According to "The Button Craft Book", by Dawn Cusik, the earliest buttons date back to 2000 B.C. I'm pretty sure that those buttons were probably made of bone, wood or rock, and destined for purely utilitarian purposes. I won't pretend to be a historian, but the art of crafting buttons, certainly grew from there. Buttons have been made in all shapes and sizes! They can be made of glass, metal, shell, ceramic, china, clay (including polymer), plastic, Bakelite, resin, paper mache, stone, wood, nut, and many other materials, that I've probably never heard of. I bet that you could even laminate layers of paper, and make a button out of them! Hmmmm, perhaps I should try!
In the 1860's, a popular pastime for Victorian girls was to make Charm Strings out of buttons (and other decorative bits). The aim was to collect 999 buttons on the string, because when you did that, Prince Charming would come and sweep you away. Rules for collection were few, but buttons could not be purchased, as they needed to be gifts from family, friends, or suitors.
Prince Charming is long gone, and I may never make a charm string, but there are many other beading applications that could use a button or two! Vintage buttons are still available, but are increasingly harder to find. Luckily, BeadFX has a good supply of metal, Swarovski Crystal (including Crystalettes), and vintage Czech glass buttons (made from the original molds).
Use them in bead embroidery, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, Kumihimo, quilts, bead crochet, and knitting! Glue them to a button converter, and make a brooch out of them! You could even frame your collection, or (shocking thought) use them to actually fasten or embellish clothing! I've made molds (using two-part silicone, mold making putty) from vintage buttons, and then filled them with either paper clay, polymer clay, or resin, for totally unique cabochons. The choices are endless!
On a personal note, I've used vintage, new and family buttons, in my bead embroidery, and have also used vintage shell buttons in one of my favourite mixed media necklaces. Perhaps I should challenge myself, to make a mixed media "Inspiration", that includes buttons! Would that be something that interests you? Have you ever made anything button inspired? If so, I'd love to see photos!
Please, please, start your own button collection. Your children and grandshildren will certainly thank you for the memories!!!