn’t mention the cellar and the collection of miscellaneous screws, rawl plugs, ancient tools and gardening equipment. But I am fairly tidy – sort of organised chaos, if you like.

  5. I had a slightly different experience. A couple of years ago my late mum got someone to clear out the attic and deposited all the boxes filled with my stuff in the garage. Next time I came home, I was ordered to go through all the stuff, chuck out what was not needed and fill a shoe box – my size, fortunately – with what I wanted to keep. No more than a shoe box. It was a very emotional experience first going through things like my primary school report cards, photos of my adolescence, letters home from abroad and even something I’d made at woodwork classes at grammar school. Then consigning 99% of this stuff to the dustbin. A very tough few days.

    I hoard at the moment, but have the luxury of a huge flat to do so. Mrs Fugit is even worse than me. However, being ‘in transit’ most of my life has led me to the acceptance that most of our possessions will have to be dumped when we move back to Europe.

    When I was a small boy, we used to visit most elderly Aunt Dolly. The only thing she could offer my brother and me as toys was a big box of buttons. We spent many a happy hour constructing ‘pictures’ with them on the floor. Do you think that would still fly with children today?

    A further question to ask might be “What have you thrown away you really wished you hadn’t?” For me – probably my paltry record collection – back where it all started.

    • If you gave children a box of buttons today you would probably be up before the health and safety police in case the buttons were ingested, used as missiles or caused people to slip over. I did make some shell boxes with my step son, years ago – make a wooden box, glue shells to it and varnish – he seemed to enjoy it at the time.

      • You never know what they’ll enjoy…I nearly bought découpage kits for my grandsons at Christmas, but decided not to in case they thought they were girly. But yesterday they went to Hobbycraft and there was a woman demonstrating it: nobody was paying her any attention till Ivan went over and asked whether he could have a try. He became so absorbed in it that a whole crowd, seeing him, quickly gathered and by the time Ivan and co left there were loads of kids doing it! (And what Ivan did was beautiful btw.)

    • Oh,and I do miss my record collection but selling it enabled me to buy a ticket to go and visit my brother, so I don’t really mind. And most of it is available on the Internet now if I get really desperate.

      • I gave my vinyl collection to my then brother-in-law before i moved to NYC. No regrets there either, i move way too much. Everything all on digital now anyway, but it was rough for awhile before Humble Pie got digitized.

  6. Definitely keep the buttons.Like Tempusfugit, the button jar was one of my favourite toys when I was a small child. When my brother and I were clearing out my parents’ house (more than thirty years ago now), we set ourselves a rule of choosing three things each for their sentimental value and then looking at everything else saying “If it were for sale, would i buy it?”. My first choice of all was the button jar. I don;t play with it any more but I have added to the collection.

  7. 1 When my father came to live with me, his movers brought everything in his house; and as I’d previously brought everything from my old house, that meant we had two houses’ worth of stuff. But our new house was big (and had a double garage) so we just kept everything. It wasn’t till after my father had died, therefore, and I retired and had to pack up my stuff to move to a smaller house, that I had to face the great sort-through and throw-away.Very very painful, and because I’d put it off till the last minute (because of not being able to bear the thought of doing it) I had literally to throw away a lot of my mother’s things that I’d much rather have found homes for. But that takes longer.

    I did of course bring too much stuff in the end, which is why I have 12 large IKEA plastic boxes in the loft. Distributed among them (because vinyl is so heavy) is the whole of my LP and 45 collection, which I should dearly like to assemble in one place now that I have a turntable; but I can’t face going up in the loft at the moment.

    2 YES I always keep things. So did my mother – see above.

    3 HATE throwing things away.

    4 Keep it. I have my mother’s button box – she kept buttons separately, but when we were children we had what we called a ‘toolie box’ which was a wooden box, about a foot cubed, in which were kept all the oddments and leftover things that were no use on their own but were eminently playable-with en masse – what Shirley Jackson in Life Among The Savages calls ‘little wheels off things’. I’ve tried to assemble one for my grandsons but never got very far – they would love it though, I’m sure.

