Haberdashery is alive!

“Does anybody sew anymore?” they ask as they look around in awe, taking in the displays of antique buttons, vintage haberdashery and handmade bobbin lace. They run their fingers through the jars of colourful retro plastic buttons, an act nearly every person does when they visit Buttons @ Paddington. They say thoughtfully, “Don’t people just throw things away? Nobody mends anything…young people don’t sew…” At first, it is easy to think this is true. Given the uber commercial world we live in today, where almost everything is disposable and where it seems school kids can buy anything they want with a ready supply of cash that comes from a place I only wish I’d had known about when I was 14. In the new era where Home Economics isn’t always offered as a core unit in year 8 let alone an elective through to senior, it is easy to think that sewing is becoming a lost art. Like loading film into a camera or doing a mexican wave at the cricket.

I went to an all girls school and in year 8 Home Ec I made a fairly nifty, and at the time very fashionable, pair of maroon floral shorts for my second semester assessment. (First semester was cooking which involved making scones, shepherd’s pie, white sauce and chicken liver pate. All of which were carried home on the train in a tea towel craftily tied like a bag.) I went on to do Home Ec for the rest of my junior years and drafted my own patterns and made a maroon polycotton drop waist frock. Lovely. I really enjoyed Home Ec, not only for the fun practical classes it offered where one of my all time favourite teachers referred to us as “Floss”, but also because it gave me the foundation for some lifestyle skills that have never, ever gone to waste.

sewing book

Pages from a 1962 school sewing book

Since working at Buttons @ Paddington my brother has taken to telling everyone I am a ‘haberdasher-a’. Now, I think there would be a few people out there that have no idea what in fact a haberdasher-a is. When I hear the word ‘haberdashery’ I think of the dinky little shop I used to visit with my mum when I was little. It was packed to the rafters with bolts of fabric, cards wrapped with cord and piping and laces and little selector cards of melamine buttons with elephants and moons on them. And of course, tubes of buttons with a sample stictched to the lid. The shop was literally busting at the seams!

sewing book 2

That was 30 something years ago, but maybe my brother is onto something bringing back the job title of Haberdasher-a. Working at Buttons @ Paddington I see everyday, people who have a love for sewing, whether it is part of their past, present or future. Older gentlemen visit the shop and look around reminiscing, showing me the sewing machine their mother had and telling me how their school shirts had mother of pearl buttons on them. Women tell me about their Home Science days and how they practiced their stitching. And I constantly see young people in here at Buttons @ Paddington. They are searching through our collection of haberdashery for embellishments or silk thread on wooden spools. Flicking through the vintage patterns for a design that has come full circle, or sifting through the jars looking for the perfect button to finish off their sewing project. Just like I did with mum 30 years ago. Haberdashery is still alive!

You only have to go to the markets to see the amount of creative stitching that is happening in sewing rooms all over the country as machines whir away into the wee hours of the morning or as bub’s have naps. Stalls of dresses, skirts, handbags, baby goods, bibs, blankets and quilts at farmer’s markets, handmade markets, twilight markets, church markets….the list goes on! And now we are seeing pop up handmade shops all across Brisbane. A place for artists and designers of handmade goods to sell their wares in a retail environment. This is our opportunity to support creativity.

So, the answer is, yes! People do still sew! Isn’t that fabulous!

What are you sewing at the moment?

Celebrate and reinvent, the humble button

The Church denounced them as the “devil’s snare” when European ladies began wearing them on the front of their dresses. Napoleon introduced them to men’s jacket sleeves to prevent soldiers mutilating themselves when they tried to wipe their noses. They are ubiquitous, beautiful and practical and we have them en masse at Buttons @ Paddington.

I promise you, a visit to Buttons @ Paddington in the Paddington Antique Centre will reinvent you opinion of the humble, quirky, “dangerous” button. Forever.

One of the two owners of the buttons in the shop here at Buttons @ Paddington, confesses to having been a button tragic for decades. She said it started when she stumbled across a button in a museum in the UK about 25 years ago. She was stunned by the history of the beautiful little talismans of social history. Her first purchase was a set of 16 Victorian jet mourning buttons. Her passion now, she says, is for art deco buttons, but she also loves art nouveau silver buttons, satsumas and other enamelled ones, cute little plastic 1950s buttons and so it goes…

Set of 7 French Jet Buttons, $25

Set of 7 French Jet Buttons, $25

Victorian Black Glass Waistcoat Buttons. $6 each

Victorian Black Glass Waistcoat Buttons. $6 each

But buttons are not just beautiful, they also tell stories. Buttons in many ways tell the story of our civilisation. Originally used as decoration in the Bronze Age 3,000 years ago, it was many hundreds of years before their safety advantage saw them displace the pin as the fastener of choice.

An industry grew up around a growing practical demand for buttons, but it wasn’t long before the upper classes sought to reclaim them as  status symbols. Legend has it that King Francis I sported 13,600 buttons on his royal outfit for a meeting in 1520 with a similarly resplendent King Henry VIII of England.

The vanity associated with the most extravagant buttons has caused controversy over the years. Risqué buttons on ladies’ dresses in 16th Century Europe attracted the ire of the Church, which labelled them the “devil’s” snare. To this day, the Amish community does not wear buttons because they are seen as a sign of pride.

By contrast, buttons have sometimes also been associated with austerity and control. The most famous example of this is the black mourning buttons that dominated fashion for decades following the death of Queen Victoria’s beloved Prince Albert.

During the last century, there was a dramatic fall in the importance of the button due to the emergence of mass-produced clothing and unforgiving modern washing machines and dryers, which required simple, easily-replaceable buttons. But if the interest in Buttons @ Paddington is anything to go by, buttons are well and truly back in vogue.

The diversity of antique, vintage, retro and modern buttons available in our shop provide a wonderful opportunity for us to make an individual statement either on our clothes, our jewellery, accessories or our collection.

You won’t have seen so many buttons have so much fun as you will at Buttons @ Paddington!