I first came across Dorset buttons when I read Tracy Chevalier‘s Burning Bright. It’s set in London in the late 1700s, and revolves around young people and coming of age themes. The main characters include a family from Dorset who make these buttons (and who end up being neighbours with William Blake).
Henry’s Buttons gives a good history of this craft, a thriving cottage industry from the early 1600s to the mid 1800s. The buttons are made by wrapping yarn around a ring (“casting and slicking”), then creating spokes across the ring (“laying”), and finally weaving the yarn through the spokes (“rounding”) to make all manner of patterns. The classic Dorset button design is the Crosswheel or Cartwheel (instructions here or here).
I read that book a few years ago, and I’m not sure what reminded me of this craft again, but something made me look it up online. I bought a kit from Beaker Button, which included instructions for a few other designs, and I thought we’d try it for this year’s Christmas Crafting with my knitting group.
Baby Marla was very excited about this.
Everyone else was concentrating very hard.
The Dorset buttons can be used for anything a regular button can be used for – we used large rings and thicker yarn to make big buttons for Christmas decorations, but they can also be attached to keyrings, earring studs and hooks, flat ring or brooch bases, or anything else.
After much casting, slicking, laying, and rounding, we ended up with some lovely buttons.
I also tried the ‘ammonite’ design, which I’ll turn into a brooch. I’m quite taken by this design – it’s quite subtle, but a bit of a thrill when you do spot the spiral shape.
We finished off with Gareth’s butternut squash tagine
And after all that Dorset excitement baby Marla was out cold.