Vintage Glass Buttons: A Special Gift

Happy Monday, everyone! Today, I wanted to share a beautiful birthday gift:

Vintage buttons, a lovely present from a friend of mine! They were originally her grandmother’s. I’m touched that she passed on a family heirloom for me to make something with. She’s had them for years, but in honor of my 30th birthday she decided to gift them to me. What a thoughtful present – I hope I can do them justice!

From what I could figure out, they’re vintage glass, made in Czechoslovakia. They feel like glass – they have that tinkling glass sound when they touch each other and they feel slightly cold – but my friend believes they’re plastic. I couldn’t find any information on ‘Hollywood Buttons’ although the card looks very old, I’m guessing perhaps 1930s or 1940s.

I did find plenty of vintage Czech glass buttons online, which were popular in the 30’s, so I think they’re glass! (Does anyone know how to tell the difference between glass and plastic buttons?)

Here’s a link to search for similar Czech glass buttons on etsy. These are perhaps the closest looking to mine!

And now, I want to dream up the perfect project, something truly beautiful and worthy of these pretty heirloom buttons. Do you ever feel like that, when you receive a special piece of fabric as a gift there’s a bit of pressure to make something extra-special? In a good way, I mean. I want to show off the pretty buttons, and I want to place them somewhere protected, where they won’t be bumped or scratched.

Here’s what I’m thinking:

A dress, with button details on the bodice. Keeping the buttons on the top half of the garment protects them from sitting, and shows them off better than if they were on the skirt or waistband.

A jacket, with four buttons down the front. Something really classic, like a simple collarless jacket.

I think they’re a bit too heavy for a blouse, and I want the buttons to suit the garment. So either a jacket or dress. A jacket might be more versatile than a dress, but a dress would be more special and formal.

And then the next question is what colour to choose, to best show off the pretty red glass? Red on red is subtle, but do the buttons disappear?

I don’t want them to be too contrast-y and showy but I do want to be able to see them. Elegance is the goal here. Black is too deadening, perhaps gold? Taupe? Camel? I want the beauty of the buttons to stand out, without looking garish. Is it too weird to have red buttons on a tan coat, just to make them more visible? Perhaps wine or burgundy – something that’s not red, but a little more tonal and similar in colour? It’s hard to start with the buttons and then work out the rest of the project!

(photographed with my hand, to give you a sense of scale)

I do want to use them soon, as they’re too pretty to be sitting in a drawer somewhere. Or at least create a plan to use them, when I have a bit more time to sew! The great part is that if the garment wears out, I can always cut off the buttons and re-use them on another sewing project.

What would you sew with these buttons? What colour would you choose to best show off the red?

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43 Responses to Vintage Glass Buttons: A Special Gift

  1. patsijean March 12, 2012 at 6:22 am #

    I looked up these two articles on the history of plastic buttons. It is possible that one of these authors could help you.

  2. Laura March 12, 2012 at 6:33 am #

    To tell plastic from glass: you will need a small, sharp hand sewing needle, a pair of pliers or a potholder, a candle and a match. Grip the eye of the needle in the pliers or potholder and carefully heat the needle tip until it glows red. Then immediately touch the needle point to a hidden spot on the back of the button. If the button is made of common plastics (or ivory or other organic material) the hot needle will mark the button, and/or may give off a bit of smoke and burning smell. A hot needle tip will not affect glass. Use only the tip of the needle, to avoid making a large mark in plastic or creating heat stress in the glass.

  3. Claire (aka Seemane) March 12, 2012 at 6:44 am #

    They’re gorgeous! And such a lovely gift to receive too :)

    I just had an idea… re: removing the vintage/antique buttons for cleaning – if instead of sewing them to the fabric you did this – then you could safely take them on/off for cleaning…
    (1) sew red (large) button to back of small flat plastic button – i.e. in the style of a cufflink!
    (2) sew a small button hole to the side of fabric where button would usually go (buttonhole size is to fit smaller button – needs to be smaller so it does not show behind the red button).
    (3) sew “normal” buttonhole on opposite side of garment in usual manner!

    Done! Now you can take off the precious vintage button whenever you want or even swap it for a different colour easily :)

    • Claire (aka Seemane) March 12, 2012 at 6:46 am #

      P.S. If you sew the 1st “smaller” buttonhole on the tight-ish/snug side, you won’t have to worry so much about the weight of the larger button pulling out of the small hodler during wear perhaps?

      • Steph A March 12, 2012 at 7:17 am #

        Great idea!

  4. Michelle @ Little Peanut March 12, 2012 at 6:49 am #

    What a treasure! I like the idea of using them for a dress or coat. As to colors, if you’re looking for less obvious color combinations then red can often pair quite nicely with gray or aqua or even yellow. :)

  5. Janice March 12, 2012 at 7:10 am #

    I think a jacket would be nice. Maybe pair them with a neutral fabric that has red piping to pick up the red?

  6. Seraphinalina March 12, 2012 at 7:15 am #

    I like the idea of tan or camel behind the buttons, it would pick up the trio of flowers nicely. I love Claire’s idea of making them removable for washing. That wouldn’t have occurred to me but it makes perfect sense.

