When in Dorset… make buttons

We place the blame for this post squarely on Old Crazy Hooks. She said something to the effect of “Ah! Spinning little Dorset-y sheep are you? I guess that means you’ll be making Dorset buttons.”

Huh. I feel kinda dumb for not thinking of that myself. Because, yes, now that its been suggested, I absolutely HAVE to make some Dorset Buttons with the Dorset Down yarn.

How to Make a Dorset Button

Disclaimer #1: I’m not expert at Dorset Buttons by any stretch of the imagination. I taught myself how to make them from an article in Jane Austen Knits 2013 and I only know how to make the basic, cartwheel style button. If you want to see some amazing examples of modern Dorset buttony, check out etsy or pinterest. There are some true talents working in this obscure little corner of the fiber art world and they will inspire you.

Disclaimer #2: I’m not done spinning the Dorset Down. I’m getting close though! I have about an ounce and a half left to spin into singles and then some plying. I can probablyI might be able to … There is a distinct possibility I will get it finished this evening. Maybe.

The Dorset way of making buttons came about in the early 1600’s (I think) of Dorset County England. They were made in the home, mostly by women and children, to supplement family income. According to The Dorset Page, a woman could make six or seven dozen buttons in a day and earn more doing it than she could from farm labor. The buttons were made by wrapping thread around bone or metal rings.

The basic Dorset button is pretty simple and once you get the hang out it, you could be making seven dozen a day too if you like. All you need is some yarn, a needle, and a stitch marker.

Step 1: Casting

Begin by covering the ring with yarn using a blanket stitch (which I always think of as a half-hitch knot but that might just be a leftover from my macrame days).

Make sure to cover the whole ring. Pack those blanket stitches close and smush them up against one another. You don’t want any of the ring below to show through.

Step 2: Slicking

I like slicking. Its my favorite part. Its easy to do and its fun to say “slicking”.

Step 3: Laying

In the Laying, you are making the spokes of the cartwheel. I like to have 8 spokes but the number is totally up to you.

Notice that the spokes cross at the center of the ring on the front side but on the back side, those spokes are all over the place. That gets fixed in the next step.

Step 4: Centering

Centering can be a bit of a pain. Its fussy. But after a few tries, it will become pretty clear how to pull those back-side spokes into alignment. Don’t be afraid to pull out and try again. Also, you may find that cussing helps.

Step 5: Rounding

And there is your button!

Back side
Front side

Being able to make Dorset buttons has turned out to be quite the handy little skill. I can make buttons for all my cardigans, vests, and what-not in yarn that matches my garment. In fact, its so handy, I get asked to make buttons for my non-button making crafty pals all the time. (I should start charging ’em money, right?)

You can add all sorts of fun variations including beads and color stripes. Or you can just make them in a variegated yarn and they’ll be pretty eye catching all on their own.

The bottom left button is the one from the videos. The bottom center button is also made from Dorset Down. I used an unfinished single ply for that one instead of the finished two-ply yarn. I kind of like it better.

A final word of warning: If you become a button-maker, beware the button thief! She will snatch as many as she can.

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