    • My mom was a massive pack rat. But she really impressed me when they sold the house and moved to an apartment in my brothers’ house that he built for them. She got rid of all of the childrens’ games and books and stuff by taking them to a consignment shop, and all of her clothes and books too. And furniture. So she both got rid of stuff, and got a little bit of money out of it too.

    • TFD, I think you are a bit like me. But I am getting better at getting rid of things, and being at home has focused me on making some space. My mum had a lovely button box with tiered layers, but I have no idea what happened to it, my brother did all the house clearance but I wouldn’t put it past him to have stowed it away somewhere! I spotted our old toffee tin last time I visited, unfortunately he insisted on giving it to me so I now have a tatty old tin with a kingfisher on it … hey ho.

  8. 1. Not really, I’ve got a few things that set me off down memory lane, a penknife my Dad gave me, a teddy from an early girlfriend, that sort of thing but I prefer not to dwell too much on the past.

    2. Yes but, funnily enough, when I do need them I can’t find them because of all the other stuff.

    3. See above though I do have the occasional clear out ( usually regretted later).

    4. Make buttonade ? I used to love my Mum’s button tin too, I can’t remember what I did with them but the colours and sizes and pearly finishes fascinated me. Save the buttons , just call it “a collection”.

  9. 1. Not so much a similar experience, but what came to mind is my little chair. As Darcey is getting to the age where she’ll be too big for it soon, and our house is getting just TOO cluttered, the chair’s place in our lounge is seriously under threat. But I don’t want to lose it. It’s a unique and solid proper mini-armchair, made for me personally as a baby (the current cloth is a reupholstery job from about ten years ago), and presented to my dad by the people he worked with way back then. The punchline? They were the inmates at Rampton.

    2. Do you keep things in case they come in handy?
    Yeah, though not as much as I used to. We actually have a large plastic tub in the utility toom marked up as the “HANDY BOX”. It’s got everything from odd-shape screwdriver heads to radiator thermostats to ‘ickle toughened-glass shelves in it. In response to what you’re thinking: no, I don’t either!!!!

    3. Do you chuck things out rather than have a load of clutter?
    No, they tend to get boxed and put up in the attic space. Moving around to get stuff in/out of there now (such as the Christmas decorations) is like a real-life-size version of those old 4×4 square plastic puzzles with the added complication of my fat arse stuck in the “free” square!

    4. What can I do with my chocolate box full of buttons?
    Get a camera crew to go with you, and take it to the Town Hall. Attempt to pay your Council Tax with it, explaining that it is all you have left after the shitty, shameful benefit cuts to defenceless families.

  10. As a former fashion designer, Mrs Panther is a whiz with a sewing machine and has made loads of baby stuff over the last few months. she’s knitted a good few baby cardigans etc too, but claims she’s still learning to knit…they look pretty amazing to my cack-handed eyes. Her main sewing machine (yes, she’s got two, they are for different types of sewing apparently!) has just conked out on her…but we can’t afford to shell out for a new one…or even to repair it, am searching for a cheapo second-hand one at the moment

    1. can’t think of anything quite like that, although we did have one of those sewing machine tables at our old flat.

    2 & 3 I don’t like clutter too much and am pretty quick to chuck stuff out. Mrs Panther is the opposite and claims everything might come in handy. To her credit, she does try to recycle most things, last week she dug out some old t-shirts that hadn’t been worn for years and made some baby trousers out of them!

    4. Keep ’em, buttons are ace!

    • Wish I could post you the sewing machine, it would be nice to think of it having a good home. My sewing efforts are a bit haphazard! Hand sewing is much easier.

      • I’ve got my mother’s Singer too. It’s a bit rusty though. And I know where it is in case I want it – the cupboard under the stairs.

