Introduction: EARRINGS OR PENDANT FROM VINTAGE BUTTONS
Especially during the Depression era, people used to cut buttons off worn-out clothes and save them for making something new. Some of these old buttons are really great for making jewelry. You might have a family button jar from a grandmother or great aunt, or you might be able to find some buttons at garage or estate sales or flea markets. For this project, you will need 2-hole or 4-hole buttons, not the kind that have a shank on the back.
For these pictures, I used mother-of-pearl (shell) buttons, because I really like them, and a silver wire I had on hand. I don’t have a stand for my phone, so I apologize if a few of the pictures are not the best quality. The instructions for the earrings come first, then the pendant. I think earrings should match and be mirror images, but not everyone does, so if your buttons don’t exactly match, it’s ok.
SUPPLIES AND TOOLS:
Buttons (2 for earrings, or one or 2 for a pendant, about 1 to 2 inches in diameter)
Maybe a few small beads, between 2 and 6 millimeters, about 3 to 6 beads usually.
Wire, 18 or 20 gauge silver or copper based round wire. If you decide to add a few beads, some 22 or 24 gauge wire. Many craft stores sell colored copper based wire, or it can be ordered on-line. Or you may be able to get copper wire from a hardware store or an electrician. Aluminum or steel wires don’t work as well – aluminum is too soft, and steel is too hard. You will need around 1 or 2 feet of the larger, 18 or 20 gauge, wire. The smaller wire is for adding the optional beads, and you may need 6 to 10 inches of it.
Earwires for earrings or a chain or ribbon for a pendant
Pliers. Jewelry pliers work better if you have them, round nose, flat nose and maybe chain nose. If all you have is needle nose pliers, they can be made to work. If they have teeth on the jaws, wrap the teeth with masking or painters tape, so they won’t make marks on your wire.
Step 1: STEP 1: MAKING THE BEND:
First you will need to measure your 18 or 20 gauge wire against your button, 2 pieces for earrings, 1 piece for a pendant. You will need about 2 ½ to 3 inches at the bottom, plus the diameter of your button, plus about ½ inch at the top for earrings or ¾ inch at the top for a pendant. (I don’t always measure exactly, having done several of these, so if you are a little off, it will work out).
Hold the wire(s) across the button so that the top part sticks out the ½ or ¾ inch needed for the top loop. Use the round nose pliers to grasp the wires in between the holes of the button and bend the wire(s) in a small bend. For earrings, it is best to bend both wires at the same time, so the bend is in the same place on both wires.
So now you have a U shaped wire with a long side (the bottom piece) and a short (top) piece. You want to thread the ends of the wire through 2 holes of your button and push it all the way through. (If you have a 4-hole button, usually you want 2 holes diagonally across from each other). If your button has a definite top, be sure the short side of the wire goes through the top hole.
On the back side of the button, spread out the 2 ends of the wire, pushing them flat against the back of the button. This secures the button in place. From the front, the wires sticking out should line up in a line with the button holes.
Step 2: STEP 2: MAKING THE TOP LOOP:
This is for the earrings. The pendant top loop is slightly different, see below. Grasp the very end of the short wire in the round nose pliers, in about the middle of the nose of the pliers. Because the pliers taper, where you make this loop controls what size loop you get. You may need to move back and forth a little to get the loop size right. If the end of the wire sticks out the other side of the nose of the pliers, your loop won’t be very round. Now, pushing on the wire and rotating the pliers, wrap the wire around the round nose of the pliers to get a loop. The loop now sits on one side of the wire.
I think the loops look better if they are centered on the wire, though it is not functionally necessary. To center the loop, using the very tip of the round nose pliers at the base of the loop, bend it back slightly, about 45 degrees or so, till the loop looks centered. The last picture shows the loops, one centered, one not. Your choice. The loop at this point should be parallel to the button, in the same plane. This will make it hang on the ear wires properly.
Step 3: STEP 3: MAKING THE COIL:
Now we will make the coil at the bottom. To begin, grasp the very end of the long wire in the very tip of the round nose pliers and make the smallest loop you can. Keep rotating the wire until the loop begins to overlap itself.
