Monday, 16 May 2016

Dorset Knobs

Last Monday I was asked to do a demo at our Craft Group on the theme of Dorset Buttons.  I had heard of them long before we moved here, but really only got interested after seeing them on costumes in 'Far From The Madding Crowd'. The week after I saw the film, we went to Shaftesbury, where there is an excellent collection of buttons in the museum. It was here in 1622 that Abraham Case set up his 'buttony' business.
The simplest Dorset buttons are worked on a ring [brass, or bone, or nowadays plastic] There are four stages - casting [buttonholing round the ring] slicking [pushing the ridge at the top of the stitches to the back] laying [putting the spokes across the ring] and rounding [weaving thread round in a spiral to fill in the ring]

This style is usually called a Blandford Cartwheel, Dorset Crosswheel, Birdseyes, Yarrells, or Mites. I have mastered the basic style - but expert produce beautiful examples of multicoloured discs with added detail of French Knots or embroidery.

The second style is the Dorset Knob or High Top - this is worked in a similar way, weaving round the spokes- but is worked on a dome shaped foundation. This is covered with a fabric layer, and the button designed stitched over that. These were made on a ramshorn base, and later on a metal one. I used domed buttons from my vast stash of old buttons!

The third style is the Singleton. These were developed by the Singleton family in the 17th Century. These too begin with a ring. This is covered with a circle of fabric which is gathered at the back and lightly padded. Then a circle of running stitches is sewn just inside the metal ring, The button is left plain, or embellished. Here are some of the buttons I discovered on the Internet.

Top left - Crosswheels and Dorset Knobs, bottom left, Singletons. Henry's Buttons is a brilliant website telling you all you need to know.
Here are the buttons I made for the demo on Monday - plus the rings and domed buttons I used for foundation. I used a glass sundae dish to draw the circle for my singletons - being glass, I was able to position it centrally on the flower print before cutting out. I have put a £1 coin on each picture to give you a size reference. The green and yellow cartwheel was made over a child's narrow plastic bangle. The whole process is quite slow - it takes me the best part of an hour to do a simple Cartwheel [Singletons are quicker] And I have the benefit of good lighting, I am not working in a cold, dimly lit, cottage. It must have been so hard for the original buttonmakers.

The thread I used was fine perle type cotton, some was 'mending thread' some was crochet cotton [the cream, and the variegated orange/peach on the Knobs] Dorset Knobs are also hard little twice-baked bread rolls, which have been produced by Moore's Bakery since 1880. 
The biscuits were named after the buttons. I have to say I like the tin more than the contents. Hard to slice, and dreadfully crumbly. You're supposed to dunk them in your tea or serve them with cheese. Clever Steph made the excellent suggestion that they would go well on top of a stew like the scones on a cobbler, as the gravy would soften them. I shall try that!
The other well known Dorset Nobs, who live near here, are Sir Julian and Lady Emma Fellowes [the Downton Abbey author, and his wife, lady-in-waiting to Princess Michael Of Kent] Whether they eat the biscuits or wear the buttons, I have no idea.
In the mid 19th century, with the Industrial Revolution, thousands of buttons were machine made in Manchester. The Dorset Button industry collapsed, and many of the workers emigrated to Canada. It seems there are a lot of 'Heritage Craft Groups' over there now, where making the Dorset Buttons is a popular pastime, as people remember their English ancestors.
Have you ever made any buttons - Dorset or otherwise?


  1. Your buttons do look very edible!

    1. With a spoonful of Cornish Clotted Cream, they'd probably taste better tan the DK Biscuits. Mind you, almost ANYTHING tastes better with a spoonful of Rodda's CCC!!

  2. My, you have been busy. I don't think I'd have the patience for such fiddly and intracate work.

  3. I made some Dorset buttons years ago at a WI craft day. They were such fun to make, we made little garden scenes and made them in to brooches


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