My newest limited edition button necklaces are all made with woven cord, and sterling silver findings. For these ones I’ve made more than one in each design, so they’re identical, limited edition runs of just five pieces each. I had several cards of identical vintage buttons, usually with around five buttons, so once I’d collected enough of these, it was just a case of putting the design together and then doing the weaving and knotting part, over and over until they were all safely knotted together (I normally do this fairly quickly in case the buttons spill everywhere).
When people talk about “vintage” or “heritage” colours – what do they mean? I think it’s usually to do with a muted, soft tone to the colours, which might be because a once-bright colour faded with age, or because the pigments used in whatever times qualify as “vintage” may not have been as bold as some used today.
Thus I make a distinction between jewellery made with “vintage buttons” – anything that comes to me secondhand, and appears to be ten years old or more (sometimes a lot more), I usually class in this category – and “vintage colours”, which might be new buttons, just with a softer tone.
Then again, some buttons may be both at once. And some of my jewellery might be made with a mixture of differently-aged buttons. If things look good together, I don’t usually try to segregate them by age. So in my latest button earring collection, you’ll find new buttons alongside older ones, but the colours are themed according to a vintage palette.
There’s a running joke in our house that almost every time we buy something new – normally some kind of commercial product – we have to hack it around and fix it to make it work right, or send it back because it was misdescribed. When something just works straight out of the box, it seems miraculous. With handmade products, of course, things do just work far more often than things from a “this-will-probably-do-for-most-people” factory. With a small scale maker, there’s the opportunity to communicate, customise and check details, which is just not available with mass-produced goods. (Unfortunately it’s not always possible to get handmade versions of everything… plumbing fittings and gutters are sadly not in proliferation on Etsy.)
Even so, just occasionally I buy a handmade product that doesn’t only do what I expected and hoped for, but surpasses it. And because of this, I naturally want to tell everyone else about it, so that they can receive the benefits of whatever-it-is too, and also so that the person who is making it gets more money for doing so and can thus continue. And while it’s a romantic idea to climb on the roof and yell its praises to the vicinity, I’m not sure the neighbours would really, you know, get it… So, instead, I’m doing a more socially acceptable thing, and adding a new category to this otherwise rather self-centred blog: Other People Make Things.
Traditional Crafts UK – Handmade Soap and Solid Shampoo
I’m not an expert on soap-making, but recently I have become a little more educated in soap-buying. As far as I can gather, there are three main types of solid soap to choose from: commercially-produced regular soap, which has had the glycerine removed to be sold separately and is very drying to the skin; semi-handmade soap made with a ready-made glycerine base (which could be made with natural ingredients, but could also be made with cheap synthetics), which the maker has poured into a mould and added things such as colours, scents and extras such as oatmeal or rose petals; and the Real Thing, which is made from scratch with oils and lye using methods called hot-process or cold-process.
I spent years rejecting soap in favour of shower gel, because I found commercial soap to be too drying, until I found out the differences: soaps are not all equal, and natural handmade soaps made the traditional way are far gentler to use. I can even use them on my face with no problems.
The solid shampoo was a revelation – because it doesn’t contain cheap surfactants which strip the hair of all its oils, as almost all commercial shampoos do, it doesn’t dry it out (something I’ve had a problem with when using commercial shampoos for my entire life) – for the first time, my hair is shiny and sleek (well, ish.. I mean, it’s still my hair, and my hair is rather nonconformist even at best) instead of an uncontrollable collection of frizz. Also, I hardly need to use any of it – I’ve had my shampoo bar for nearly two months now, and it’s only shrunk by about 10%.
There are dozens of different Etsy shops selling soaps made in the traditional cold process method, but after comparing all of those in the UK I decided to go for some soap from Traditional Crafts UK, run by Melanie in Bury. The main reasons I chose these soaps above all the others I could find were:
1. Only the absolute nicest ingredients. No palm oil – the production of this type of oil is particularly damaging to the environment, leading to deforestation and a loss of biodiversity. Most sellers I saw included palm oil in at least some of their soaps, but this shop didn’t have any. Knowing exactly which raw ingredients are in the soap is a definite plus.
2. Sensible shipping prices – it might seem expensive to ship one bar of soap, but it is no more expensive to ship several bars together, and the prices are an accurate reflection of Royal Mail’s actual postage charges. Several sellers were adding more and more shipping costs when more than one bar was bought, which made the whole thing add up to twice as much per bar.
3. Free samples! There were so many different lovely-sounding soaps in the shop that I didn’t know which to pick, but after a couple of quick messages, Melanie sent me some samples to choose from. Choosing soap was still kind of difficult because they were all just as nice as they sounded, but in terms of the two shampoos it was great to be able to choose the right one for my hair type instead of ending up with a whole bar of the one that wasn’t quite so suitable for me.
4. Overall choice of fragrances. I like things that are scented with essential oils (rather than synthetic fragrances), and this shop has loads of choice in that area. There are traditional favourites such as lavender, patchouli or mint, as well as interesting combinations I hadn’t come across, before such as licorice and vetiver.
My soap choices in the end were Purely Patchouli (patchouli is my favourite scent ever) and the lovely green Irish Moss and Spirulina soap. The shampoo that works on my dry hair is the Rosemary and Tea Tree – but there is an alternative for more oily hair, with Citrus and Clary Sage. This smelled amazing but was just a bit too drying for me, but I can imagine it would be fab for someone whose hair is less of a frizz machine.
As well as soap and shampoo, Melanie’s shop also has a variety of other wonderful-sounding scented things such as facial scrubs, body butters, candles and bath melts – and there’s a whole collection of handmade silver jewellery too. You can begin your shopping spree here.
