A few years ago I found one of the most spectacular button art creations I had ever seen by surfing on the internet. I am talking about the North American Button Blankets. I fell immediately in love with this kind of button art !
From around 1800, Pacific Northwest Coast Indian tribes (like the Haida, Tsimshian, Tlingit, Nisga'a and others) often traded furs for woolen blankets from maritime european traders and later the Hudson's Bay company. Rather than sleeping equipment, the blankets were made into robes for ceremonial purposes; they were worn over the shoulders like capes.
Why were they decorated with buttons ? One legend tells that a member of the Kwagiutl tribe saw once a Pearly King and liked what he saw. Another legend tells it was inspired by the white pearl buttons on the uniform of a British sailor. Truth is that early pictures show that the blankets were first decorated with feathers and abalone shells. These were eventually replaced by mother of pearl buttons, obtained from traders and sailors' uniforms, and were much easier to use. Most blankets are made of dark blue duffle with red flannel appliqué outlined with pearl buttons. The central crest typically portrayed a symbol of the wearer's family heritage. Symbols found are the frog, raven, whale, thunderbird etc.
Traditionally, these robes were worn during dance ceremonies. The dancer would move displaying the shiny patterns of the shell buttons to the audience. The community would know the dancer's family clan and its historial status just by the design on the robe. The robes were handed down from generation to generation. After 1880 the Indians were discouraged by the governments to hold their traditional ceremonies and not many button blankets were made anymore. Around 1950 a revival of the button blanket occurred. New button blankets are made, and classes in button work are offered. The button blanket has now become the most popular piece of contemporary feast attire. Today, buttons are sometimes used to fill entire zones of the design elements and even the whole field of the background.
the button blanket concept by
Clarissa Hudson Studio
The Button Lover's Book (Creative Machine Arts Series) by Marilyn V. Green
Make a Button Blanket