As a follow-up to my post on coconut shell buttons, I recently learned how they are made. According to an article on the website of a Chinese button manufacturer, Chun Fai, the process is as follows:
1. The husk is scraped off and the flesh is removed. The shell is boiled to remove parasites (eew!) and soften the fiber for further scraping and cleaning.
2. The scraped shells are cut into blanks – the shapes of the finished buttons.
3. The blanks are tumbled in a rotary drum to smooth the edges.
4. The holes are cut and patterns are engraved.
5. The buttons are given a final washing and polishing, and put in a hot room to dry. The temperature must be just right, in order to prevent them from cracking.
6. Once dried, a finish of varnish, paint or dye may be added.
Much of this process is now mechanized, but it most surely evolved from centuries-long methods that have improved over time. Each of these tasks can certainly be performed by hand, but how much easier it must be to have the help of machines!
In fact, I recently participated in the hand-made process by adding a coat of paint to a coconut shell button. We have sold out of the buttons at Sawyer Brook, and I took the last one, which had faded from spending years under florescent lighting on a display board. It had become a dull, pale pink (sorry, I didn’t take a “before” photo). After looking and looking for the perfect button for a jacket I was sewing, I realized I could paint the button and it would be just perfect. I gave it a couple of coats of Lumiere paint (acrylic with metallic particles), and it’s quite a stunner!
I used the same color of paint in some swirly patterned silk screen painting on the jacket, so the button ties in nicely. I’ll add a photo showing the painting to give you a better idea of the overall effect.
Painting the button was not difficult at all – I’m not an expert by any means – so don’t let the process intimidate you. It was fun, easy, and gave this jacket a real pop of color!