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A catch, of various forms and materials, used to fasten together the different parts of dress, by being attached to one part, and passing through a slit or loop, called a button-hole, in the other; – used also for ornament. — Webster, 1882

That afternoon, when Carrie was asleep, Ma beckoned Mary and Laura. Her face was shining with a secret. They put their heads close to hers, and she told them. They could make a button string for Carrie’s Christmas! – On the Banks of Plum Creek, Chapter 13, “Merry Christmas”

I do not have a dog’s head button, but I have buttons with dogs painted on them, a mouse-shaped button, pink china rose buttons, a castle button, and buttons like juicy blackberries.

I also have buttons from my mother and my grandmother and my husband’s grandmother, and I have some that I am particularly fond of, such as brass buttons from my father’s and husband’s Navy uniforms, a button from my favorite dress when I was four (the two holes are at the top of the button, which struck my fancy even back then), and a Civil War era Goodyear rubber button. I also have a button with one hole, lots of cottonwood buttons, some elk antler buttons, and a big blue mason jar full of buttons that sits by my desk; the jar holds buttons I use to string garland from at Christmas time. I seem to always end up cutting the garland apart during the year because I need some of the buttons for another project.

My grandmother kept her buttons in a drawer of her treadle sewing machine. I inherited both the buttons and the machine. My mother kept her buttons in a big round metal Scotch tape can. She gave it to me when I moved back to Georgia years ago. In On the Banks of Plum Creek, Ma brings out her “button-box,” but in The Long Winter, the buttons are kept in a “button bag.” Almost anything, really, can be used to hold buttons.

Sadly, I can’t trace my love affair with buttons to my obsession with the Little House books. I like buttons because of Jean Fritz’s 121 Pudding Street, and yet there is a Little House connection; there is always a LH connection! Fritz won the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award in 1986. In 121 Pudding Street, one of the characters (Miss Pursey) collects buttons, which are everywhere in her house, even sewn all over the curtains and coverlet in her bedroom.

Button garland is easy to make; just get a needle and thread (dental floss or fishing line is stronger) and start stringing! Stringing on wire is tailor-made for 2-hole or 4-hole buttons, because you can weave the wire in and out of the holes. I really like the way to button weave garland looks on a Christmas tree because you can see the different buttons so well.

Buttons are mentioned a lot in the Little House books many times, both specific buttons, and by type in passing, such as shirt buttons or overcoat buttons. Laura sees “cards of buttons of all types” in Clancy’s store (see Little Town on the Prairie, Chapter 5, “Working in Town”). Sewing or wiring matching buttons to a piece of cardboard is a traditional way of displaying them for sale in stores. The photo at right really has nothing to do with cards of buttons, although it does show buttons sewed onto a cardboard tag, something I made for a Laura Ingalls Wilder craft exchange once upon a time.

Little House buttons to be on the lookout for include the following: buttons shaped like blackberries, covered in brown silk, brass, cut-steel, dog-head, gilt, gold-colored with castle and trees, shoe buttons, horn, jet, pearl, round and green, round and black, and wooden. And of course, you’ll want a big overcoat button, just like Pa’s.


button (BW 6-10; FB 2-3, 8, 23, 26; LHP 3-4, 6, 19; BPC 12-13, 15, 20, 24, 31, 38; SSL 9, 17, 21, 23, 27; TLW 9, 11-12, 19, 32; LTP 5, 8-9, 17, 24; THGY 4-5, 8, 19, 28-29, 32; PG)
     bag (TLW 19)
     blackberry (BW 8; BPC 13; SSL 1)
     box (BPC 13)
     brass (BW 8; FB 1, 16; SSL 3)
     bridge (need to add)
     buttoned outside-in (LTP 8, 24)
     button hole / buttonholes (LTP 5, 9; PG)
     buttonhook (TLW 9), see buttonhook
     button lamp (TLW 19, 22; PG), see button lamp
     button-string (BPC 13)
     cards of (LTP 5)
     cut-steel (TLW 32)
     dog-head (BPC 13)
     eyes (BW 4)
     gilt (BW 10; PG)
     gold-colored with castle and tree (BW 8; BPC 13, TLW 18)
     high-buttoned / buttoned shoes (LTP 17, 20)
     horn (LTP 17)
     jet (BPC 13; TLW 9; PG)
     pearl (THGY 28; PG)
     shoe (BW 8; BPC 29; TLW 9; LTP 17, 20; THGY 2, 11, 19; PG), see buttonhook
     silk (PG)
     wooden (LTP 7)