By: Vickie Brady, aka the historicfoodie
To know what type buttons were used in the 18th century we look at paintings which are often easy to date, what has been discovered in archaeological digs, and what we find in run-away ads or merchant advertisements. Buttons were made from a variety of materials including various metals, glass, wood, bone, antler or horn, and shell. Metal buttons usually had soldered shanks for attaching to the garment.
Buttons were fabric covered, often with embroidery done on each individual button. These are especially seen on men’s coats and waistcoats. Obviously, the designs were embroidered before cutting out the fabric and using it to cover the button molds. The design for the buttons was usually taken from some element of the embroidery on the gentleman’s waistcoat and coat.
Thread buttons, aka Dorset buttons, named for the town in England known to have produced these in massive quantities. They are not terribly complicated to make but are rather time consuming and they tend not to launder well. They are made entirely of linen thread, usually either white or off-white.
Reproduction button molds. Button molds were bone or wood covered in fabric. In period accounts these covered buttons were often described as “buttons of the same” meaning covered in the same fabric as the garment.