  7. Steph A March 12, 2012 at 7:25 am #

    They really are lovely buttons, and I think it would be nice to have them higher up on the bodice nearer your face. It might be easier putting them on a dress? You would have more play with placement than on a jacket. Are the flowers silver? It would be good to just try the buttons on different colours/shades and see what you like best. I personally like grey/charcoal with red, perhaps picking up on the flower. Adding another colour may be a little busy.
    Clair’s idea of making the buttons removable for washing is great!

  8. Vicki Kate March 12, 2012 at 7:38 am #

    They’re beautiful! I’d go with a pewter grey to match the flowers or a turquoise because I love the colour combination and it makes both colours sing!

  9. Annabelle March 12, 2012 at 7:49 am #

    Navy and red is always a classic combination. Perhaps you could find a navy fabric that has a bit of red running through it – that would be a lovely combination for a dress or jacket. I’ve seen turquiose and aqua suggested above and agree that this another great combination with red, especially if there are other red details in your garment. You are going to have so much fun with the project that you make – I can’t wait to see it!

  10. Lauren March 12, 2012 at 7:57 am #

    Those are lovely! I feel ya on sewing-related gifts – I have pieces of fabric & buttons that were gifted to me years ago that I still haven’t used, because I want to find the perfect project to properly showcase them! I think most of the givers (I hope!) understand, though :)

    For your buttons, I’d definitely do a jacket instead of a dress – I think they’d be too heavy for something lightweight like a dress or a blouse. You could always make your dress & use the buttons on a matching bolero, though :) Definitely make the main fabric something that is not red – those buttons look lovely with the dark brown, it brings out the gold in the flowers. If you are concerned about tying in the red with another color, just put some other red accents in the main piece – maybe piping, or lining (it would be really sweet to have a bolero with red lining & you could turn back the cuffs of the sleeves to show that!), etc.

  11. Jean March 12, 2012 at 8:03 am #

    What a lovely gift! I might go for a 1040’s Dior-inspired jacket in a charcoal or even coral (if it’s an orangey-red as it looks on my monitor), or a Channel-inspired jacket in a soft tweed.

  12. candydawn March 12, 2012 at 8:03 am #

    Well, since you asked….. I think a camel colored jacket, especially since you mentioned “collarless” would be a great way to show off the buttons. The simpler design would make those buttons stand out. They look about 3/4″ (are they?) so a jacket would be perfect.

    Can’t wait to see what you end up with.

  13. J March 12, 2012 at 8:05 am #

    Tests aside, if they’re made in Czechoslovakia, they’re almost definitely made of glass. I’ve never heard of plastic products coming from that area, while the region is most certainly known for its glass production.

    As for what to make/what colors with which to pair these lovelies, I love the idea of red with camel/tan. They’d also look wonderful against an autumn-y print, full of reds, wines, and golds. I also love the classic combo of red on navy. And I like best the suggestion of a jacket- I think the size and weight of the buttons would be too overwhelming on anything else, and a girl can never have too many coats!

  14. colleen March 12, 2012 at 8:49 am #

    Here’s my button expert on Etsy:

    I have bought many buttons from her and she’s very knowledgeable about content, origin, etc. Tell Sunny Colleen sent you!

  15. Funnygrrl March 12, 2012 at 8:57 am #

    For some reason as soon as you asked I thought about a cape. Camel or charcoal. I love Jaice’s suggestion of red piping to make them pop.
    A jacket would be lovely and probably more practical but a cape would be stand-out.
    Lovely gift.

  16. caro March 12, 2012 at 9:29 am #

    Gertie’s Starlet Suit jacket. They’d be perfect for that project!

  17. Qui March 12, 2012 at 9:31 am #

    I think an ivory/cream colored fabric would look amazing with the red buttons. They are beautiful! good luck finding the perfect fabric. can’t wait to see what you make :)

  18. Dee March 12, 2012 at 10:10 am #

    Oh lovely, a flax linen dress with classic detailing. Think Audrey Hepburn.

  19. Leslie ALbers March 12, 2012 at 10:33 am #

    Hi Tasia

    Discerning the difference between glass and plastic buttons made me think that I could pass on a tip to your readers about taking this one step further and determining the difference between plastic and Bakelite buttons.

    I learned this trick at a swap meet. All you have to do is use Spray Nine ( a cleaner found at Canadian Tire in the automotive aisle) and spray it on a white. Rub the ( hopefully) Bakelite item over the cloth and if it is Bakelite it will leave a goldish ,yellow residue on the cloth. It really works! The are some beautiful Bakelite buttons out there. I just fill a small spray bottle and have a piece of white fabric rolled around it and secured with an elastic band in my swap meet basket. Happy hunting!

  20. Cathy March 12, 2012 at 10:35 am #

    I would pair these buttons with turquoise or aqua. I can see a narrow gauge knit cardigan with red piping. Violet or yellow would also work well with it. Here you are working those colors:

    Just pair one of those colors with your awesome red buttons!

