Anna McDowell BEM - Dorset Button maker and artist
Dorset Buttons at Henry's Buttons is based near Shaftesbury, Dorset, with the aim of helping to keep the heritage craft of the Dorset Buttons industry alive. My first action was to find out if anyone was interested in Dorset Buttons so with the help of a friend, Charlotte McMillan, we organised two workshops in 2009. Both were oversubscribed and the rest is history.
A bit about me - Anna McDowell
Textiles and social history are two of my main interests and it was during my twenty years working in the museum industry that I discovered Dorset buttons. I am now in the lucky position of being able to combine both my love of textiles with the inspiration from this heritage craft, once a major cottage industry in Dorset.
I have researched into the history of this cottage industry and including visits to museums to examining original Dorset Buttons in their collections. It is fascination to see how they were constructed and used. I now use the original methods to work my buttons using contemporary materials and vintage and ethically sourced yarns. I also try out new designs and ways to use the skills of the original buttoners who made these buttons for their livelihood over 200 year ago.
Most of my work is based on a ring and I use anything from a 5mm ring for fine delicate work to 90cm hoops for wall art. I like to use vintage or ethically sourced yarns and textiles and my buttons are worked in a range of fabrics, yarns, ribbons, lace and beads.
Over the years, I have been lucky enough to work on commissions including film, stage and contemporary fashion and received awards for my buttons. My most treasured award is the Dorset Shield for traditional Dorset Crafts. I’m often called to make buttons for costumes for films. I enjoyed working making buttons for Carey Mulligan’s costumes in the film Far From the Madding Crowd and more recently a Walt Disney film currently being filmed. I work with designers on re-enactment costumes including one for Hampton Court Palace for buttons warn by re-enactors in the Georgian kitchen.
Mastering new skills
I learnt the techniques of how to make the basic Dorset Cartwheel Button from a kit, and developed my skills with the help of a master Dorset Buttoner, Joan Nicholls. From this basic button, I have since managed the skills of making all four types of Dorset buttons:
Commissions, awards and events
Won the The Dorset Shield for traditional Dorset Crafts
Dorset Button silver medallion adult workshop at Larmer Tree Festival
Dorset Button in the Dorset flag colours
Commission for the film Far From the Madding Crowd staring Carey Mulligan
Hampton Court Georgian kitchen
Film series Black Sails
Christmas tree decorations
Textile designer's Singleton buttons
Private commission for a statement coursage
Spreading the word
My aim is to keep this heritage craft alive into today’s environment. My Dorset Buttons are worked in the traditional way using contemporary materials and designs. I run workshops, give talks and presentations and participate in festivals and shows. I sell my buttons through the Cygnet Gallery, Shaftesbury. I supply rings, kits and instructions for making Dorset Buttons through my Etsy Shop.
Henry’s Buttons was supported by Sowing SEEDS, a Community Partnership covering the area of North and East Dorset, the Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire.