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The History of the Dorset Button

by Amanda Hannaford, Workshop Leader of Dorset and Yorkshire Buttons Workshop held on 18 April 2009

The Dorset Button began in Shaftesbury, Dorset, probably between the years 1680 to 1700. The first buttons were known as "High Tops" and were made from a disc of horn from the Dorset Horn Sheep. It was covered by a small piece of material and worked with a needle and thread to make a conical shaped button. These buttons were much used for ladies' dresses.

Other types of buttons were then developed using wire twisted on a spindle with the ends cut and dipped in solder. Children of both sexes were employed as "Winders and Dippers" - others threaded the rings and they were called "Stringers". Whole families were employed in the button trade in East Dorset at this time and the wire buttons ousted the "High Tops" completely. Dorset buttons were much sought after, not only in Europe but also in the New World. Nearly 1,000 people were employed in this industry.

Abraham Case opened the first depot for receiving buttons and by 1720 there were depots in Bere Regis, Milborne St Andrew, Sherborne, Poole, Langton Matravers and Tarrant Keynston. At the Milborne Stileham Agency, set up by Peter Case junior in 1803, buttons were accepted every Friday and the place was like a fair ground as the crowds were so great. If you were to ask a native of East Dorset what his work was the answer would most probably be "I do Buttony".

Another Peter Case (Abraham's grandson) was sent to Liverpool where he started a clearing house for the export side. Peter is remembered in Liverpool as the founder of Case Street and Clayton, both probably built from the money made by "Buttony". He invented an alloy for the rings and old buttons made on these rings show no sign of rust. In its heyday the trade brought in some £12,000 yearly (a great deal of money in those days).

The best buttons were mounted on pink paper - these were for export. Seconds were mounted on navy blue paper and the third class button on yellow paper. These last two qualities were for sale in England. Expert button makers could make a gross a day for which they were paid 3s 6d or seventeen and a half pence.

In 1850 a button making machine shown at the Great Exhibition in London brought a tragic end to the industry - almost overnight the industry was ruined for no hand-made button could compete. Acute distress and even starvation came to the Dorset button makers; from the Shaftesbury district alone 350 families were shipped to the colonies at Government expense.

Many of the depots remained in the hands of the Case family for well over a hundred years, the last surviving descendant of old Abraham died in 1908 at the village post office in Milborne St Andrew. The Dowager Lady Lees bought the whole of the stock of old buttons of William Case on his death and tried to revive the industry at Lychett Minster. She succeeded in building a small business but the 1914-18 war killed it.

Beginners Guide to Needle Felting by Susanna Wallis

Book Review by Katrina Balmer, Edinburgh Guild, November 2008

[Published by Search Press; ISBN 978-1-84448-251-1; 64 pages.]

In her introduction Susanna describes needle felting as addictive and the addict in me was eager to make the designs so beautifully photographed on the front of this delightful book. Felting is a worldwide craft found wherever sheep roam and needle felting has evolved directly from this. The bonding of fibres and fabrics come from using barbed needles moved in such a way to achieve a firm surface or sculpture. There are industrial machines which can do this and more modern embellishing machines are available for home use.

However, the method in this book is hand needle felting and there are six lovely projects described inside.

Four pages are devoted to materials from raw wool and rovings to the needles required, felting blocks – usually a firm sponge block - and on to pipe cleaners to make armatures (skeletal structures) to work the wools around in a variety of shapes.

The actual technique of needling is described in words with clear pictures alongside making this a very good book for anyone wanting to try this craft. Susanna explains how to make a flat background piece, then how to add a flower design. Next we see how to shape round balls and vessel or dish shapes. The use of armatures follows and finally tips on carding to blend colours being used.

The six projects are a felted heart, a country picture with sheep and trees, a bracelet, a bird, a lady figure and a cup and saucer. The range of designs gives the reader the skills need to make bigger pieces and are adaptable. For instance, the technique to make the cup can be turned into a larger bowl, the shaping learned for the bird means any figure of any size can be made.

All in all a book aimed at the beginner but a useful reminder for the more experienced needle felter and a useful reference book to have on your shelf.

Triangular board loom weaving workshop held on 8 November 2008

by Marilyn Cadell, Workshop Leader

At the November meeting, I led an in-house workshop of this technique which I learned from my father.

He read about it some years ago, was intrigued and set about trying it out. When he retired, it gave him an interest and also meant that he could contribute at meetings of the East Sussex Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers, to which my mother belongs. Whenever he set up his board and easel, he attracted a group of interested onlookers, as no one had seen this method of weaving before.

The great thing about board weaving is that you don't need a complicated or expensive loom. All you need is a sheet of hardboard! A 4 foot board is the best size. Cut slits every 1/4" along two parallel sides of the board (or stick a strip of velcro down each side and stick a tape measure inside that). Then cut 6 foot lengths of chunky weight yarn (handspun is ideal) and stretch them across the board, catching the ends in the slits (or placing them on the velcro at 1/4" intervals), leaving one foot on each side.

Once the board is threaded up, place a diagonal strand across from the top left-hand corner to the diagonally opposite corner. The top thread is then used to weave down the left-hand side of the board, then the second thread, and so on, until all the threads have been used and you have a triangular piece of weaving with fringes on two sides, which can be knotted in small groups.

Those taking part were each given an 8/9" cardboard square to weave a small sample triangle.

Ideas to try:

Happy weaving!

Crochet workshop held on 20 September 2008

by Pat Laing, Workshop Leader

The pattern used for this workshop was a simple version I made after seeing some fingerless gloves in the shops and thinking, as we all do, "I can do that for a fraction of the cost".

I was a bit nervous about doing a workshop with so many experienced people but I was surprised to find that the level of experience was varied. Most started off together, but a few people were attending to Guild business or simply socialising. This made life easier as I was able to go through the pattern with small groups and individuals to get them started then go around and help as was needed. The plan was that everyone would complete one glove by the end of the day, but just one person did this, however everyone was shown how to proceed and finish off the pattern with the promise that I would be happy to help at the next meeting if anyone needed it.

It was an enjoyable day which was bettered the next month when one lady told me that she had made three pairs and was being asked by friends for more.

© Stephen Balmer    Email: wm then @ then stephenbalmer.co.uk