Most recently I’ve been making my button necklaces using various cords and weaving or stitching techniques. The first time I ever saw someone wearing a necklace made with buttons (which inspired me to make one for my friend’s birthday, then for myself, and then – well, the rest of this story is here, so I won’t repeat it right now) it was actually quite unlike the first button necklaces I made. It was made with small buttons, all the same size, woven together with cord. But when I sat down to make button necklaces, my first button necklace design used wire, and all kinds of different sized buttons, like this pink button necklace here:
I haven’t stopped making necklaces in this style (you can see some of my current colour schemes in my necklace section here) but I have been experimenting with different ways to join buttons together to make jewellery – I’ve made button charm necklaces and bracelets using lots of buttons attached to chains (which are more jangly); long-length button necklaces which are reversible, so that as they move and flip over the necklace still looks good; tapered necklaces made with thick cord knotted strongly so that the buttons don’t turn over; and also some slim, lightweight button necklaces a bit like the one I first saw someone wearing.
The buttons in these necklaces are tiny and light, so they don’t need such a thick cord to keep them in place and stop them turning over. They are woven to stay in a straight line, using a strong but fairly thin nylon cord. They are made to rest gently on or just below the collarbone, and they’re especially good for people of more of a petite build. I’ve sometimes had requests in my bespoke button jewellery service for necklaces that are made with smaller buttons, because smaller people in chunky jewellery report sometimes feeling as though the necklace is wearing them, rather than the reverse. So now I’ve included these slimmer necklaces in my “regular” section. So far I only have a few colour schemes ready-made, but if you’d like a necklace like these in any other colours, I can make them with different coloured buttons as a bespoke order. These ones use silver-plated findings, but if sterling silver is more your things, that’s fine too – it just costs a little extra.
My new triangular necklaces are like little strings of wooden bunting flags in miniature. I had the idea for these when I was half asleep, just waking up, in that few seconds in between dreaming and awake. When I actually did wake up, I initially thought the “bunting necklaces” idea was another of those weird mad subconscious things that make no sense but seem like a really sensible idea at the time (like when a friend of mine leapt out of bed one morning, rolled up her duvet and was about to cut all her hair off when she realised she’d just had a dream that she had lend the duvet and her hair to her housemate who was apparently going to use them both to play in a concert).
But then I had a cup of tea and thought about it a bit more and decided that actually bunting necklaces would be quite a good idea. They’re little geometric tiles, and each one is different (a bit like bunting). I’ve made five different designs – one with old maps of England, one with an old music theory book, one with Japanese washi paper, and two different ones using my handpainted tile designs — one in green and one in purple.
All are hand-assembled, and although I hope to make some more jewellery in this style in the future, each one is very much a one-off. They were created partly out of thrift – using up bits and pieces that were leftover from other jewellery projects, experiments that didn’t produce the right results, and in some cases bits and bobs that I’ve had since my teens and childhood – things that were nothing particularly special or useful but shouldn’t be thrown away. Because: if something can be repurposed, used or appreciated by anyone other than the current owner, of course it shouldn’t be thrown away. Far too much is thrown away, and while these necklaces are hardly even a thousandth of a drop in the ocean when it comes to changing that, I hope they at least symbolise the idea that what might seem like rubbish doesn’t always have to be, and might add to a growing consciousness of re-use and re-purposing being better – at least sometimes – than making something brand new in a factory.
I’ve added a new feature to my button jewellery site – my wire button necklaces, bracelets and jewellery sets are now available with customisable colours which you can pick out from my colour palette.
First you can select your type of jewellery – you can get just a necklace, just a bracelet, or various different jewellery sets (I’ll be adding a few more variations soon). Then you can pick up to five different colours from drop-down menus, and even select your wire colour if you want to – or you can leave this up to me.
If you want to discuss the colours in more detail, want more than five colours or a different bracelet or necklace length, I can do that too – just send me an email and I can make further customisations too.
Here are some of my recent bright button necklace designs. Each is unique, made with vintage buttons and multistrand wire. Some of these have already sold, but there are a few left, which are for sale on my button necklaces page.
Japanese washi paper is a beautifully decorated paper which is often used for origami, but here it has been repurposed to create ornate and eye-catching jewellery. The combination of washi paper and jigsaw pieces is a surprising juxtaposition, and on top of that, the edges are decorated with ink “stitching” to make them look a bit like sewed-on patches. So it is a jigsaw, some origami, or the start of a patchwork quilt?
…aaaand we’re back. I’ve finished moving house. Not finished unpacking, but all the things have been extracted from the old place and put into the new one.
Because I apparently have unusual priorities, rather than deal with the large pile of assorted items that has gathered in the corner of my new jewellery-making studio (sample: coathangers that I don’t want, an old Swan kettle, some sofa cushions which my mother inexplicably bestowed on me, massive roll of bubblewrap, a collection of Fairport Convention memorabilia, giftwrap, an inexplicable map of Birmingham) I have put some pictures of my latest necklaces onto the internet.
Talking of piles of miscellaneous objects, this is what these necklaces are made from. After I had declared my shops closed after the last Christmas rush, as a little reward for myself, I got out some boxes of old broken jewellery that I’d been hoarding for a few years, spread all the bits out on the floor, and picked out the best bits to turn into new upcycled charm necklaces.
Most of the time, as I’m making a living from jewellery-making, I have to make sure I can make multiples of each piece that I design – otherwise the time I spend photographing, processing and uploading each item becomes too much and can’t make things fast enough. I do make a few one-of-a-kind items, and I’d like to do more of this, but at the moment with the way my shops are set up I don’t get the opportunity very often.
So after frantically making lots of my stock designs over and over for people’s Christmas shopping, I wanted to make something completely different and unique, without worrying about whether I could reproduce anything similar ever again – it was a little no-strings-attached creative break for me.