On Buttons and (Grand)Motherly Love


miriam, susan, anna

Last week on Facebook, in honor of Mother’s Day, we posted a picture of my mother, Miriam, my daughter, Anna, and myself in 2006 in our retail store. I commented on the ways a family’s button box seems to represent the warmest connections between mothers and daughters, grandmothers and granddaughters. This resonated with our followers, some 27 of whom posted memories of their own grandmother’s and mother’s button boxes!Here are two that affected me the most:

My mom was a seamstress; she had a jar of buttons since I was a little girl. I played with them. I had parades & pageants, just lining them up on the rug. Mom is gone now, but I have the jar of buttons. I feel her love when I see that jar.  Janis Landrem Bryan  

My Grandmother saved her buttons in a round tin can. Last year for Christmas I made each one of my kids an ornament and put some of their Great Grandmothers buttons in each. Each kid got a letter explaining how precious she was to me and how I watched her sew and save buttons. It is one of those memories I’ll always cherish and now each one of my kids will remember her every year when they decorate their tree.  Polly Isla

Many other women, from Vermont to Washington state, added their memories, almost all of which correspond to my childhood remembrances. Our button museum is filled with rare and beautiful buttons dating from the 1700s through the 1940s, but my favorite area is the case where I display the button tins and boxes belonging to my mother and both grandmothers, along with a picture of each woman at age 19. 


My father’s mother lived next door, and it was she at age 95 who shared her 30+ boxes of buttons with me, providing the inspiration to begin Grandmother’s Buttons. She did the mending for our family, using the treadle sewing machine now on display in our New Orleans store. My mother’s mother lived in New Orleans, and her Whitman’s Sampler box of buttons provided hours of entertainment during my summer visits there. 

But it was my mother’s button tin that I remember the most – a 1920s cigar tin filled with pearl shirt buttons, horn buttons from my father’s khakis, glittering rhinestones from her college gowns, and, most memorably, a group of 1940s celluloid apple, pear and flower buttons, perfect for the doll tea parties I held on my mother’s bedspread while she sewed dresses for my three teenaged sisters.


Just the sight of these tins and boxes transports me to my childhood and my love for these three women who taught me so much. Grandmother’s Buttons has for thirty years been my tribute to them, and in a way to our customers’ much-loved mothers and grandmothers. My mother was this business’s greatest enthusiast, always wearing our pieces for every occasion, and even though she passed away two years ago at age 94, her memory will live on in every piece we make. She would be thrilled to know that her youngest granddaughter, our daughter Anna, is adding her talents to Grandmother’s Buttons working in marketing from her home in New Orleans.