Our joint task for August had been to read Lynn Knight’s book ‘The Button Box – lifting the lid on women’s lives’ – having read about two thirds of the book it is clear that whilst some of the buttons have a particular memory attached to them, the contents offer an opportunity to explore and discuss the social history of women in a far wider context.
The Foundling Hospital – and subsequent Foundling Museum resonated strongly, with stories of tokens, such as decorated fabric pieces being left with children by mothers (mostly unmarried) who were unable to care for the child, but would leave the token not only a token of their love, but as proof of whom the child belonged to, if the mother was able to return at a later date and claim the child back.
I found buttons and button boxes to be rather limited in terms of primary research, although more enlightening were discussions with family members; Ruby my paternal grandmother had entered a tailoring apprenticeship somewhere in Hampton Court when she was 14 – this was considered a good position and later she worked as a cutter for a company in Staines.
Granny would also make clothes for her four children – including stage clothes for my father and his sisters’ – their claim to fame being that when very young they played in a band with guitarist Julian Bream (and his sister Janice) and performed to the Italian prisoners of war. ‘The girls wore red velvet dresses made from old curtains, with hand-crocheted, by her, collars and cuffs. Tony’s band trousers were made from blackout fabric, with red stripes down the sides’. She also made my Dad a bomber jacket out of an old blanket of which he was very proud. Whether or not she was involved in any war-time activities such as sewing circles (Sew for Victory) or the W.I. is unknown (further research required!)
Similarly sewing was part of my maternal great grandmother’s life who, when widowed during the Great War, and with three young children to support, sewed shirts for a living – common practice during those times. These would be sewn at home by candlelight.
the war widows’ pension […] was devised to confine the woman to the domestic role of idealised mother whilst refusing to pay her sufficient money to keep her within the home. At around half the “minimum wage” of £1 a week, the payment was more of a token gesture. http://www.warwidowsstories.org.uk/history/the-world-wars/
Finally I started to consider the receptacle in which we keep buttons – mine include an inherited cigar box of Granny’s, and a wooden (lead-lined) tea caddy where I keep spare buttons that are attached to garments in plastic bags. Growing up in the 60s/70s, my mother’s buttons were kept in a small blue and red tartan silk draw-string bag; however this theme appears limited.
It was at this point that a Facetime meeting was arranged. We started by discussing our individual opinions of the The Button Box book, and whilst we both identified themes that had interested us, we were aware that we were gravitating towards sewing themes rather than the button/button box. This was an issue as it was a theme already covered in our previous edition Sewing Secrets. Another discussion centered around whether or not the content should be personal – and relate to our family members, or whether we draw content from a wider source – although the issue remained of what the content could be!
With a time limit to our discussion, we decided to go back to an earlier idea – in the first instance we will both categorise our individual button boxes. How we choose to do this (at this stage) is up to the individual, and we will share our findings on the blog within five days, this will be followed by another FaceTime meeting.