  11. 1. My mother was a sample machinist / overlocker machinist and worked from home so that she could be there for us after school. But she suffered a slipped-disc and had to leave the job. I love the percussion sound sewing machines generate.

    Later on she developed a business that eventually employed six sewing machinists, but once her MS reduced her ability to work she lost a lot of money, although it was only ever about the making of things rather than the money. However, it was her obsession with developing the sewing business that led to my parents’ separation. My father made a fresh start and my mother took everything.

    She took things that didn’t belong to her, including lots of sewing boxes that belonged to my paternal grandmother. We found them after my mother died, along with other things never seen or thought long gone; a time capsule to a past my sister and I didn’t know we had and my father had forgotten.

    2. These days I keep some things for the kids but we get rid of lots of stuff on a periodic basis. After my mother died, I took five of her things that represent her. They look like junk but are a way I can tell her story. The sixth item would have been a thimble that had belonged to my paternal grandmother but that’s something I won’t forget and my father now has it.

    3. I let the clutter build but then chuck it. If it’s not been used for two years, it goes – recycled or binned. Actually, there is a very small case of stuff that is precious to me but Ms Fuel calls it junk.

    4. Ms Cute Girl Fuel had a tin box fill of buttons recently. She shook it, she drummed it, she whooshed it through the air. She scattered buttons over the floor, stood on the lid and skated on the newly sanded and waxed parquet. The box is now dented and bent and the lid fits no more. Buttons are still being found in the settee, sometimes they get put on the snowmen.

    Ms Cute Girl Fuel is not allowed anywhere near my tin box of button badges from rock’s post.punk era.

  12. Fuel, I hope I didn’t stir up any sad memories.

    I try to keep useful things; like you I get rid if they’re not used for a while. Stuff is just stuff, there are whole areas of my life which my son and ex partner have never experienced and when I go those memories will go with me, probably a good thing too. I’m beginning to think I could embrace minimalism, but I don’t like waste.

    • They’re mostly good memories and I don’t mind the sad memories either.

      In fact, it was nice to discover all the things my mother had kept or obviously stored for use at a later date. We learnt quite a lot.

      “Stuff is just stuff.” Very true in my case. Well, apart from my music collection and a few books and even some of that collection gets sold off or given away because the songs are in my head, somewhere.

  13. 1) Hmmmm. Nothing to do with sowing machines. I do have an envelope with some silly stuff that belonged to my old man. Some sew on badges from his army uniform, membership cards and I.D. forms from his days working for Customs and Excise in the Cunard Building in Liverpool. (The building to the right of the Liver Building at the Pier Head). He ran a football pools syndicate and I have the numbers and the perm they used, written in his handwriting.
    2/3) I tend to be selective in my choice of “things to keep”. As some have said above, I have a tendancy to keep what I think are practical, screws, bolts, tools drill bits etc. But at the same time I prefer the house to be free of clutter and will throw things out, or put things away, without consultation. And this has caused major upset in reverse……….I did have a collection of ticket stubs and programes from concerts, theater trips or visits to attractions etc. They were kept in a drawer with the prospect of one day being put together in a montage for memories sake. When we were moving house Mrs. blue managed to put them all in a black plastic bag that happened to “go missing” during packing.
    4) Everyone should have an old chocolate tin (ours has always been a Cadbury’s Roses tin) full of buttons. They are an essential part of a house becoming a home. Just like boxes of old photos and the cupboard under the sink.

    • I presume you are Bluepeter but whether or nay, I’ve been in the Cunard Building (and very grand it is, too). My button tin is Cadbury’s Roses too, a heart-shaped tin (which is totally impractical for tidy storage).

      • Lost a post, trying again.
        Yes, it is bluepeter………..I’ve not been in the Cunard Bldg. since I was about 8 or 9. But I will be visiting Liverpool in March for my brother Jimmy’s 65th. and hope to get to re-visit. The only thing I can remember is a nhuge entrance hallway with a large model of a ship in a glass case.
        I also hope to be able to catch up with a few ‘Spillers during my stay.

