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  • Writer's pictureLisa

Time to Make More Buttons

Buttons made from pottery and beach pebbles.
Pottery and Beach Pebble Buttons

Have you ever been inspired, blown away, by something you've never considered or seen before? It happened to me last spring, at a workshop at Metalwerx in Waltham MA. I've written about Metalwerx before.

The workshop was From Sea to Setting. Allie Keast was the instructor. We learned how to make jewelry from beach glass, stones, and shells. Allie creates modern/whimsical jewelry from all kinds of stones, and findings she collects. She also carves and casts statement charms and pieces.

Most students were making pendants or earrings from shells and stones. That was interesting, but I was amazed when Allie drilled two holes in a pebble and hammered in silver tubing as eyelets. She made the most marvelous button!

I had to do this! And spent the rest of the class drilling stones, sea glass, and sea pottery. Alas, all were failures. Either the drilling cracked the stone, or hammering in the silver eyelet did it. No matter, the fire was lit, and I was going to do this thing.

My tile wet saw and grinder.
My Wet Saw and Grinder

New toys are so much fun, but I was determined not to spend much money, ha! For drilling button holes, I have a flex-shaft (like a dremel) but with a foot pedal. My husband has a big drill press. The flex-shaft took 7 minutes to drill the holes. The giant drill press was speedy and powerful. It did the job in under a minute, but destroyed my drill bit almost immediately. So, I got a sweet little jeweler's drill press, and a few other tools, including a wet saw and a grinder...Ready to roll.

Cut-up porcelain pieces on the wet saw.
Porcelain Pieces on the Wet Saw

Pottery was first. I figured it would be years before I located enough sea pottery shards on the beach, so I bought some old porcelain plates and cut them up.

If you decide to try this don't forget the protective equipment. I always wear a heavy apron to protect my clothes in the studio. Wet saws are loud, and spray a lot of water and debris. Anything that goes in to your lungs isn't coming out (easily) so I wear a respirator. Wrap around safety glasses protect my eyes from flying shards. Noise canceling ear muffs block out most of the noise. Lastly, broken pottery is sharp, and tiny fragments cut like fiberglass, so gloves are a must.

Me with my respirator, safety glasses, and earmuffs.
Me, Ready to Cut Pottery

Tile nippers are quieter, and some people swear by them. I don't have their expertise. The plate doesn't always break where I want it, usually across a pretty motif I'm trying to save. After all the cutting, the pottery pieces are shaped and smoothed with a grinder and the holes are drilled. Voilà, a button.

Drilling button holes with a drill press.
Drilling Button Holes

Beach pebble buttons seem more straight forward, right? Sort of. I live two blocks from a beach, but it's all sand. No problem. The rocky coast of Maine is just a short drive away.

I'm not a geologist. The only thing I know about rocks is whether or not they are pretty. They can be hard, soft, or brittle, which becomes evident when drilling holes in them. A good “pebble button” is rounded with a thin, flat silhouette (but not too thin), and light weight. My dear friend P and I gathered buckets of rocks, and only 1 out of 10 won the beauty contest.

Beach pebbles from Maine.
Some Beach Pebbles

The defective ones, usually the prettiest, often shatter or crack when drilled. Some need rough edges smoothed. I think there's a lesson there for all of us. And that's it! A beautiful little button created by the sea, with just a little help from me.

I say it all the time. Life is too short for ugly buttons. Have you ever created an outfit around a new pair of shoes? Of course you have. Maybe it's time to do the same thing with buttons.

Happy Creating,


October 1, 2022

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