18th Century Suit Buttons

Here is a close-up of a button from the inspiration suit:

18th century suit button

Detail of button from inspiration suit

The button is made of embroidered fabric wrapped around a flat disk.  All the embroidery on this suit appears to be chain stitch, with the exception of the little circles, which are similar to small sewn eyelets.  The button is bordered by chain stitch in two shades of pink.  Then the row of circles, and a small flower in the middle. The waistcoat buttons are smaller, but almost exactly the same. However, the border of the waistcoat buttons is navy blue rather than pink, which ties it together with the coat quite nicely.

Three of the waistcoats in the Martha Pullen DAR book also use chainstitch embroidery.  I stitched out some samples, and they look very passable for machine embroidery.  One of the patterns is sprigs of rosebuds and forget-me-nots, perfect for the suit I want to make.  However, none of the patterns are as intricate as the inspiration suit, and will need a lot of layering and positioning to give the same effect. Still, it’s a wonderful start.

I decided to start with a button, since it is small and is a bit of immediate gratification.   There was a promising circle motif from one waistcoat, and the rosebuds from a second.  Using embroidery design editing software, I was able to separate the rose from the sprig it was on, add the leaves back in, and shrink the design while trying to keep stitch count and density reasonable.  The circle involved two rows of machine chainstitch, and I was able to insert a color change between the two rows.  This enabled me to make the outer ring a darker shade than the inner, just like in the inspiration photo.  Finally, I combined the rose and the circle into one design, and combined colors for ease of stitching.  I didn’t like the first test run; the rose was too small and choppy, so I tweaked it and stitched it out again.

Here is the sample button, stitched on the blue silk taffeta, embellished with spangles, and wrapped around a chipboard circle:

Blue taffeta button with pink rosebud

Sample button of silk taffeta, embroidery, and spangles

Up close, it is obvious this was stitched by machine, but a few paces away it gives a very reasonable effect.  It also takes a small fraction of the time to create.  I am not sure about these exact colors; they were what I had on hand.  I want a distinctly pink rose, but this veers a little too far towards berry.  I think I’d like something closer to salmon, without getting quite as peach as the inspiration suit.  The spangles are exactly what I wanted to replace the small embroidered circles, and will add some nice sparkle to the finished garment.   This is very close to what the finished buttons will look like.


2 thoughts on “18th Century Suit Buttons

  1. I’m enjoying reading what you wrote so far..and interested to see how we are different. I would look at the button and think about how to recreate it by hand…I haven’t tried it, but I have read a lot about miniature embroidery and knitting (although I’m not sure my hands are up to the tiny knitting anyway.) I’ve always liked very small things…The button actually reminds me a little of ribbon embroidery, and I wish I could see the details a little better to see exactly what the thread looks like.

    • I would love to recreate something like this by hand. However, I also need to figure out the best way to do detailed work like this so it is feasible for me and affordable for a client. The embroidery machine seems like a good compromise; we’ll see how the end result looks!
      The picture in the book shows much more detail, if you can get a copy to peek at.

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