        • I used to work for one of the Government Offices and G.O. for the North West was based in Cunard House, so I visited a couple of times. If you’re visiting Liverpool, why not send out a message on the Spill and see if you can arrange a get together? It’s local for some and striking distance for quite a few more. If you’ve time, of course, it’s difficult to fit things in when you’re visiting.

  14. 1. Your post brought back some really happy memories for me. My grandmother in York worked from home, in what was her front room by night, as a dressmaker, Whenever I stayed there as a child, I would be sorting through through her fabric and haberdashery offcuts, or her button box, whilst she worked away at cutting or hemming or treadling on her (state of the art at the time) black and gold Singer sewing machine. I especially loved sorting the buttons by sizes and colours or making mosaic pictures. Sometimes we would make rag rugs, cutting scraps of bright coloured coating fabric into strips, and hooking them into a hessian backing, using a special tool designed for the purpose, arranging them by colour to make a pattern. I learnt so much from her about sewing techniques, without even realising it at the time. I now have my own button box, and my granddaughter will soon be old enough to sort through it. Your Yardley’s soap box also brought back childhood memories. We lived, for a time, near the Yardley’s soap box factory in Stratford, and it was quite a landmark locally with its enormous, and very beautiful to me, mosaic picture of flower sellers. See http://www.flickr.com/photos/dgeezer/2787430687/in/set-72157606620479123/

    2. Yes, definitely, especially sewing things – they are expensive in the first place, and you never know when you will need them. Anyway – I like them!

    3. I don’t like clutter, so I sincerely wish I was better at throwing things out routinely. About once a year I have a major clear out, making trips to the charity shop or the local tip, as appropriate.

    4. What can I do with my chocolate box full of buttons? If you don’t have any granddaughters or nieces (age 3 or over), or friends that do, and you really want to clear it out, I will happily give it a good home 🙂
    (address and cost of postage supplied on request)

  15. My grandmother was (amongst other things) a milliner; I don’t know if that’s where mum got her sewing interest from – though it was much more common for people to make and mend in those days. She taught me to sew through making dolls clothes and embroidered pictures, though I was never as neat as her. I have done rug making; my ex used to work out designs on graph paper (rather like you would for Fair isle patterns) and made some really stunning wool rugs.

    I’m not sure whether mum really liked Yardley’s Lavender or if it was just that all the family bought her soap for Christmas … it took her about 30 years to tell my dad that she didn’t like the type of chocolates he always bought her for her birthday!

    I’m inspired to keep my buttons now, but I’ll let you know if I have a change of heart. Thanks for sharing the memory.

    • I’m really glad to hear that you’ve decided to keep your button tin – every home should have one! And they have really come into their own recently, with the fashion for using same size but mismatched buttons on clothes, cushions etc

      Re graph paper and rug designs, lately my mind has been turning to the possibility of designing a tapestry, but I’ve been wondering where to begin. I will need a yarn sample book for the colours, but graph paper sounds like step 2!

      • My mother used to do tapestry – she started off with a kit, I think, but after that she designed her own. She made a cushion cover for each of my children and my nephew, but not one for me! However, I now have two cushions, and the cover of the music stool:

  16. 4. Dunnio, but it would take some explaining to the Doctor.
    3. Mrs S chucks junk out; I dive into waste receptacles to retrieve valuable treasure.
    2. Things that are supposed to handy, but have lost their handiness are disposed of. Things that were never handy are retained (if they escape the clutches of Mrs Neatfreak).
    1. Am informed a Doc visit was required for inserting a button up my nose as an infant, but nothing close to 4.

  17. @Treefrog, your tapestry is very beautiful. I love the colours, and the bits of asymmetry that seem to play tricks on the eye.

      • It is lovely. My ex did one of The Fighting Temeraire, which he worked out in his head from photos of the original painting. Way out of my league. And absolutely neat on the reverse as well.

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