Early this year I finished knitting a cushion cover with some Herdwick yarn I bought at Woolfest last summer. It’s a very simple cover, knitted in one flat garter stitch piece with a couple of contrast stripes in two colours. At the back the edges overlap by three inches or so, and there are six buttonholes in the overlap. So, it needed buttons. And so began the knitter’s dilmna; what buttons? The cushion has sat on my sofa without a fastening for months. Then last week I came across a tutorial for ‘Yorkshire Buttons’.
Yorkshire Buttons look very familiar to me because they are formed with spider stitch. As a little girl I was taught spider stitch by my Grandma. She was a professional seamstress, and used this stitch for covering buttons. I vividly remember how clever I felt forming the spider’s web. How neat it looked, how very like a spider’s web. I loved it!
Until I discussed this memory with my sister, I thought it was possible that Grandma had fully taught us how to make Yorkshire buttons, and that I had since forgotten how to start and finish them. However, Marie remembers us working the spider stitch on cloth buttons, ie using the embroidery to decorate buttons, not to make them.
Of course, I was very intrigued to find that the buttons are associated with Yorkshire. I want to know why! Alas, Google has been very unforthcoming. There are several tutorials for making Yorkshire Buttons, but none with any information about their origins beyond the unevidenced assertion that there was a button industry in Yorkshire that was as big as the industry in Dorset. To confuse matters, there are buttons in the Dorset tradition that look very like Yorkshire buttons, however they are worked on cloth. It appears that Grandma had taught us how to make a ‘Dorset Knob’. She was from Lincoln though, not Yorkshire, so may not have known of Yorkshire Buttons.
Our research has turned up a reference to some Yorkshire Buttons in the silk museum in Macclesfield, so we’re planning a visit there in our quest for knowledge about their history. Meanwhile I’d love to hear from any of my readers who have any knowledge or memories associated with Yorkshire buttons.