I have some tiny white buttons made of thread in my collection, and after some research I found out that they are called Dorset buttons. Here some history about Dorset buttons.
Dorset buttons are woven thread buttons, also know as needle-lace buttons. Initially the buttons were made from a disc of the horn of Dorset Sheep, those first buttons being called "high tops" and "knobs" (The high-tops were worn by gentlemen on their hunting waistcoats). The disc was covered with a piece of linen, which was then worked all over with fine linen thread to form a conical or knob shape depending on the type of button required. The diameter of the buttons ranging from half an inch (13mm) down to an unbelievable eighth of an inch (3mm). At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the introduction of metal rings, which were cheaper and quicker to use, transformed the craft into a village industry in Dorset. The wire was brought to the area from Birmingham by Horse and Waggon. It was made into button rings by being twisted on a spindle and the cut ends being dipped in solder. Thousands of people (men, women and children) worked in the industry; even prisons and orphanages were contracted to meet the great global demand for Dorset buttons. These buttons were commonly used on children's clothing, women's blouses and underwear. Hundreds of thousands of buttons were made annually. By the beginning of the nineteenth century there were button depots all over Dorset, providing the cottagers with a central place to market their buttons, and other businessmen who needed buttons for their products could buy them in bulk. The buttons were exported from Liverpool.
Varying types of buttons were made: cartwheels, baskets, honeycombs, crosswheels, bird's eyes, mites, Singletons (made from a linen covered padded ring), and some buttons were decorated with beadwork. The complete buttons mere mounted on cards for sale. The first quality for export, were mounted on pink cards, the seconds on dark blue cards and the third quality were mounted on yellow cards, these last two qualities being for sale in England. Any dirty buttons were boiled in a linen bag before being mounted. The buttons were sold at between eight-pence and three shillings a dozen, while the buttoners were paid an average of two shillings a day for making approximately six or seven dozen buttons. Compared with the nine-pence a day they might expect from rigorous farm-work, this was a real alternative for many women. It was therefore no surprise that poorer women flocked to join in this new cottage industry. It is said that expert buttoners could make up to one gross a day for which they were paid three shillings and six pence or three shilling and nine pence if the buttons were perfect.
A bitter blow struck the buttoners in 1851 with the introduction of the automated button machine. The cottage industry came to an abrupt end bringing poverty and starvation to the families of the buttoners. Many hundreds of families were forced to emigrate to America, Canada or Australia, whilst for others, especially the elderly, it was the workhouse.
The secret of making high-tops and knobs has never been solved, but the buttons made on wire rings are the types which are being revived. Here's a great tutorial for modern Dorset Buttons.
Dorset buttons from Dorothy Johnstone made by Eve Hale
Button Making in Dorset
50 Heirloom Buttons to Make, Nancy Nehring
How to make Dorset Buttons