BurdaStyle, Mary’s American Triumph and a Mother of Pearl give-a-way.

I have recently been writing guest blogger posts over at BurdaStyle.com. Recently, I wrote an article called Mother of Pearl Buttons: A Uniquely American Triumph. Since I wrote that article, a couple of thoughts have come to me that I wanted to share with you.

Lindsey Ibarra, managing editor at BurdaStyle on her recent visit to my studio

First off, writing for BurdaStyle has been great fun. I’m given the freedom to write on my love of vintage and sewing and Lindsey Ibarra, BurdaSyle’s managing editor and a Midwestern transplant, is an absolute joy to work with. I bring this up because, if you aren’t a regular reader/visitor, you need to be. It is a fantastic community of creative sewers who are both inspirational and helpful.

A postcard of The Woman’s Institute for Domestic Arts, Scranton, PA. Circa 19XX

Next, writing the Mother of Pearl post was extremely satisfying to me because it let me tell another story of American opportunity & ingenuity. The American Dream is not solely about a post-war boon of suburban houses, appliances and garages filled with cars. It’s about centuries of people coming here to this country for the freedom to think, create, and lead. John Fredrick Boepple was not responsible for just the surge and popularity of mother of pearl buttons, he was responsible for hundreds of families being able to live & prosper in a small Midwestern town at the turn of the century. Not an easy task, to say the least. This is also why Mary Brooks Picken and The Institute, the inspirations for my Vintage Notions book, are Uniquely American Triumphs’as well. Mary and The Institute did not exist simply to help women spend their domestic time more creatively. They existed to empower women, encourage them to find personal and economic strength in themselves and spur them on to share in The American Dream too.

Lastly, for my readers who may be as obsessed with mother of pearl buttons as I am (although I doubt there are many!) or for those simply looking for a jolt of creative inspiration, I’d like to give away six mother of pearl button cards from my personal collection (see photo at left). All you have to do is leave me a comment, tell a mother of pearl story of any kind, and I”ll draw one winner from all of you who comment.

As always, thanks for letting me share my life and my love of all things vintage.

~ Amy

50 Responses to “BurdaStyle, Mary’s American Triumph and a Mother of Pearl give-a-way.”

  1. My mom and I always sewed together when I was little. But when I was about 9 I earned the right to use her machine alone. One time, while sewing yet another lopsided pillow for who knows what reason, I got distracted and the needle went right through my fingernail into my finger. My mom came rushing downstairs when she heard me scream and unpinned my little finger from machine’s claw. She fixed me up and set me right back down at the sewing machine to finish my project. Afterwards, she gave me a little box filled with different MOP buttons and we completely covered the pillow with them. It sat by the sewing machine as a shiny reminder to ALWAYS pay attention! I don’t know where the little pillow is now, but your post brought the memory back. so thank you.

  2. I too love MOP buttons. My older sister took our deceased mother’s button stash and stitched 15 unique dress and coat buttons (most from the 30’s & 40’s) to one of her fancy line hankies. These were outlined in MOP shirt buttons that formed a decorative diamond pattern framing the fancier buttons. This hankie was mounted on foam core board and placed in oat shadow box frames. She had to make 3 identical shadow boxes. One for each of us girls – the three sisters! She gave us this as a surprise in memory of our mother’s death on Oct. 2, 2004. It brought a tear to our hearts, but a smile in memory of our dear mother. MOP buttons will always remind us of her. She had us always cut off old buttons and save them for future projects. We always knew to look in the button box when we needed something to inspire us.

    Thanks for your article.


  3. Mothr of pearl buttons spark a special memory for me. My grandmother (an avid seamstress) would tell me stories of times during the war. She would never waste anything. She cut the buttons from a worn out shirt and put them in a jar to be used again on something new. I have that jar still today. It sits proudly on the shelf in my studio.

  4. I love Mother of Pearl buttons! I cross stitched a tree and attached various MOP buttons on it and had it framed. I love looking at it. There are probablly 25 buttons of different shapes and sizes covering the branches.

