Buttoning Up with Susan Beal

I love chatting it up with my favorite crafters and Susan Beal is no exception to the rule. We reviewed her fabulous new book Button It Up yesterday (don’t forget to enter to win a free copy!) and today we have a fun little interview. Read on as I ask Susan for pearls of wisdom about shopping for vintage buttons, crafting with a new baby in the house and how to organize your buttons.

For someone who has never shopped for a button can you suggest some places to look.

I love looking for buttons on eBay (be sure to check eBay stores as well as live auctions) – I type in “vintage button lot” and sometimes narrow it down with materials or colors or styles, depending on what I’m looking for. Etsy is amazing too (search in the supplies or vintage categories). Flea markets (my favorite is the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California) and rummage or estate sales are fantastic places to look for buttons, too. And my favorite shops for very special buttons are Exclusive Buttons in El Cerrito, California, and Tender Buttons in Manhattan — both of them display and sell incredible collections of vintage and antique pieces. I wrote more about these two shops in Button It Up. They are well worth a special trip to the Bay Area and to New York if you can pull it off, you would love them both, Jennifer!

Some buttons are very collectible and valuable. What should one look for when deciding whether or not a button could put the kids through college?

I tend to click with the bright-colored casein or deep, rich Bakelite mid-century buttons, which are generally around a few dollars apiece (or at least under $10) at the most — not quite college-fund material! But for tips on identifying the really valuable ones, I’d definitely suggest joining a local button society and going to meetings and shows to see more rare and interesting pieces in person and learn some of the details that set them apart. I’ve been going to local events in Portland, which has been really fun. Button collectors and enthusiasts are so friendly and encouraging! And there are some great books on vintage and antique buttons and their values… I recommended some of my favorites in the resources section of Button It Up like these:

About Buttons: A Collector’s Guide by Peggy Ann Osborne
Buttons by Diana Epstein and Millicent Safro
Buttons: The Collector’s Guide to Selecting, Restoring, and Enjoying New and Vintage Buttons by Nancy Fink and Maryalice Ditzler
The Collector’s Encyclopedia of Buttons by Sally C. Luscomb

Enquiring new crafty moms want to know was this book a ton harder to write with a baby in the house than Bead Simple?

Well, I wrote Button It Up when I was pregnant (I put together the proposal in my first trimester, did all the projects in my second, and went to the photo shoot at the beginning of my third) and it was a challenge for sure! I was so lucky to have a super-supportive husband and great friends — especially my guest contributors like you who generously contributed amazing projects to go with mine. The hardest part was going over all the pages with a new baby — that was quite a balancing act, trying to do precise edits and careful reviews while Pearl was so little. I definitely couldn’t have taken on a big new project in those busy months. Now that she is a year old, it’s so much easier to get things done – she is so much more independent and we know each other so much better! I can make a list of writing or crafts I need to do during the week, and with part-time childcare and luck, I get at least most of it done. And I really make an effort to keep work in the naps-and-childcare category and give Pearl the time I have for her without trying to multi-task every second. I used to overcommit myself to too many projects and too many deadlines and I just can’t do that anymore. So it’s extra exciting to see the colorful finished book, which is dedicated to my pearl button, since she was with me every minute of the way.

I can never decide how to organize my buttons: by color, size, material…what do you do?

There are so many ways to do it! I wrote about some of my favorite methods for CraftStylish a little while ago, actually!

I organize mine mostly like I do my beads – I use plastic snap-tight organizers and sort them by color first and then go from there.

I keep the ones on cards, and other special ones, in gallon ziploc bags inside a large boxes with an old salesman’s sample on the front, like in the CraftStylish photo. And I have some other favorites stored in glass jars – I love the way they look in them – and in a big cookie tin.

Have you ever bought a piece of clothing you had no intention of wearing just so you could use the buttons?

Yes! I found a vintage coat with amazing metal filigree buttons at the thrift store, cut them off, put on ones I didn’t care about as much, and passed it on at a naked lady party. I still have those filigree ones… I know they will be just the thing for another project.

You have now covered buttons and beads with your books, what’s next?

I have a few other crafty ideas that I’d love to write about – I hope I’ll have some book news to share sometime soon! In the meantime, it’s been fun to contribute smaller projects to CRAFT:, CraftStylish, and Stitch magazine, and write about my own projects on my blog, West Coast Crafty. This spring I have become obsessed with gardening – my husband and I put together a raised bed organic vegetable garden, and I have a container garden of herbs, too. And I’ve been planting flowers in the yard like crazy in this nice weather. I got to make some recycled tin flower hanging planters a couple of weeks ago

and I got to do plenty of fun crafting for Pearl’s first birthday – including tiny terrariums for party favors, and felt cupcake toppers, both with little vintage pearl buttons on top!

More Button Fun
Button It Up on Flickr
Crafty Curios West Coast Crafty Style
I Love to Create: Wearing Your Collection Button Bracelet

3 Responses to “Buttoning Up with Susan Beal”

  1. amy

    what a fabulous interview!

    i have a ridiculous vintage button collection – obscene, really!

    i bought button it up when it first came out because i was so impatient to read it (literally, within days!), and i loved it! so many fun and fabulous ideas!

    however, i have yet to actually MAKE anything out of it, i just continue to hoard my buttons. (tips on that would be


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