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Shakespeare talks about unbuttoning your sleeve in As You Like It, King Lear undoes a button in Act V of that play, and Moth talks about making a buttonhole lower in Love’s Labour’s Lost. We’ve talked about clothes here on the show previously, but what about the buttons that hold things like sleeves together, and various buttonholes. What were buttons like for Shakespeare’s lifetime, who was making them, and what material was used? How are 16th century buttons different from the ones we have today, and would we find buttons in the expected places, or were there unusual ways to use buttons in Shakespeare’s lifetime? To find out the answers to these questions, we are talking with the Renaissance Tailor, who specializes in recreating 16-17th century clothing, Tammie Dupuis. 

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Tammie Dupuis

Tammie Dupuis is a contemporary artist and educator living in the Pacific Northwest. When she’s not in her art studio or teaching class, she is making clothing.  She specializes in 16th century clothing construction but ranges far and wide historically – from Anglo-Saxon to the 18th century. She holds a Bachelors of Science in Anthropology/Archaeology from Montana State University, a Bachelors of Art in Fine Art from Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, WA and a Masters in Fine Art from Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston, MA. She is the owner, designer, and operator of the Renaissance Tailor website. (www.renaissancetailor.com)

I’ll be asking Tammie Dupuis about:

  • Shakespeare writes about crystal buttons in Henry IV Part 1 and in Comedy of Errors, uses the expression “One whose hard heart is button‘d up with steel;” Now, of course, your heart being buttoned up with steel might be a metaphor, but it does make us wonder about what buttons were made of for Shakespeare’s lifetime—were crystal and steel materials used for making buttons, or something else? 
  • How were button’s shaped, and what was used to attach them to clothing?
  • Was clothing the only place buttons were used, or were things like sacks for carrying objects or other items made from linen using buttons as well? 
  • …and more!

Books and Resources Tammie Dupuis recommends:

Janet Arnold – Patterns of Fashion, The cut and construction of clothes for men and women c.1560 – 1620 📚️

The Museum of London: Dress Accessories. Medieval Finds from Excavations in London and Museum of London: Textiles and Clothing 1150 – 1450

50 Heirloom Buttons to Make, Nancy Nehring

Recreating 16th century buttons–The Renaissance Tailor

A Few More Research Tidbits:

Buttons, Encylcopedia

Western Regional Button Association

Fabricana: The History of Sewing

The History of the Button

Here’s what’s available for this episode:

  • Button artifacts showing period buttons made from iron, lead, leather, and more.
  • Artifact of a 17th century cast button
  • 17th Century silver button
  • 17th century doublet with cloth buttons
  • Quotes from Shakespeare’s plays about buttons
  • 16th century button carved like a flower
  • Example of a 17th century conical shaped button
  • 17th century flat button
  • 17th century pewter button
  • Potrait Gallery of famous people from the 16-17th century wearing buttons
  • 15th century elaborately carved button featuring Mary and the Christ Child
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That’s it for this week! Thank you for listening! I’m Cassidy Cash and I hope you learn something new about the bard.

I’ll see you next time!