This month we have the non-fiber button-making options, a sequel to last month’s First Friday.
The photo is someone else’s grandmother’s button box, from Pixabay.
The simplest clay button is a circle cut from a thin layer of clay, with holes poked in it with a large needle or a toothpick, baked according to package directions. I found nice tutorials for those buttons using decorative icing nozzles and a thread spool as the cutters. I didn’t notice this in any of the tutorials I found, but if you wanted to ensure equal spacing on your buttonholes from button to button, you can tape three toothpicks together, the outer two lined up and the middle one offset from them so it’s out of the way when you punch holes. If that’s too close together for the size buttons you’re making, you could put two toothpicks between the hole-punching toothpicks (since your middle ones aren’t supposed to extend to the tip of the outside ones, you could still use three toothpicks, just cutting one in half to make a double spacer).
To add texture you can press anything you like into the surface of the clay either before or after cutting the circle: rubber stamps, braided trim, and lace are all popular choices. Lisa Clarke has a whole series on these sorts of hand-formed or simply cut buttons, with a focus on color and patterns (coming from the clay itself: of course you can always paint your buttons when they are finished).
Button molds exist, and you can also make them from your favorite buttons. Sew Chibi has a tutorial on using commercial molds. The Frugal Crafter has a post on making button molds from scrap polymer clay, and Cuttlefish Corner has one on making them with silicone caulk and cornstarch, which is more involved but I expect produces a slightly more flexible mold. Rings and Things has a tutorial for molds made with two-part silicone putty, with advice on making a mold that will sit flat and stack well.
I’m sure you could do all these projects with air dry clay as well, but if your button is likely to get wet you would want to seal it thoroughly with some kind of waterproof varnish.
Plastic, resin, and glue
By “plastic” here I really mean shrink plastic, as in this tutorial from Scissors.Paper.Wok. The Zen of Making has a slightly different version with a lot of additional advice.
I put all the mold-making tutorials above in the polymer clay section, but you don’t have to fill molds with polymer clay. Other options include resin and hot glue, though you may need to be careful of the kinds of molds you use, to ensure you’ll be able to get the finished button back out. I wasn’t able to find a resource giving the yea or nay on different mold materials.
In any case, to make a button with holes through it you can make or buy a mold with holes built in, or drill them after the resin cures. To make a shank button you’ll need to embed a ring after the resin has stiffened somewhat but before it hardens. If you use an O-ring from jewelry making, be sure spot where the ends meet is within the resin so your sewing thread can’t pull out that way later. If you use a ring that’s built more like a keyring, it doesn’t matter. Other advice can be found on Florence Turnour’s blog. For a hot glue tutorial, visit Lil Blue Boo – and make sure your ring is at the ready since this will set far more quickly than resin.
I imagine this bottlecap pin tutorial could be adapted to buttons as well: either embed a ring in the resin to be your shank, letting the top of the bottlecap show, solder a ring to the back instead of a safety pin (might take some finagling, with the drastically decreased contact area), or drill holes through the whole thing after it’s done. Be careful of wear to buttonholes from the points around the edge, though.
Buttons can be made with beads rather than simply decorated with them; large single-hole beads can be turned into shank buttons, or you can construct a button out of multiple beads strung together.
Wood is a classic button material, and you can use scrap lumber or tree branches sliced into flat pieces (see also this tutorial). For a chunkier look more adapted to a coat or shawl, you can drill holes crossways through twigs to make toggle buttons.
It seems to me that any weaving you might do with thread could also be done with wire (this might be a way to use more open Teneriffe lace patterns as buttons), but the only tutorial I could find was this Instructable for coiled wire buttons. Instructables also hosts a tutorial for making beads from sea glass, which should adapt well to other hard materials (though I have found seashells flake badly when you try to cut them, so a very sharp drill would be in order).
Finally, I found tutorials for making buttons with Perler beads and with paper. The latter uses a heat gun and embossing fluid and enamel to coat, and the instructions have only one hole punched, whereas you may want two. I doubt I would use those on clothing, but they would be cute embellishments elsewhere.