  5. I love mop, my ex once gave me two necklaces with mop birds on them. I still wear them.

  6. When i see these buttons it reminds me of my momma. I miss her! She is the best, and I would love to give these to her for Mothers Day!!

  7. I just love vintage buttons! Any and all kinds. Anyone that gets something handmade by me that has buttons on it, knows that they are vintage. I just saw some beautiful jewelry made with mother of pearl buttons and would love to make something as pretty!

  8. As a kid growing up in Iowa, our family went fishing around Guttenberg, Iowa. There was a button factory in Guttenberg and we would find clam shells with round holes in them; the shells were discarded after the factory had used them for their buttons.

  9. Favorite mother of pearl buttons were worn and some were saved from my grandmother’s finer clothes. I discovered she had “collected” some them in the drawer of her 1919 Singer treadle sewing machine which I inherited.

  10. Mother of Pearl always reminds me of my mother. She had a few pieces of jewelry with MOP and she cherished these items. I try to always create artwork and crafts with MOP because it reminds me my moms beauty and love of MOP.

  11. Mother of Pearl is delicate, timeless and sincere. It brings style to any piece of jewelry, clothing and just creates vintage class. Love MOP.

  12. I absolutely LOVE Mother of Pearl. It always reminds of me mom. She had just a few pieces of jewelry with mother of pearl and she cherished these items always. Whenever I see Mother of Pearl, I remember my mom 🙂 I try to use pieces in all my crafts and artwork.

  13. The Minnesota Art Museum, across the Mississippi at La Crosse, had a display of MOP buttons last year. It was there I learned the story of the button, the factory and it’s demise. There was a display of buttons. Large carved ones that astonished me and the small ones that adorn baby’s clothing. There were a few for sale and I bought a hand-full. Thank you for adding to my knowledge of this fine product.

  14. Isn’t “mother of pearl” a beautiful name for a thing?

  15. Margaret Jordan April 22, 2011 at 9:37 am


  16. they are like tiny little clouds

  17. I love MOP buttons, well really, just any kind for button will do. They add such a lovely wintage touch to anything you use them on, crafts, sewing, scrapbooking…. But just in a jar on a shelf in my craft space is beautiful too!

  18. We love Mother of Pearl here in the UK too. I’ve a small collection started when I took over my grandmother’s button tin from my Mother. Although I buy them at junk shops and fairs too to use on crafty projects, I have to admit I haven’t used a single one – I’m far too mean to give them away! So I really admire your generosity Amy. ;o)

  19. Mother of pearl buttons – I love them! They remind me of my grandmother Estelle – Like mother of pearl buttons, my grandmother was beautiful with dark hair and blue eyes. But also like mother of pearl buttons, she was very, very practical! Thank you for sharing this beautiful collection.

  20. I didn’t mean to start collecting buttons, but when you sew and love vintage patterns, one thing leads to another. I am in heaven when I read in the newspaper that an estate sale has a sewing machine. This means that I am almost sure to find all the ancillary goodies – patterns, fabric, buttons & notions! I vividly remember my best pattern trove, in a suitcase full of brown envelope patterns in an attic of a small bungalow. My stellar button find was in a 1905 house in a cigar box and included several large jeweled cloak buttons, steel studded cut mother of pearl buttons, MOP buckles, a card of antique doll buttons (ca 1900) and 3 human hair buttons. My favorites are mother of pearl, especially the filigree cut out lacy buttons. In my sewing room there is a card on display depicting a flapper in lingerie with attached lingerie buttons. So cute!

    So while I am not a dedicated button collector, I am clearly heading in that direction. Your cards are in such perfect condition. I am so glad I discovered your blog, since I too have just about everything published by Mary B Pickens.

  21. I have long loved vintage mother of pearl buttons. My favorites are some wonderful pink ones from Muscatine, Iowa, that I found at a flea market nearly 8 years ago. I have never seen any just like them since.

