Groovy Projects for Groovy Buttons

Groovy Projects for Groovy Buttons

One of my absolute favorite parts of life is being an aunt, and my youngest niece as at the adorable age where hitting cookie tins like drums is an awesome-good time. She also adores books, and as an author, I think that’s a good thing! In fact, I spent a decent amount of time last week reading (and re-reading) her the same story, Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons. I had a suspicion that her appreciation of the book was linked to the interesting painted look of the illustrations, but whatever the reason, her focus on the book was real.

I spent a decent amount of time last week reading (and re-reading) her the same story, Pete the Cat & His Four Groovy Buttons.

I spent a decent amount of time last week reading (and re-reading) her the same story, Pete the Cat & His Four Groovy Buttons.

During the book, Pete the Cat has — you might’ve guessed — four groovy buttons that are on his coat, but they pop off one at a time until he’s left with just his belly button. He was cool with it though and “kept on singing his song” (Litwin, 2012, p. 23).

Just keep singing your song!

Just keep singing your song!

Precious Moments

It would be easy to write off these kinds of moments with my niece as just sentimental, but inspiration for creativity can be found in them as well. For instance, Pete the Cat has buttons, and if there’s one element of old clothes that you can keep and re-use for a number of reasons, it’s a button! Right now, as a matter of fact, I have something in need of a button replacement, and if I’d been keeping the buttons from old clothes like I could’ve been doing, I would’ve had one at my disposal to do the repair.

Something about these details — Pete the Cat’s buttons and needing a button for repair — mingled with my brainstorming for this post to lead to creative territory in regard to using buttons for sewing projects. You see, you don’t just have to use them for structural purposes. Pretty easily, they can be used for décor on a number of projects. And for whatever reason, this button-detail seems to have become its own trend to the point where you can buy button stickers for scrapbooks and projects, and there are plenty of artistic endeavors outside of sewing that use buttons.

There are plenty of artistic endeavors outside of sewing that use buttons.

There are plenty of artistic endeavors outside of sewing that use buttons.

Needle and thread

Since this is a sewing blog though, we’ll focus more on the projects that the lost, but still groovy, buttons of Pete the Cat could’ve gone to in the world of needles and thread.

This button purse idea in particular stuck out to me as a possibility.

This button purse idea in particular stuck out to me as a possibility.

I mentioned before that I would like to make a purse, so this button purse idea in particular stuck out to me as a possibility. Simple fabric could be used to make the purse itself, and the buttons could be the stand-out quality of its appearance. Of course, I’d need a lot of buttons, but it would be an interesting take for a first-purse experience! Also, if I messed up my sewing, a well-placed button might hide my mistake!

Fashion statement

Since headbands are small projects, making one for the sake of a button endeavor might not be too hectic of an idea!

Since headbands are small projects, making one for the sake of a button endeavor might not be too hectic of an idea!

Other options for using buttons include fancying up jackets, shirts, pants, dresses, skirts, and even shoes! Honestly, if someone had been following Pete, that sewing fan or crafter could’ve been assembling the materials for an interesting project, like breadcrumbs leading to a prize.

Opportunity of abundance

And two wonderful details about this scenario are that buttons are easy to come by and easy to store! A simple jar could hold dozens of buttons that you collect as you go through your clothes to see what you’re going to toss. If you’re in too big of a rush to assemble your button stash this way, you can buy new ones and still keep them in a way that won’t take up too much room. They’re just buttons, after all! You could have the means to fancy up your projects in a bowl that’s waiting by your couch!

Would I have thought of exploring this so thoroughly, and in this way, if I hadn’t spent so much time reading about Pete losing his groovy buttons? Who knows! But it goes to show that inspiration can come from anywhere, and it pays to keep your creative mind open from day to day to see what ideas simply living life brings to mind.

Reference: Litwin, E. (2012). Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons. New York: Scholastic.
Funky Design Details in Men's Shirts

Funky Design Details in Men’s Shirts

I alter a lot of men’s long sleeve button front shirts at work. We use a variety of brands, each of which usually has its own little signature detail or cut. I can often tell what designer brand a shirt is without having to look at the tag.

I suppose, though, that as a designer at Rag & Bone or Varvatos, or Paul Smith, or the like, you can find yourself hard pressed to come up with some new, unique detail that makes your shirt special. Contrasting fabric on collars and cuffs has been done, funky buttons have been done.

