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gertrude

November 2017

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woman's magazine

Nostalgia with ‘The Button Box’ by Lynn Knight



How clever an idea is this? In The Button Box: Lifting the Lid on Women’s Lives Lynn Knight, beginning with her Grandma’s button box, describes the clothes worn by members of her own family and all the sewing, altering and mending that went on. From this family story she develops a history of women’s clothes, fashions (not at all the same thing), domestic lives and working conditions. For instance, a linen button, taken from the box, leads to an account of what they were used for, how they were made and what life was like for the women who made them. This is social history anyone can enjoy; it’s as easy to read as a novel. I very much like the way quotations from novels are used to illustrate a point.

For people of a certain age (me), there’s a lot of nostalgia in the sections dealing with the fifties onwards. Cuticura! I can’t even remember what it was (something for nails, I imagine), yet the name leapt off the page at me. Paper nylon petticoats! Coty L’Aimant! I even wore that myself in the sixties. Lynn Knight is very good at describing women’s longing for clothes they can’t have/afford, especially in wartime. She is in no doubt that clothes *matter*.



This is my Grandmother’s button box, possibly my great grandmother’s. I had great fun wasting time going through it to see if I could match any of the buttons shown on the book’s endpapers.



Answer: not many exact matches but some jolly ones. Don’t you wonder about the clothes they once adorned?



I bought this hardback book from Amazon for £3.99 (I see the price has now gone up slightly). Quite a bargain.

Comments

I am reading (and loving) this too. I am jealous of her button tin. Cuticura was a kind of medicated talc I believe - I have a vague memory that it came in orange and white tins.
Yes, her buttons sound wonderful.

I've now been told that Cuticura still exists, consists of various medicated skin treatments and is available everywhere! I'd have sworn I hadn't heard the name for er, a very long time, so it's a low profile brand.

(Anonymous)

This sounds like a good read, I will have to look out for it. I love that old button box and your picture shows some of my favourites, especially the two metallic ones in the top left of the picture.
Wee sister
I think you'd like it as it's full of interesting stories about family clothes, as well as the history stuff about suffragettes, flappers and so on.

I like those buttons, too and after reading the book, I've become more interested in the pressed glass ones.
I saw this (and had a recipient in mind for a birthday present!) Spent ages looking at the endpapers.
I've also pored over the endpapers! I love how many deco buttons I found in my own box. I should think it would be a very welcome present for someone.
Lovely post!

I'm really looking forward to sorting through my buttons this weekend as I look for some to go with the new jacket I'm making.
Thank you!

Sorting buttons is fun but once I think I've found just the right one, there are always only three when I need four. It's a sort of button sod's law.
Your dressmaking is amazing.
Thank you. I'm not sure about amazing, but I do love nice fabrics and patterns and that helps! I am learning things and relearning things, and trying to do more so that I am less overwhelmed every time I start to cut something out. I do enjoy it, but I get very nervous if I'm not sure what I'm doing!
Have to get this as a present for Miranda Barbara sounds just the thing she would love. We have a button box, but I feel saving buttons sadly isn't something that will last much longer. I've noticed at work that an offer to sew a button back on a younger colleague's jacket is very gratefully received - not something they would ever consider doing themselves though. Thanks so much as always for a brilliant review!
I'm sure she'd like it!

People don't know how to sew on a button? Tsk.

Thank you!