  22. bobbie calgaro April 14, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    I love mother of pearl buttons. Several years ago a friend of mine was breaking up her deceased mothers home and had a big yard sale. We went because her dad was a train buff and since my husband is also we went to find train memorabilia for him. But I came out with wonderful buttons. A whole jar of white buttons mostly mother of pearl. i have used them on so many things. And some are just there for me to enjoy. Old buttons are the best. I look for them wherever I go.

  23. Wanda Contreras April 14, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    love mother of pearl buttons. thanks for the giveaway!!!!
    best regards,

  24. Wanda Contreras April 14, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    My mother is a wonderful seamstress and she made a christening gown with mother of pearls buttons. It is beautiful and will last forever!!!
    thanks for the opportunity to enter your beautiful giveaway!!!
    best regards,

  25. I recently wrote a blog post about my Grandmother’s wedding suit, and how she adapted it over the years for other occasions, and one thing I realized while examining the scrap of bodice I have left, is that she removed the flower shaped mother-of-pearl buttons from the original suit. I had never noticed that before.

    You can see it here: http://threadsofconversation.blogspot.com/2011/03/wardrobe-redux-history-of-dress.html

  26. I have no mother of peral buttons – yet :-). Hey you have to be positive. I do love mother of peral anything though. Recently I saw a beautifully carved mother of peral Zuni fetish at the Heard Museum’s annual Indian Festival in Phoenix. Alas, it called to me, but my pocketbook did not contain enough dollars to bring it home with me.

  27. MOP buttons from Muscatine, Iowa. I love these luminescent beauties. I made a Christmas tree skirt from ivory polar fleece and embellished the entire thing in a variety of sizes and styles of MOP buttons laid out to form snowflake shapes. It just glimmers in the Christmas tree light. Very lovely at night.

    Thanks Amy, for the opportunity to win these beautiful buttons.

  28. I have been acquiring pearl buttons for years. Not in any serious way, just when I see them they’re mine. I love the look and cool feel of them. I have s few old collar studs that my grandfather used to wear (to hold starched collar onto shirt although I never saw him wear one like this). And some of the tiniest buttons I have ever seen, possibly from baby wear, but it’s hard to imagine having to do them up they are so small.

  29. I love old pearl buttons and use them in my handsewn children’ s clothing all of the time. I would love to win these!

  30. I love MOP buttons – they have such a warm irridescence, I can’t help but wonder if their glow is from the spirit of the person who shaped them from shells. The ones that have carved designs on them are especially beautiful. Can you imagine carving a sea shell, or mussel shell, into buttons, and then enhancing them with intricate patterns? It must have taken ages, and they received mere pennies for their work. I was, however, unaware of the American context, so thanks for that info, Amy.

  31. I love mother of pearl buttons, They are my favorite because they dress upaa lot of fabrics. Great for crazy quilts.

  32. Love those vintage mother of pearl buttons. When I was a child, my mother kept a drawstring bag full of them. If she was trying to do something and I was bothering her, she would give me the bag and I would sift through the buttons for hours picking out different shapes and sizes.

  33. Nothing is as beautiful than mother of pearl!! I would Love to add these to my button collection.

  34. I remember playing with my mother’s button collection, which she got form her mother and looking at the color changes when the light hit the buttons a certain way. I would love to win these buttons to add to my collection and use on embroidered and quilted vintage pillows I am planning to make.

  35. Thanks for the post–I have learned about so many interesting people, things, and ideas from reading your posts (and your Vintage Notions book)!
    Since following your blog, I have learned of Mary Brooks Picken and have hunted for–and found–a few of her books.
    I too have my button tin and jars and jars of buttons, but my favorites have been the ones still on their vintage cards. I love the graphics on them and how the mop glows in the light!

