A Dorset Knot – I mean Knob – Button

Dorset Knob 1
Dorset Knob Buttons, early 19th century

The Dorset Button! Not the more common flat disk with thread spokes, but a “high top,” a tiny sphere wrapped in a spider’s web of thread. I mentioned in the Love Shirt post that I would explain how I made the buttons for the shirt – a non-documented, unauthenticated version for the directionally challenged: me. Believe me, before I finished the trial button, it did look more like a Dorset Knot. But I persevered.

The originals I wanted to copy are pictured above. They seemed to be stuffed with a kind of fiber, but the base was a black substance with a greenish-yellow cast and waxy look. It had puzzled me for years. Then after reading more about Dorset knob buttons, I realized the material must be horn.

Dorset Knob 3
You can see the horn button base on the original.

I didn’t have horn buttons, so I used shell instead, about 1 cm in diameter. I cut a little square of linen, about 3.5 cm, and on that I traced and cut out a circle larger than the button. The scraps served as stuffing for the knob. Waste not, want not.

Next I ran a gathering stitch around the circle, put the scraps in the center with the flat button on top, pulled the gathers tight, and stitched them closed. Voilà! The mold!

Then I wrapped thread around the button in a compass rose pattern and anchored it. Beginning at the top, I circumnavigated the button, taking a backstitch around each “spoke” and moving on to the next. It was a bit fiddly, having to smush the lumpiness of the mold and realign the spokes as I worked toward the base.

Once I had made a final pass around the base, I took a few stitches to anchor it all. And then I had to make four more.

For those who like pictures better, see below. For those who want a more authentic method, there is a lot of serious research available online now. And for everyone else… well, there’s always velcro.

Stuffed and gathered.
Stuffed and gathered.
Thread laced in spokes around the mold.
Thread laced in spokes around the mold.
Dorset Knob Weaving
Circumnavigating the globe: backstitching around each spoke before going on to the next. Or back one, forward two.
Dorset Knob Done!
Dorset Knob Done!

Arsenic and Old Lace, or Why I Don’t Have Spiders in the Closet

Paris Green Perfume

Do you like to rescue old things, just because they’re old, even if you don’t know what you’ll do with them? I do. So years ago, when I was helping with a “collection deaccession” and saw this really cool old box that was being discarded, I offered it a home with me.

A green box from Paris.
A green box from Paris, Parfumerie indeed.

It’s been upstairs ever since. Periodically I clean, reorganize, and clear out because I’m compulsive that way. Maybe it helps me handle stress, whatever. I call these events The Counting, in honor of Cold Comfort Farm. Last year when it was time for a Counting, I put all the items I use for antique sewing displays, including the old painted box, together in a tightly sealed plastic bin.

In the following months I went up a couple of times to pull something out of it, and when I lifted the lid, gasped and choked over fumes some sort. The smell was a little like really nasty varnish, maybe mixed with bug spray. It was distressing because I didn’t know the source and I didn’t want it polluting my old textile bits.  I got up close and personal, sniffing the sewing box, the tools, the little lace sleeves and collars, and even the parfumerie box, but I couldn’t tell where it was coming from.  Since the green box was the only thing relatively recently acquired, I assumed that was the culprit and took it out. No more smells.

Early eye candy.
It’s just sat on a shelf, wrapped in paper, ever since. Until this week when perusing the fabulous Wearable Prints, 1760-1860, History, Materials, and Mechanics, by Susan Greene, and reading about green dyes. Of course I’ve heard of frequent use in the 19th century of arsenic in dyes, paints, and foods – it was even a scandal in its own day. But I never thought it would provide me with anything but some occasional macabre reading. Now I wondered, have I been harboring a criminal, a poisoner?

Some more internet research has left me a little warier of casual collecting or repurposing. I really don’t know if the green box is toxic (it isn’t all that old), but I’m not going to take any chances. It’s sealed up tight and stored under the eaves in the attic now. I can’t bring myself to trash it because you never know when you’ll need a nice conversation piece. For unwelcome visitors.

The Conversation Piece
The Conversation Piece