Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Buttons: Lace

Assorted Lace Buttons in a Small Pearl Blue Lace Bowl
I ran into an old contact early this year at the Sidestreet Diner in Grosse Pointe. I was having brunch with an old friend and this individual (sitting in the booth behind me and so only able to see the back of my head) overheard our conversation and asked if I was a potter, indicating she owned a knit shop (she didn't recognize me) and was wondering if I'd be interested in making ceramic buttons and maybe some other things. We exchanged some e-mail correspondence, in which I sent her some pictures of my lace bowls; she thought the texture would be interesting for buttons for hand-knit goods.

Medium Diamonds
(Deep Firebrick)
I had inherited two sets - large and small - of canape cutters from my Mother some years ago. I set to work rolling out clay slabs, rolling in lace and cutting out shapes. I made about a dozen samples, in sets of three and five. Once cut out, I used the smallest-available hole punch (one-eighth inch) to add holes (using a small metal rod to clean out the clay between each hole). I let the pieces dry, cleaned them up with some synthetic steel wool, being careful to remove any and all "catchy"surfaces and edges, and then bisque fired. (If you're doing large quantities, throwing them into a greenware or bisqueware bowl for firing vastly simplifies loading and unloading.) I rinsed the pieces before glazing to remove any residual dust.

Medium Crescents
(Oil Spot)
Glazing and firing were both going to be challenging. The buttons had to glazed all around, back and front, so they were going to have to be on stilts as they dried and while being fired. Coming up with a way to dip them and get complete glaze coverage was perplexing, until I dug out an old pair of tweezers I used to "assist" in putting jute for price tags through too-small holes. By using a pair of long, pointed standard tweezers, I could poke each tweezer into a hole in the given button, dip it into the glaze and hold it flat to let the glaze pool, then lower it onto a stilt and release it. I fired them in a fairly fast kiln to Cone 6. After cooling and unloading, I used a Dremel with an eight-inch diamond grinder to smooth out the marks left by the stilts in the backs of the buttons.

Medium Squares
Albany Slip Brown
The client was delighted with the samples. So very delighted she bought them off of me right then and there (I had also brought some samples of my friend Don Schulte's yarn notecards; she purchased those outright as well) and asked me to make more. A lot more, in lots of different sizes and shapes. So I swung into major production, the first step of which was to call my friend Catherine and let her know what had happened.

Medium Trefoil
Vert Lustre
My friend Catherine is not a horder but she does hold onto some interesting things. Among others, she had held on to some of her mother's old (old) cookie cutters, as well as the animal-shaped cookie cutters from her childhood Easy-Bake Oven. All of which she offered to me. I made up eight of each shape, so I could have a set of three and a set of five (always odd numbers!) I followed the process, making some very large shapes (stars, circles, hearts, rosettes), some nice novelty shapes (terrier) and what I decided to all my "Animal Crackers" series from the Easy-Bake Oven cutters.

Small Triangles,
Crescents and
Six-Pointed Stars in
Palladium, Metallic
Black and Saturation
Although some of the larger sizes are difficult to keep flat throughout the process (this, along with the very clean edges and surfaces, is apparently very important to fiber people), I'm learning that drying them between sheets of drywall may help with this. Also, stilting the smallest shapes on small tripod stilts was not a good bet while straddling them across two bar stilts is much more successful. A Dremel with an eight-inch diamond grinder is indispensable for grinding out the small percentage of holes that seem inevitably fill with glaze during firing, regardless of how carefully I blow them out during glaze application. (Make sure to use the lubricating oil that comes with this special bit to speed up the process.)

In terms of packaging, I purchased a quantity of small zip-bags, into which go each set of buttons. I punched a hole at the top to one side, threaded through a piece of jute and attached a tag with a description including the size, shape and glaze. By putting them in the bag, the customer can see the back and the front of the button(s) and can see the quality of manufacture. The buttons are available a couple places around the state; we're waiting to see how they do in the wider market.

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