Playing with buttons

Yesterday evening my brother stopped by to visit with my nephew.  It’s been a long time since Smiley Boy has been to my apartment, so there was much to be explored — he wasted no time once his dad helped take his coat off, running back and forth, darting off into my kitchen (“Crissy’s kitchen!” he yelled back to us delightedly), coming back and running in more circles.  My spinning wheel was declared a “steering wheel” at first, and he had fun turning the wheel by hand (I didn’t think it wise to point out the treadles).  His dad brought along one of his beloved trucks to play with, but not a lot of other toys, and so while my brother and I chatted, Smiley Boy was soon looking for new things to do in this big new playroom.

I have a lot of “toys” I use for making yarn and making things out of yarn, but not much that’s appropriate for a 2-year-old boy.  He found a ball of old acrylic baby yarn that I clip pieces from when I need to tie up skeins for washing or dyeing, and it clung together well enough for us to treat as a ball for throwing and rolling around.  He had the usual fun clambering up onto my recliner and couch and then jumping back off, and of course we spent some time dancing.  But to keep him happily entertained, I kept looking around for things he could safely play with that would hold his interest.

I finally got down something that I haven’t taken notice of in a long time, a Mason jar full of buttons that I’ve owned for a long time.  It sits on my bookshelves, just because I like it there; I used to keep the buttons in a blue cardboard box, which is what I first got them in.  There are a few big buttons and buttons of different shapes and kinds, but most of them are very ordinary round plastic shirt buttons in a cascade of different colors.  I don’t actually know for sure where they came from, but various of my relatives used to work in sewing factories dotted around my home area, so that’s a fair guess — I have a feeling they may have belonged to one of my grandmothers originally.

I opened the jar and poured the buttons out into a big plastic mixing bowl.  Smiley Boy was immediately intrigued.  He ran his hands through the buttons over and over, stirring them around, picking up handfuls to look at, and tossing them back in.  Eventually we had to discourage him from tossing the buttons around outside of the bowl, but those buttons kept him entertained for a good long time, with his dad and I sitting on the floor with him, sometimes engaging him in finding specific colors, sometimes chasing escapees.

After my brother and Smiley Boy went home for the evening, I left the buttons in their big white bowl, not willing to put them away just yet.  Because when I was a kid, rather older than Smiley Boy, I loved playing with those buttons too.  I liked that they were mostly all the same shape and kind, because my favorite thing was to sort them out by color, picking out the colors that I liked best, slowly sorting them all into piles of alike buttons, sometimes stringing them together with yarn and a big needle, just because.  The colors of those buttons are still evocative for me, after spending so many hours when I was young picking through them, trying to find every single one in that particular shade of rose pink, or that really vivid teal.  I could be really meticulous about it sometimes, separating out the really dark grays from the really dark gray-purples and the really dark gray-browns, or all the multiple close shades of red or blue or pink or yellow, or picking out the wavery-pearlescent white buttons from the plain ordinary white buttons.  Those distinctions were important, just because I wanted them to be.  And so I’d sort buttons, and look through them for new interesting shades that I hadn’t noticed before, and hold them up to the light to see their colors shift as I looked at them directly or if I tilted them away, and just absorbing the colors I really loved, the colors I still remember, deep or bright or subtle or clear.

This afternoon before I put the buttons away, I spent a couple of hours playing with them myself and remembering, once again sorting different colors into piles.  I wasn’t as meticulous as my younger self would have been, partly from a lack of patience with the exercise and partly because my grown-up sense of artistry has a greater appreciation of complexity.  My tastes in yarn run to heathers and other not-quite-solid colors, so my piles of not-quite-matching yellows and blues and reds made me happy enough.  But some colors still insisted on standing alone:  that astonishing purple, and the gorgeous deep rose-pink, and the teals, and that tiny set of deep green.  Colors that still live in my memory, with the joy of a young girl who liked playing with buttons.

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1 comment so far

  1. Suebert on

    My mum has a box of buttons (some very old, some not to old) in a metal tin. I remember, when I was young, being so happy when she brought it out, and I could run my hands through it.

    Unlike your button tin, mum’s has a variety of shapes and sizes and styles, dating back from when she was a seamstress, and possibly beyond. Mum even used to remove buttons from garments before she gave them away or threw them out. She has some doozies from the 60s and 70s, let me tell you.

    As much as I love color, though (and I do!), for me it was texture. I loved and still love to run my hands through tins of buttons, of sand, grass, even rice. I love texture, and I love my own burgeoning collection of buttons :)


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