  36. Debbie Painter April 13, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    My Grandmother always sewed, & I have an old jewelry box that had treasures from her & her mother, my great-grandmother. At the bottom were these beautiful, very tiny mother of pearl buttons! I still have them & cherish the memories of those 2 beautiful women that I was so blessed to call “Grandma”!! Thanks for the chance to win an amazing part of your collection!!!

  37. I actually thought I was the only one who was hoarding MOP buttons! I scour the thrift shops for clothes that I can snip them off of. My line of plus-sized clothing from thrift clothing uses lots of the little darlings…..I think I started when I visited the Warther museum here in Ohio, where Mrs. Warther collected buttons that were then used to build a little house! The tour guide said that in her later years, Mrs. Warther would snip buttons off unsuspecting nursing home visitors’ coats!

  38. MOP buttons represent a wonderful relationship of the organic and the useful. They feel so silky and cool to the touch and make even the mundane function of buttoning up a shirt a luxurious task!

  39. I lovethe different shapes,,,, the small squares ate so cute,,,, dont even need to use them as actual buttons! They would make wonderful embellishments on a blouse.

  40. I love buttons of all kinds…but particularly vintage ones…and mother of pearl ones….when my three girls were younger, I did alot of french handsewing and smocking…and used some mother of pearl buttons that my grandmother had left in her sewing box on those dresses, to make them even more special!

  41. victoria ozanich April 13, 2011 at 12:29 pm


    I have no mother of pearl stories but am a button freak! Several years ago my mother went through her sewing things and gave me the buttons she had. These belonged to her, my grandmother, my great aunt and some I recognized from dresses I had made in 5th grade on up.

    I started making cloth dolls and incorporate these buttons whenever I can. It adds such beauty to “my girls”. I’d love to add your “giveaway” to them.

    Thank you for bringing vintage back to us through your writing,etc. I currently volunteer and teach art to a class of 4th graders. I feel this is so important in a child’s life. As with art, there’s nothing like history/vintage to keep all of us aware of where we’ve been.

    Thanks again for this opportunity, Amy!!!

    If I’m chosen, would it be possible for the 6 cards to go to 6 winners?

  42. i have always had a depressed immune system, and as a child always got whatever another child might bring as way of sickness to school. as i would lie in bed very often my mother would leave her button tin beside me to sort. i remember being awed by the rhinestones and the german glass. wondering about the baklight art deco. and loving the hard plastic shapes of the 40’s and 50’s. my favorites were though the little mother of pearls that tended to collect at the bottom. i would scoop the other buttons aside as i looked for my little gems. matching them up and stringing them on thread with a needle. i still love the button aisle.

  43. Maggie Harline April 13, 2011 at 7:38 am

    Remember Puka shell necklaces ?
    My husband had a necklace made by an old girl friend that she made from pearl buttons that were in graduating size, small at the ends to larger at the center; that became part of my Pearl button collection !

  44. OOOOooooo! I’d absolutely LoVe to add these beauties to my small stash in my button basket on my antique White sewing machine!

  45. i have some of my mother’s buttons. we spent hours with the button can,,,,this awful orange thing……….stringing buttons on thread with a needle, while mom sewed on her machine.

  46. I’ve loved Mother of Pearl since the day I was born…or so it seems lol! The day I FINALLY got to get my ears pierced was my first pair of Mother of Pearl earrings. I wouldn’t say that I’m obsessed, but it sure ranks high on the Love It! list 🙂

    Thanks for letting me share!

  47. Oh! these buttons are beautiful. I love buttons. I have many and use them on all I can.

  48. i have a jar full of mother of pearl buttons, most of them culled from 2 grandmother’s button boxes and cut off old shirts that couldn’t be repaired any more. A few I bought, but the very best ones are the ones I remember the garment they came from. Plaid wool jackets and tweed skirts come to mind when I go through my MOP buttons. I hope to use them all on special new garments that I sew for myself and my friends and family as I make custom clothes that will be just as cherished for many years to come!
    Thanks for sharing your love of these vintage treasures!

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