One of our fantastic WEFT workshops is being led by Jen Best of Beaker Buttons where she will be teaching the wonderful art of Dorset Button making. In celebration of this workshop we wanted to give you a bit of history in to this wonderful cottage industry.
On the face of things the history of the Dorset Button is fairly well known and established, however, much of what is accepted about it’s origins is hearsay and unproven. We will give you the story, as far as it is understood, and let you decide its veracity.
According to the stories, the Dorset button was invented by a soldier from the Cotswolds named Abraham Case. Abraham spent time in Europe during the religious wars between Catholics and Protestants in the early 1600’s. We get two possible stories about how he came up with the idea of the button – one very practical and the other much less so. One theory is that he say soldiers replacing lost buttons on their uniforms by twisting a piece of fabric over a form and fastening it with thread. Another train of thought is that he was influenced by the lace work buttons in Brussels lace. The story goes that he returned to Wiltshire, married a girl in 1622, moved to Shaftsbury and started the Dorset Button industry. The Dorset area had a wealth of resources for Abraham to set up his business, the Dorset Horn sheep being of great importance to his business. The Dorset Horn is a breed of sheep easily recognisable by its heavy spiral horns, which occur in both sexes. At the time the Dorset Horn was a prolific breed as they are able to produce lambs twice a year. The first style button they produced was the ‘High Top’ – these were made from a thin disc of sheep’s horn as their base with a piece of linen pulled and twisted to form a firm conical shape. Abraham’s grandson Peter took over the business in the first half of the 1730’s and the business continued to grow. It is thought Peter introduced the metal rings which are now the hallmark of a Dorset Button.
This year celebrates 400 years of Dorset button making and the craft has evolved so much in that time. Most of the Dorset buttons made today are less of a functional button and more of a decorative centre piece. As part of WEFT, Beaker Buttons will be running an introductory course on Dorset Buttons where you will be making a nature themed beaded Dorset button. Head to our events page for more information or book your place on our Ticketsource page.