My day has been filled with cleaning and organizing the latest button jar acquisition so I thought I would share how to clean and care for antique and vintage buttons.
Antique Shell Buttons
Most antique shell buttons are mother-of-pearl (MOP), abalone or brown lip shell. You care for these in the same manner that you do pearls as the shells also have a layer of nacre. Nacre is the luster or irridescent sheen on the buttons.
I take a shallow plastic collander and gently rinse the buttons in cool to luke warm water, then place them to the side on a paper towel. I then prepare a cleaning solution of water with a very small dab of Ivory liquid hand soap in a small plastic bowl. You may also place a bar of Ivory soap in the bottom of the plastic bowl & swirl it around for a second then remove it. An old soft toothbrush is perfect for removing bits of dirt and grime. Gently scrub the button, rinse in cool to luke warm water and lay on a soft towel to dry. When dry, store the buttons. For my fancy carved or pierced buttons, I carefully wrap them in tissue, put them in a small zip top bag or in a watchmaker's tin.
Vintage Plastic Buttons
Every now and then I will use plastic buttons as a foundation or base for my artwork, but I strongly prefer the shell buttons. Clean these in the same manner as the shell buttons, but be extra careful when using the toothbrush to clean them as even the softest brush may scratch the surface- NOT something you'd wish to do if the top of the button will be seen in your work. Oftentimes, a cotton swab is the best tool for cleaning dirty plastic buttons. I have several plastic storage boxes (fishing bait organizers) I use for storing plastic buttons. They are very inexpensive and are readily available on the sporting goods aisle of your local discount store or in the fishing section of any outdoor specialty shop.
Antique or Modern Art Glass Buttons
Use the same care with these as with shell buttons, but ONLY use a cotton swab to gently wipe away surface dirt & grime. Extra care should be taken with the antique specimens as they can be exceedingly delicate- especially if gold or silver leafing is present. I store these buttons either in watchmaker's tins or if I feel they are delicate, wrapped individually in acid free (archival quality) tissue paper and stored individually in zip top bags.
There are some lovely antique metal buttons out there, but I do not personally care for them or choose to use them in my work. I am sure there are plenty of resources on the web if this is an area of interest to you, dear readers.
A brief word of caution- do NOT cut the shanks off of buttons! This greatly decreases the value of the button.
If you have a lovely button with a shank and want to use it with your tatting, I suggest using my preferred method- use a shell button for a base and then attach the shank button on top of it as an accent. This keeps the button intact and adds dimension to your work.
Well, I still have more button cleaning to do and would also like to have a few minutes to get in some tatting. Have a great day & until tomorrow~