Sleeve and center front plackets in a different fabric: done. Welt breast pockets. Done. Stand collars, unfinished seams, all of it, has been done. At times, I think there isn’t anything new left to do. I was pretty sure I’d seen it all when it came to cool, weird, and even sometimes bizarre design details on mens shirts.

Varvatos shirt showing collar stand unattached from shirt body.

Varvatos shirt showing collar stand unattached from shirt body.

But, John Varvatos proved me wrong. The newest feature on their long sleeve button front shirts is to leave the part of the collar stand that contains the button – you know, the portion that extends past the collar and is, essentially the center front overlap – unattached from the shirt body. Odd, because, if the shirt is buttoned, it really doesn’t look any different. And if the shirt isn’t buttoned, it kind of looks like a rip or tear.

Varvatos shirt with collar stand pinned and ready to sew.

Varvatos shirt with collar stand pinned and ready to sew.

I spent some time last week sewing collar stands to shirt fronts. I do, though, have to give the designers at Varvatos kudos for coming up with something I hadn’t seen before. It also ensures that, in the future when I see that particular detail, I will automatically know it’s a Varvatos shirt. So, good job on the branding. 🙂

To do list

While I’m on the subject, here’s a short list of design (or construction) element quirks that tend to be slightly annoying to film and television customers.

Rag & Bone with their painted white buttons.

Rag & Bone with their painted white buttons.

Rag & Bone and their painted white buttons.

They put the same painted white buttons on most every shirt. The buttons are kind of cool in a shabby chic-look-at-me kind of way but, the last thing you want when filming are shirt buttons that upstage the person wearing the shirt.

I’ve wasted many an afternoon, replacing those buttons with normal, non-descript ones.

Brooks Brothers and the glue they insist on using in their seams.

Taking apart a Brooks Brothers shirt is no quick and easy task – the stitches are miniscule and, as if that’s no enough, they use some sort of glue in their flat felled seams.

Ralph Lauren Polo.

Ralph Lauren Polo.

Ralph Lauren and the polo horse logo.

We’re rarely able to use any piece of clothing on a film or television show with an obvious logo for legal reasons. Most shows need clearance to use anything that clearly advertises a particular brand.

I can tell you that removing those cute little polo horses takes a really long time.

Any shirt that says it’s a ‘slim fit’ yet still has a back pleat.

I think I’ve written before about removing the back pleat (or pleats) in button front shirts. These are the pleats in the shirt body where it joins the yoke. They exist to add a good amount of ease to the shirt through the body. The only thing is, in the world of film and television they just end up looking bulky, a bit messy, and definitely not slimming. So I take them out. If I have the time, I usually take the entire back off and recut it, moving the armseye and side seams in the appropriate amount. If it’s a quick and dirty thing, I just throw some side back darts in and hope there isn’t a close up of the actor’s back.

That’s all I’ve got today though I’m sure there are more. I’ve got to get some sewing done now.

There’s a pile of Varvatos shirts on my table that need the collar stand stitched to the shirt body.

Shopping in the New York City Garment District

Fabric Shopping in the New York City Garment District

Shopping in the New York City Garment DistrictWhen I first moved to NYC a lifetime ago, I worked for very little money as an assistant to a crazy hat designer in the heart of the garment district. The only upside to the job was that I spent a good part of every day out on the streets gathering fabric swatches and button and trim samples. There was another assistant who had been there for almost a year already and she took me around with her and introduced me to all the people and stores. The two of us had a great time digging through bins of buttons, wandering deep into the back corner of NY Elegant Fabrics, and convincing the nice people at Mood to let us into their “secret” warehouse (it really does exist).

I only stayed at that job for about a month, though it felt like a year, and the other assistant (who has since moved back to Korea to head up a fashion company there) and I still keep in touch. I don’t go to the garment district as often as I once did but I do have a list of must visit favorite places.

Mood – 225 West 37th Street

I’ll get this one out of the way first since most people at this point have heard of Mood which lucked into some amazing advertising when it became the fabric store featured on Project Runway. One of the coolest things about Mood is the building its in and the old elevator, still manned by an actual man, that you have to take up to the 3rd floor. Once up there, the rows and rows of fabric reach from floor to ceiling. Things are pretty well organized, the selection is large, and most bolts have swatches already cut and attached to the ends that you can take.

One little note about swatching in most all the stores in New York City: If someone asks if you are a student, say no. They’re asking because most stores have specific hours for student swatching and won’t allow you to do so if its not during those hours.

