03 February 2007

Button Quest

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!


sister k said...

but if you wait 'til Spring, you can't try out the coat with your new button! lol...is the name of the company on the coat? maybe they still exist and can send you a replacement button from Austria. Or maybe you can fly to Austria to look in the button shops? I don't know how you managed to stay focused on just buttons in the NYC garment district. I'd be so tempted to shop in all the stores :) Do we get to see pix of the buttons?

Grandmoo said...

Karen, that would be button thread, and THAT you should easily find at Joanne's. (Be sure to get a needle that will take that thick thread, and try putting a tiny little button directly behind the big ones (one on the backside of the coat with the other on the front side, to secure them better and decrease the chances of losing them again.)

Delphi said...

The needle and thread will be much easier to find than the buttons. I recommend going to Steinlauf and Stoller at 239 W. 39th Street. They have all sorts of notions and will be able to advise you. I can also recommend another button place but it is out of your way on the Upper East Side. It's called Tender Buttons (after a Gertrude Stein book) and it's at 143 E. 62nd Street.

Grandmoo said...

I, who still need a map to get to the Empire State Bldg., am utterly amazed that you all know where to find places that sell only buttons!

Epiphany Alone said...

Grandmoo, Delphi is the one we always call no matter where we end up in Manhattan, she can always recommend 3 places that make marvelous meals, 2 places to get a cocktail, and usually another interesting offering.

When we first moved to NY, Alec was to meet someone on York and 84th, and he wasn't sure if it was an ok neighborhood. He called Delphi, and she replied dryly, "You might need to wear a tie."

OMSH said...

Buttons are E-Z! Do not delay! Walk, no RUN, to your nearest cloth store and do it now, now, NOW!

I'm bossy as all get out, but I know myself. If I get a bug in my butt I must act on it or it will sit and sit and sit ... like the dog hair on my floor or the laundry in my dryer.


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