The Dorset button has a long history, originating in the 18th century in Dorset, England. Originally, they were made on a disc cut from the horn of a Dorset Horn sheep, which was covered with needle-worked thread. Later, button makers began using metal rings as the basis for these buttons. We're going to make a simple form of Dorset button called a crosswheel, but there are lots of different styles, some of them involving intricate weaving. Once you have these basics down, experiment—the British Button Society offers some inspiration.
What you'll need:
- Plastic bone rings (see note below)
- Yarn or embroidery floss (see note below)
- Large-eyed, blunt needle
A note on yarns and flosses: You can make Dorset buttons with all kinds of yarns or embroidery flosses. In the photo at the top of this post, you can see buttons made with six-strand embroidery floss, pearl cotton embroidery thread, worsted wool yarn, and cotton crochet thread.
I'll be making a button here with some pearl cotton, because it's crisp and easy to see. For your first buttons, however, I'd recommend using a worsted-weight yarn—it works up much more quickly.
To begin, you'll need a very long strand of yarn. I usually start with a piece that's the length of my arm, times four. (That's about 100 inches.) Thread one end of this strand onto a needle, but don't tie a knot. The two ends of the strand should not be joined.
Place the other end of the strand against the bone ring, as shown. The end of the yarn should be under the ring, and the leading end should pass over the ring.
We're going to cover the outside of the ring in blanket stitches. To make this stitch, bring the needle up through the center of the ring. Pull it through until you have a small loop of yarn, as shown. Pass the needle down through this loop, and pull the yarn away from the ring to tighten the knot.
Repeat this stitch over and over to cover the ring. Periodically slide the stitches along the ring so they're packed firmly together and no plastic is showing between them. (You'll quickly develop a rhythm for this, and the process goes pretty fast. I can usually cover a 1-inch ring in about 15 minutes.)
When you've worked your way around the ring to a point where there's about 1/2 inch left uncovered, then it's time to cover up the loose end of the yarn you started with. Place that loose end along the ring, as shown, and hold it there with your nondominant hand while you continue blanket-stitching.
Finish covering the rest of the ring. When you're done, leave the needle end of the yarn attached to the button, but trim off the short end that's now sticking out between the stitches.
Notice here how the ring has a seam all along the outside edge—a seam created by those blanket stitches.
Carefully slide that outer seam toward the inside of the ring. I find it easiest to do this in stages. First, I push all the stitches so the seam ends up along the middle of the ring, and then I push them to the inside.
When you're done with this step, the leading end of the yarn will be pointing to the inside of the ring, as shown.
This next bit is the tricky part. Essentially, we're going to wrap the yarn around the ring four times. Each wrap will be at a different angle, so we'll end up with eight "spokes" in the center of the button.
To begin this process, take that leading end of the yarn and wrap it over the front of the ring, around the bottom, and back up to the top, as shown.
Next, wrap the yarn back around the bottom of the button—only position this wrap so that it's one-quarter turn to the right of the first wrap.
(So, to clarify, in the photo above, the first wrap is now at a 45-degree angle. The second wrap is to the right of the first one.)
Wrap the yarn around the ring two more times, placing each wrap one-quarter turn to the right of the previous one. You'll end up with a button that looks like this on one side: The four wraps join in the center to form eight spokes.
On the back of the button, those four wraps will join much closer to the edge of the button. But that's okay—we'll fix this in the next step.
Face the side of the button where the spokes aren't centered. Pass the needle down between the two spokes that are closest to the edge. Pull the yarn all the way through, then give it a tug. It will gently pull that off-center side of the button to the center.
When you've pulled all the spokes so they meet in the center, pass the needle down between the two opposite spokes, making a little stitch across the center. This will hold the spokes in place—but you'll still need to hold the leading end of the yarn firmly until you've started weaving on those spokes. That's the next step.
(Incidentally, you can make more than eight spokes in your button, if you like.)
Now to cover those spokes. The weaving stitch is very simple: Pass the needle up through the button on the left side of the nearest spoke. Then, bring the needle back down on the right side of the spoke. Pull the yarn snug around the spoke.
Move to the next spoke on the left, and repeat that stitch—up on the left side, down on the right. Repeat this process, working your way counterclockwise around the button.
After you've worked your way around the circle a few times, you'll begin to see the crosswheel pattern emerging.
If you're making a one-color button, then just keep working this weaving stitch until you've covered the entire center of the button. Then you can use the finishing step at the bottom of this post.
However, just for fun, I'll show you how to add a second color to the weaving! Cut about 70 inches of a contrasting color yarn. Remove the needle from the original color and thread it onto the new color. Then, lay the ends of the two strands next to each other and use your fingers to anchor them against the back of the button for a moment.
Continue the weaving process with the new color. When you've finished one row, take those two loose ends you've been holding and place them along the back of the nearest spoke. Keep holding them there while you weave a few more rows.
Here's a view from the back of the button. When you stitch around that spoke, those loose ends will be caught in the weaving, which anchors them. When you've finished the button, you can cut them off close to the work.
When you've covered the center of the button with weaving, flip it over to the back and pass the needle under the back of the weave. Then, cut it close to the work.
Incidentally, if you like the way this side of the button looks, you can use it this way instead.
To sew this button to a garment, use a matching thread or floss and stitch right through the center of the button a few times.
Variations: Once you've mastered this technique, try adding more spokes, or varying the pattern of the weaving stitches. If you look at the large turquoise button at the top of this post, you'll see that I added a little embroidery around the edges and in the center. You could make a button from two thin strands of yarn in two different colors, worked together. You could add some metallic thread accents. And your buttons can also turn into things like jewelry elements, collage pieces, embellishments for sofa cushions—there are so many possibilities! You might also enjoy these beaded Dorset buttons.