Also of note: Mood has a public restroom in the back right corner. 😉

NY Elegant – 222 West 40th Street

I love NY Elegant for its selection of light weight cottons, organdies, and batistes. NY Elegant is a family run store and is the last standing fabric store on 40th St. They also get a lot novelty fabrics – fake furs and things with glitter and sparkly threads.

Paron Fabrics – 257 West 39th Street

This is one of my absolute favorite family run fabric stores in the city. Sadly, they closed their doors for good just last month. I’m only including it to remind everyone to try and support their local fabric stores and if, you have the chance, come to NYC and shop in the garment district. You really can find almost any kind of fabric there by visiting the larger stores and just wandering down 39th street and stopping in to the small stores that still remain.

B & J Fabrics – 525 7th Ave #2

B & J is your best bet for high end linens, lace, and silks. The store is extremely well organized and always seems extraordinarily well lit in comparison to other garment stores. They are a little pricier than some of the other stores but the quality of the fabrics they stock is superb.

Lou Lou Buttons – 69 West 38th St

Lou Lou Buttons sells only buttons. They have bins and drawers and barrels full of buttons. They have wood buttons, shell buttons, mother of pearl buttons, and every funky, unique kind of button you could imagine. The people who work there are helpful and friendly and don’t seem to mind if you spend hours looking.

M & J Trimming – 1008 6th Ave

There are a lot of small trim stores in the garment district with beautiful things but M & J has by far the largest selection of trims in the city. And, unlike a lot of the garment district stores, they’re open on Sunday (you know, for those weekend trim emergencies.)

Tinsel Trading – 828 Lexington Ave

Shopping in the New York City Garment DistrictTinsel Trading recently moved out of the garment district to this new location on Lexington. They stock the most amazing unique vintage and new trims you’ll find (unless you’re shopping in India or Southeast Asia). Their stuff is expensive but much of it really is one of a kind. If you like metallic thread, fabrics, and fringes, this is the place to go.

If you’ve never had the chance to shop for fabric in New York City, I encourage you to plan a trip if possible – you won’t regret it. And, if you come during the month of December, you can also go visit the holiday windows at the retail stores along 5th Avenue – Bergdorf’s (always my favorite), Saks, etc.

Picking the Perfect Sewing Notions

Picking the Perfect Sewing Notions

You’ve done it. You’ve got the pattern and the fabric to make a sewing project you’ll love. There’s just one more challenge remaining – picking the notions to compliment it. Whether it’s buttons, zippers, lacey bits or other accent pieces the right notions will give your finished project the final pop it needs to be truly special.


It may seem like picking a zipper that matches your material, maybe even an invisible one is the best idea. And in many cases it may be. However, depending on the project and fabric, choosing a zipper that stands out can give your finished project some flair and style. If the fabric has a bright pattern, picking a zipper that matches one of the colors in the pattern can look really great when it’s done.


ButtonsButtons can seem like just an easy way to close a shirt or jacket, but they also impact the look of your completed project. A fabric with a simple pattern can sometimes benefits from fancy or flashy buttons while a fabric with a busy pattern may look better with simpler buttons.

Button size also matters. Bigger buttons will draw more attention than smaller ones. If you’re trying to bring focus away from something, say a floppy collar, using big buttons can help. On the other hand, if you want people to see your great shirt or jacket, using smaller buttons will ensure their eyes take in the entire piece.

Lacey Bits or Ribbons

Even if the pattern doesn’t call for them, lacey bits or ribbon strips can add interest to your project. Sometimes cutting apart a larger lace work for specific shapes works really well. You can use these smaller pieces to accent the points of a collar, cuffs of sleeves or pants or the hem of a skirt.

Ribbons can be used in short or long strips to add some color and interest. A long ribbon can go around the edge of a collar or cuffs. Longer ribbon strips also look great as an accent belt around waist lines or as accents on short or pant leg cuffs.

Smaller ribbon bits can be tacked on to the body of the project to create a pattern or letter. You can also use ribbons to create cute bows and strategically place them to add charm to your project.

Other Notions Notions (Ideas)

See what I did there? Haha. But seriously, there’s other cool notions ideas too. Beads or sequins strategically placed can add a bit of sparkle and glitz. Embroidery whether hand- or machine-done adds personalization. And, if you happen to also be a yarn worker, combing your knitting or crocheting skills with your sewing skills creates a totally unique piece. Instead of the fabric collar, you could knit or crochet one. Same with cuffs, waists and hems.

What other notion and accent ideas do you love to use on your projects?