Years ago, Fraukow gave me a long, green Loden wool coat from Austria that she wasn't using anymore. It was missing decorative buttons on the sleeve cuffs and has since lost one button at the bottom of the front placket but I love it and wear it all the time in winter - it's really warm and covers most of me. I don't mind the missing buttons, especially since I doubt anyone except me ever notices, but I've had an eye out over the years for replacements. I don't frequent sewing shops but I look every time I'm in one and I've never seen anything remotely close to the smooth, marbled green domes the coat came with.
At some point over the summer, it occurred to me that I enter and leave Manhattan via Penn Station - located in the heart of the NYC garment district - several times a week. If there are specialty button shops in the city, they're bound to be nearby, so I resolved to find replacement buttons to fix the coat this year. Here's where the fun starts. You can't match a custom button without having one along and I wasn't about to pull another one off so I figured I'd look for a shop the next time I wore the coat to town. But it hasn't been cold enough to require a full-length loden wool coat. It's barely been cold enough to need a coat at all. Then, FINALLY, it was a little cold (it was dark out when I got up but there might have been frost) and I wore the wool coat to town. I was fine at first but by 10:30am, I was cursing the weatherman and by noon I was carrying the coat. Still; had buttons, could match. I found a button shop and went in.
The first guy admired the buttons but said he had nothing close to their color and shape and suggested I try a shop about sixteen blocks away. I thanked him and headed out in the direction of his recommendation, hoping I'd run across a closer shop and, indeed, I did. The woman in shop #2 glared at me - apparently she doesn't like utilitarian buttons. Her stock is all decorative and small and she sent me off with instructions to check the same place as the first guy. By that point, I realized I wouldn't be able to get all the way to the other shop and still make my train, so I abandoned the effort. On my way over to Penn Station, I passed one more button place and stopped in quickly, only to find myself back on the street moments later with yet another instruction to go uptown.
Three strikes, three recommendations for the same competitor. They're either playing with me (like the waste disposal companies at home, which have seven distinct company listings in the phone book but all are answered by the same lady...) or that's the place to go. I stuck a note in my coat pocket with the address and headed home.
Weeks later, it was again cold enough to wear the coat and - even more surprising than the seasonal temperature - I finished early and had a bit of time to try the other shop. I sprinted uptown. Wow. Floor to ceiling buttons! Floor to very high ceiling buttons! Filling the whole shop! TONS of buttons. All colors, all sizes, all shapes! Except, of course, one to match exactly what I was looking for. Still, with so many choices, I had several that were close to choose from. I decided to stick with the color and compromise on the domed shape. I bought enough buttons to make a full replacement but will probably only put the flat ones on for the cuff buttons. I might or might not also stick a flat button at the bottom of the placket; I never button that button anyway, so I don't think it makes much difference.
Place your bets now for how long it will take me to install the new buttons! I got home and noticed the old buttons are not held on with standard thread...it's much thicker (but not as thick as yarn). So, a new quest begins - to find the right thread. Yes, I have realized that when I find the correct thread I should also get a matching needle. And yes, I am very tempted to wait until spring and make this all the problem of the tailor at my dry cleaner!