Vintage Carved Mother of Pearl Button Ponytail Holders

Oriental Fan Pearl Button Ponytail Holder

Detailed Dye Cut Shape and Carving on MOP button circa 1940’s

In my love for antiques, there are sections and subsections. When I discovered the artistry behind vintage sewing buttons, they quickly became a prominent category in my list of “Antiques I Adore.” Discovering the history and techniques used to create the miniature pieces of art was enthralling; learning about the transition from made by hand to that of using modern(for the late 19th century era in which this occurred) machinery to create the buttons provided me with a feeling of both sadness and awed wonder.

I mourned, for the button-maker, their loss of the exclusive use of non-electric hand tools to make the bone and shell buttons which had been the staple of American button industry since it’s inception. But the use of technology allowed for much more than enormous leaps in productivity. Makers of buttons used the new tools (electric motors powering drills, files and other forming machines) to elevate their artistry to a higher level.

Because shell was one of the most widely used button materials at the time, the switch from “made by hand” to “made by hand with machined support” is most easy to see. Before power tools were in use, a button maker made each decorative mark on a button by use of a hand tool, usually a metal file. As can be imagined, the range of embellishments which could be accomplished was fairly limited. Below are a few examples of the type of work a button-maker could produce with such hand-powered tools.

Vintage Pearl Button Earrings

Vintage Mother of Pearl Buttons, Restyled as Earrings. Note the simplicity of etched design, which was created using hand-powered tools.

Antique Mother of Pearl Button as Ponytail Holder

Notice the variation in markings – depth and shape. This work was all done by hand.

Once machine power came into play, workers could create more embellished pieces in a shorter amount of time than they had previously spent with a more simple design.

Creamy White Antique Mother of Pearl Button

Notice the greater amount af cutwork details which were made in this piece. With the use of machine-power, button artisans were able to dedicate more time to embellishment.

Dye-cut machinery later allowed for decorative shapes to be reproduced quickly, and buttons could take on fanciful shapes. Once the basic design had been cut from the shell, an artisan could use engraving and drilling tools to carve away details, adding more dimension to the designs, as seen in the Asian Fan piece at top and also here:

Dye-Cutting machinery allowed for the creation if intricate shaping as shown on the perimeter of this Hibiscus Flower button from the 1940's

Dye-Cutting machinery allowed for the creation if intricate shaping as shown on the perimeter of this Hibiscus Flower button from the 1940’s

My appreciation for this evolution has made Mother of Pearl and other shell buttons one of those subsections within my Adored Antiques classifications, and I hope that you, too, will come to love the beautiful work button artists from the mid 19th to mid 20th centuries have created. It brings me great pleasure to come across such examples in my never-ending quest for antique buttons. That I have been able to restyle them as ponytail holders, in a way which does not damage the button’s integrity, makes me happy. Buttons which may have stayed cached away in boxes and bins are able to again find purpose – to adorn and pique the interest of admirers – as they were originally intended to do.

The Delicate Beauty of Arabesque Beads

Arabesque Bead Earrings Teardrop Shape

While visiting the A Rolling Stone bead store in Redlands, CA, I found a display case of beads different than what I had been used to seeing. Labeled as “double dipped copper beads,” I instantly fell in love with the delicate filigree construction. Expensive they were, but I could not resist.  I bought what I could afford – but two sets of two beads; enough to make two pair of earrings. I hoped that I would be able to reorder more when needed.

Once I got home and had some time, I began scouring the internet in search for suppliers.  The bead store I had visited wasn’t really set up well for ecomm, and I admit – I was hoping to locate a source selling at below retail cost.

At first I had difficulty finding the beads, but this was due to my searching under the term the beads had been labeled. Once I did some brainstorming, I easily found several sellers of these wonderful beads which are made in India. Unfortunately, I also found that the retail-priced beads that had hooked me in the first place were actually inexpensive, comparatively!

Nonetheless, I went forward with a purchase from one supplier, and added a few new designs to my shop.  First was a pair of earrings made from exquisite pillow beads in a trapezoid shape. The intricate work in this arabesque design in so pretty, I had a hard time not keeping them for my own. I’ve paired them with Caribbean Blue faceted beads of Czech glass.

Trapezoid Pillow Shaped Arabesque Bead Earrings

Another bead design I could not resist were round in shape, reminding me of our sun, or that of an antique clock set atop a street post in a European town. The stylized flower design, to me, could be inspired by the flares of the sun, and perhaps that is what made the connection for me. I accented these antiqued gold beauties with amethyst purple glass beads, along with metal bead caps to balance the design.

Arabesque Beads in Orb shape with Flowere Design

I had located the original teardrop beads in silver color(the bead is made of copper with a coating of silver), and with this design, I tried hand hammering metal for the headpins. I chose a sickle shaped motif, which I envisioned as a stylized variation of the star and crescent element, so important in ancient eastern design, and nowadays associated with Islam.

Arabesque Teardop Bed Earrings in SilverI hope to add more designs that incorporate these beautiful metal beads, but for now these will have to suffice, The old saying may be that one has to spend money to make money, and I have certainly done my share of spending! Now I need to make some money to justify spending more.  Well, at least until I fall prey to my propensity to visit bead stores and online catalogs…..

MetalWorking, Here I Come!

Handmade Silver Hoop Earrings


Not so bad for my first try, I think!

A while ago I decided that I would like to begin learning some new techniques, to expand the possibilities for my jewelry line. I have a good feel for composition, and people adore my pieces, but the fact remains that what I am doing is simply combining components, That won’t get me noticed by people looking for something special, such as those who make decisions on juried shows.

If I want to further myself, I need to grow past the stage I am in and find ways to make my work more special. Wire wrapping and weaving “seemed” to be the best place to start.

Easier said than done of course.  I purchased some copper and silver wire in 18 and 28 gauge, only to quickly understand I need more than these two weight options. Sigh….I told myself to “learn” with what I have and make purchases later. This is also an attempt to force me away from avoiding practice because I am “waiting for new materials” to arrive.

So I had my wire and then I needed to form it.  “I need a hammer!” I thought. So – yeah, I DID buy one.  And because my friend Sonya, from StoneMetal Design, had once mentioned how she found it important to have a good hammer, I bought  a Fretz. Yes, it was costly, but I just feel so good handling it.  I purchased from Firefly Studios and recommend them highly. The seller helped me decide on my hammer and then quickly shipped once my order was in hand. What a surprise to find out how much lighter a jewelery making hammer is compared to the carpenter’s claw hammer I beat the headpins down with on the earrings below – hahah

Sodalite Earrings with Hand Hammered AccentsI have made a few more pair of the hoop earrings in the first image, and will offer them in three sizes(the ones shown are the larger, at 1 3/4 inches in diameter), and in antiqued copper.  That means my next experiment will be in using Liver of Sulphur(also purchased from Firefly Studios), to add the darkened patina to the metal.

Also I have been busying myself drawing up ideas for new designs. I have tried following tutorials, but I often don’t like the actual designs offered, and just can’t enjoy making an item that I don’t feel is something I would want to sell. Instead, I read the instructions and then incorporate the techniques in my own designs.  It is frustrating,for sure, but it is more often that my design needed a tweak and not an issue with the technique employed.

It’s slow-going, I am finding.  But fun!