At this point, you want to switch to the flat nose pliers. (If you are using needle nose pliers, use the wide part nearer the handles for this.) Grasp the coil so that about 1/3 to half of it sticks out of the pliers and rotate the pliers to continue wrapping the wire next to the loop already started. You may need to hold the pliers rather tightly to keep the coil from slipping. This is especially important if you are using a colored wire with a surface finish that you do not want to scratch. I can usually get about a third of a turn before I have to reposition the pliers to continue. Keep coiling until you are about ½ inch from your button, so we can fold the coil up onto the button.
(As an option, you can have the coil sit below your button, in which case, keep coiling till you reach the bottom of your button. You might then want to center the coil like we did with the top loop. There is an example of this in the initial picture.)
I find that I always turn in the same direction when making coils. To make my earrings mirror images, I make one coil with the front of the button facing me, and the other coil with the back of the button facing me. Then they are mirror images of each other. I do the same thing with the loops at the top.
Now you want to fold the coil up onto your button. It will probably come up next to the button holes, depending on the size of your button and your coil. I suggest that one coil should be slightly to the left of the holes, and the other to the right, but you can position it as you like. Sometimes I use the flat nose pliers and GENTLY squeeze the coil flat to the button. Some of these old buttons may be fragile, so be careful if you do this.
Step 4: STEP 4: ADDING EARWIRES:
The last step is adding the ear wires. Note that there is a loop on the ear wire, and a loop on the earring. You need to open one, but either one will work. (Some styles of ear wire don’t open easily, so open the loop on the earring if this is the case.) I use chain nose pliers to open the loop, but any pliers or your fingers will work. Open the loop by twisting sideways, so the loop stays the same size. Then connect the earring to the ear wire, and close the loop by twisting it back into place. Do both earrings, and you are done.
Step 5: STEP 5: MAKING a PENDANT:
For this part, I had one larger button, about 2 inches across, and a smaller gray button, about a half inch across and some leftover wire from the earrings. I thought the small gray button would look good on the big white button. I measured the wire against the larger button, like we did for the earrings and bent the wire. But the distance between the holes on the small button and the large button didn’t match. So I threaded the long wire through the top hole on the small button and the bottom hole of the large button. This will allow the small button to swing back and forth a little. Then I flattened out the wires on the back of the pendant.
The loop for the pendant is a little different from the earrings. It is a little larger, and it loops from the front to the back of the button, perpendicular to the button. This makes it hang on a chain or ribbon properly. I also don’t usually want to center the loop on the wire.
Then I made the coil for the pendant like we did for the earrings, and folded it up onto the button. The wire was not quite long enough, so my coil was a little smaller than I wanted, but it worked out.
Step 6: STEP 6: ADDING BEADS:
Looking at the pendant so far, I felt like it needed something above the small gray button, so I decided to add some beads. I used a few leftover freshwater pearls, but you can use any small beads, from seed beads to around 5 or 6mm beads, glass, stone, plastic, etc. For freshwater pearls I needed 24 gauge wire, since they won’t go on anything larger (also true of many stone beads). Glass beads usually work fine with 22 gauge wire. I cut about 5 inches of wire, and slipped it under the loop of wire between the button holes. I then added the beads I wanted to use until I got to the edge of the button. Using the couple of inches of wire left, I wrapped it very snugly around the wire forming the top loop. I usually use chain nose pliers to pull the wire tight and smooth it down. Once you have 3 or 4 tight wraps, you can cut off any leftover wire and use the pliers to smash down the end of the wire, so it doesn’t feel rough.
Step 7: STEP 7: FINISHING THE WRAPS:
Sometimes, I put beads on the other end of the thin wire and anchor it to the coil at the bottom, but with the small gray button there, I didn’t think that would look good. So I pushed the remaining thin wire through one of the button holes to the back of the button. After pulling it tight, I wrapped it several times around the 18 gauge wire on the back. Sometimes squeezing the wraps with the pliers helps tighten them up. When my wraps were not close enough together, I used the chain nose pliers to squeeze them closer.
Final pictures are the finished back, the finished front, and 2 other examples, including a squiggle instead of a coil at the bottom. Also note, in the initial picture, the button with 4 holes, I have added an extra piece of wire to add 2 more loops around the button. There are lots of possibilities for fun with buttons. I have even made necklaces and bracelets, by having each button have a loop on each side and linking them together with jump rings.
I hope you have enjoyed working with buttons, and make lots of fun projects.
Participated in the