  21. arlene March 12, 2012 at 10:35 am #

    Awesome buttons! The lady from ‘Button, Button’ might have an idea of what they are and may be able to tell you how to take care of them.

    She has the button shop downtown. I haven’t been to her new location….but the old one was very cool. Great place to look for specialty buttons – I luv just browsing !

    318 Homer Street Vancouver, BC V6B 2V2
    (604) 687-0067


  22. Sassy T March 12, 2012 at 10:45 am #

    Those buttons are gorgeous.

  23. Wendy March 12, 2012 at 10:58 am #

    Ive seen czech glass button dealers hit them against their teeth to tell if they are glass. You can feel the difference there. Love the buttons!

  24. Gabriella March 12, 2012 at 11:12 am #

    I think a slightly darker red would be complimentary and camel would be a nice contrast. Grey always makes red pop. I see before me a 60’s kinda jacket; a short, wide, almost cape-ish kinda jacket with 3/4 length sleeves. I tried to google a picture but came up empty….

  25. Heather March 12, 2012 at 11:13 am #

    Hi Tasia, what a nice gift! I would say they’re definitely glass for the reasons you described, plus that area still produces lots of glass today. I would vote for a camel dress or jacket, to pick up on the flower details.

  26. Janice Bear March 12, 2012 at 11:22 am #

    What about a vest? I love both of these:

    I’m also feeling the idea of a high-waisted skirt (but more like a jumper) or a new look style dress with button detail on the bodice.

    And I vote you do it in navy – not as harsh as black, classic, and still enough of a contrast to show off those lovely buttons.

    Oh my gosh @Clare (SeeMane0 is a genius!

  27. Cynthia March 12, 2012 at 11:31 am #

    I love the combination of camel and red. I think a loose swingy jacket with red lining and those buttons would be divine.

  28. Becky March 12, 2012 at 11:44 am #

    My first thought was that grey would be lovely, with other red details like piping or trim to tie the buttons in better. But I saw turquoise on the comments here, and that would be way more fun!

    Lovely present–very thoughtful of your friend!

  29. simona March 12, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

    They are lovely buttons.
    I would use black, white or even green or yellow to contrast them. What ever colour you will pick I am sure you will make something lovely.

  30. Maddie March 12, 2012 at 1:41 pm #

    What a great gift! You have wonderful friends! I would definitely do a tonal dress, burgundy in color and have he buttons goin down the CB. Can’t wait to see what you come up with!

  31. Madeleine March 12, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

    The difference between glass and plastic buttons is that the former ones easily break. That is why they were abandoned by industry.
    I ordered glass buttons on the internet because they were so beautiful. I happened to drop the package and some of them broke because they are so delicate.
    The buttons you received are a wonderful gift. I personally would be hesitant to use them because of their delicacy.
    FYI Britex Fabrics in San Francisco are selling beautiful new glass buttons.

  32. Jillian Lang March 12, 2012 at 3:28 pm #

    I was definitely thinking charcoal – softer than black, but still creating a nice contrast and pop for the buttons – but I think these buttons have some gold toning in them and this might clash a little – I’d go with a nice mustard colour, which also seems the colour of the moment (at least in Australia where Autumn is upon us). Definitely a jacket or cape. Just lovely! My husband is Czech, I must get some vintage Czech buttons and show a bit of heritage :)

  33. nothy lane March 12, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

    Beautiful buttons. I was in London a while back and I found a button shop – i think it was called Duttons for Buttons – and I bought tons of beautiful buttons there. I would put the red buttons with a charcoal. It will let the colour pop without being too much of a contrast. Light green or black would really be a contrast – if that is what you are looking for. Again, enjoy!

  34. Susie Homemaker MD March 12, 2012 at 5:16 pm #

    I also love the idea of the red buttons on a cute little white jacket. I am sure whatever you choose will be perfect :)

  35. suzy March 12, 2012 at 6:41 pm #

    They are beautiful! I think they would look lovely on teal or navy blue.

  36. CDL March 12, 2012 at 7:55 pm #

    They sure are Beautiful!!! This may help:

  37. Bri March 12, 2012 at 9:30 pm #

    Those are simply amazing! Lucky girl!

  38. Emma March 13, 2012 at 6:41 am #

    I think I would use a red fabric for a dress and then make a placket for the buttons on the front in a contrasting colour to higlight the buttons.

  39. Stacy @ Stacyverb March 13, 2012 at 8:48 am #

    I love the thought of these red buttons against a camel background. The red would really pop out, and the camel would be neutral without being too stark like black or white.

  40. Amanda March 13, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

    Lovely!! Lots of great ideas, already, and I like them all!

    I envision a cocktail dress with matching short bolero jacket, trimmed in a contrasting colour, and the buttons on the contrasting coloured trim as closures and/or as pocket or cuff decor. ( like this Chanel little number only contrasting trim:

    I can’t wait to see what you do!! :)

  41. Sara March 13, 2012 at 1:04 pm #

    I would do a jacket with invisible snaps or buttons holding it together, then put one of your buttons on each cuff, one at the neck, and one on a matching hat.