Thursday, February 4, 2010

Glass Lampwork Buttons

Choosing a button for last week's Bead of the Day last Friday made me think about buttons and beads and what is a bead? Can a button by a bead or a bead be a button?

I don’t make a lot of buttons, but do enjoy it when I get a decent one made. For me, buttons are a challenge to make. I like a symmetrical round button and the nature of making a button, makes this more difficult than making a bead.

There are primarily two types of lampwork buttons: shank (glass and metal) and holes. There is another option, a normal one holed bead (usually a disc type) used as a button. Lampwork glass buttons can be used for: closures for sweaters, jewelry, and purses accents on hats/scarves, etc. DorsetHillBeads has this photo in her button listings to show one use for lampwork buttons.

What should you look for in a button?

It is not very different than a bead, but a few extra things that I think about when I’m choosing a button to use.

Make sure the buttonholes are smooth without jagged edges. This is especially important if you are using your button as a closure for knitwear or fabric. A rough edge can even cut through wire beading materials. The holes in this sew-on sunflower button by giapet are nice and smooth. See how the holes dimple towards the base. This makes for a nice and smooth edge for the stringing material.
If the button is made on a mandrel, make sure the holes are cleaned of the bead release. When beads and buttons are made on a mandrel, they are made over a thin metal rod (mandrel) coated with a ceramic paste called bead release. This release will break away from the metal and allow the bead/button to slip off the mandrel. This process makes the hole in the bead/button and artisian glass button makers will clean their hole of this powdery substance. Certain buttons are made without a mandrel and therefore will not have the release. See more information on shank buttons below. Buttons can have two holes or four.

Make sure the holes are large enough to get your stringing material through. Thin Softflex will fit through most holes, but a chunky yarn may not. Button makers should list the size of the holes and if they don’t, ask them, they would be happy to tell you.

The button should be annealed. Artists will usually mention that their button is annealed, if they don’t, ask and a responsible artist will tell you if they annealed their item. Annealed is the process of soaking the item in a kiln to slowly cool the glass down. This allows the stress in the glass produced during manufacturing to be reduced and decrease the risk of breaking. However, glass is brittle and could always break if the stress is right, so be careful with your buttons (for example, remove them when washing a garment).

Look for raised designs (such as dots and scroll work) to be melted in enough. Just like on beads, the designs should not have an undercut. Undercuts leave less glass-to-glass attachment and could cause the design to break off. If your button going to be getting heavy use choose a design with melted in elements. Check out the wonderful dots on this button by Tera Belinsky-Yoder (aka Beadygirl Beads).
The design of the button should be useful to your project. I like making raised dot buttons (the first button on the post is mine) however, on a garment with loose weave yarn, a raised dot design may get wrapped up in the yarn and be irritating to undo all the time. If this is a concern, choose a smooth round button. Do you want a button to match a whimsical design? If so, look for a button that is in a different shape or character (like a fish, flower or this Christmas Tree by RiversEdgeGlass).

What size do you need?
Make sure the artists have accurately measured the button. Will it fit the hole in the fabric/weaving? If the photos are not clear, ask the artist, they should be willing to clarify the measurements for you.

What type of shank does the button have? There are two possibilities: glass and wire. Metal wire shanks are shaped into a U and then plunged into the molten glass during the manufacture or glued on the back with epoxy. Glass shanks can be made on a mandrel or free formed into a loop without a mandrel. There are benefits to all types. The metal shanks should be smooth and without rough edges (like glass can be). The metal shanks can be different sizes and maybe easier to sew onto a garment. Glass shanks made on mandrels have consistent hole sizes and (for me) it is easier to get similar shapes and sizes of the button and the underlying bead. This type of shank will have the bead release and may have sharper edges than other types of shanks. Glass loop shanks should have very smooth holes as they were made with a string of molten glass. For me this is the most difficult type to make, but other artists are much better. These holes, again speaking from my experience, may be inconsistent in size and shape. However, they look the most “finished” to me. Other's opinions may vary. Below is a glass shank button made by me.

I had to choose some non Fire Diva buttons to show a wire shank and bead shank. If you know of a Fire Diva that has a picture of these types of shanks, let me know.
Button with wire shank by karenelmquist of Etsy.

Button with bead shank by Genea on Etsy.
Can that bead you bought be used for a button?
Sure, but there are a couple things to think about. I use disk beads for buttons as seen in the closure of the bracelet above. When using a bead you want to make sure there is enough glass around the hole to hold your buttonhole or other closure type so that it doesn’t slip off. If you have a tiny bead, it might not stay closed. To use a bead thread your stringing material from the back of the bead and use a smaller bead to catch the thread, then go back through the hole to secure.
Beadmakers, one of our fire divas, RiverEdgeGlass, sells button making mandrels. Check out her shop for this tool.
Thanks for reading - Lara Lutrick


  1. Awesome write up! I think I have been bitten by the button bug since you posted that Button of the Day Lara! Just can't get buttons out of my mind!

  2. I agree Janel! I can't wait for the weather to warm up a bit so I can hit the torch & make up some! Trust the beautiful work of the Fire Divas to inspire us all, jewelers & fellow lampworkers as well!

  3. Thanks Ya'll. I wish there were more buttons to share! I think I got one from everyone that I saw that had one. I appologize if I missed anyone. Search Etsy or websites for buttons and you will be amazed! I'm going to want to try that button mandrel by RiverEdgeGlass. I have the one from Inspiration tools (and lost a screw off of it yesterday). Darn it. I'm going to post a modified version on my blog with more pictures from non fire divas. There are some amazing buttons out there.