The metal button issue

There are several finds of metal buttons from the 14th century, but no surviving garment  with metal buttons, from this period. At least none that I know of.

I have often considered the best way to sew these buttons on to a garment. They have really long ”necks”. Why? Are they sewn directly onto the fabric edge, or are they attached the way people put metal buttons on folk costumes in the 19th century? Besides, the 19th century is way too late a period to look at when making 14th century outfits.

When I made my checkered dress I was shown a picture of metal buttons on a 16th or 17th century coat. I can’t remember where that picture came from. 😦
Anyway, I did the same thing on my buttoned dress as was done on the 16th/17th century coat.

This is how it’s done.


The thread/ leather strap is sewn onto the fabric to prevent the buttons from ”falling out” of their holes.

About a year ago, I stumbled upon this picture of St. Margaret by Pietro Lorenzetti (1306-1348). She is probably from Italy. Today, the painting can be found at Musée de Tesse, Le Mans, France.

Look at her metal buttons. The inside shows the method for fastening the buttons. To me, it surely looks like they were attached the same way. I think the reason metal buttons have such long necks, is that they must be long enough to pull though the fabric. A shorter neck would be preferrable on buttons placed right on the edge, the way you would place fabric buttons.



17 reaktioner på ”The metal button issue

  1. nice idea! 🙂 I would not just use one thread running form top to bottom, i would also use one thread but also fix every button with at least one backstich…
    ..:metal buttons where expensive…so it would be terrible, one button is ripped of and all other falling down…

    • The leather strap is sewn on to the fabric between evry button, with many stitches. So it can only rip a stitch at the time. And the stitches are on the inside so they are not really exposed to something and won’t get stucked in anything.

  2. My husband is a pewterer, so I asked him if any of his find-books had any info one way or another. His comment is: ”One could surely attach buttons like this, though in doing so you run the risk of losing all of them in one go if the thread breaks. My guess for why the shanks are so long has to do with manufacturing. Cast-in wire loops are fiddly so making them longer makes casting easier.”

    • The strap is sewn in between the loops.
      So that means that it won’t just fall out and loose all the buttons.
      The shanks are, in many original buttons, long. But we also have finds of buttons with shorter shanks. I think there are buttons with shorter shanks that was sewn on the edge.

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  4. Thanks for finding documentation of this. I had been told this was done by different people, but this is the first documentaton I’ve seen for it. (Although, I suppose it is possible that the thread is just where the buttons are sewn on. When I sew on buttons, I carry my thread from one button to the next instead of starting and stopping, so the backside of my buttoned garments look like that, too. The argument for St. Margret having lacing, rather than sewing, though, is the thickness of the thread; even modern buttonhole thread really isn’t that thick.)

    The primary reason why this was done–so I’ve been told–was so that people could own one set of expensive buttons, but wear them on multiple outfits. If it was true that people were switching their buttons from one outfit to another every few days, then it doesn’t make sense for them to sew the lacing down. However, if they used a lucet or fingerloop braid for the lacing, the likelihood that it would break would be very, very small.

    I’m curious about that yellow bit of trim you have at the top of your dress in one of the pictures. What is that? It looks like something I’ve done with a couple of my dresses, where I braid a bit of heavy thread and then sew it onto the edge. I do it primarily to hide where my lining wants to stick out and show, but it’s also intended to fake the tablet-woven edges that they did on some of the wool garments. I’ve never seen anyone else put tiny trim like that on their dress, so I was curious if yours is tablet-woven or a braid or something else entirely?

    • Thank you for your comment! 🙂
      The changing buttons I’ve heard too and I think it makes sense.

      The yellow is a silk tablet woven edge. The worsted wool was so thin so it didn’t get me a proper neckline when it was sliding. My husband sewed the dress for me and he was the weaver too. But the buttons and the buttonholes he left for me.

      / Maria

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  7. This is very good nteresting! I had not seen this method of buttons at such an early time period. It’s also interesting to note the loops not buttonholes. Is this because it’s a neck fastening and not a whole front of a garment?

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