Today as I was going through some boxes at work I discovered the most amazing little treasure! I just knew I had to share it with you all. As I was looking for items to photograph and catalogue I came across this box:
Victorian charm strings were a popular fad from the 1860’s up to the 1900’s. The folklore has several variations, one was that a girl had to collect 999 buttons and when she strung the thousandth one she would find her husband. Another version said that the thousandth button was to be given by the suitor who she would marry and that if she completed the charm string herself she would be a spinster forever. The young girls started their charm string with a large button tied to a string sometimes called a “touch button”. They then would add smaller buttons, usually found in a grandmother’s sewing box. Sometimes they even added sentimental pieces like bits from a broken doll or religious symbols.
Charm strings were also sometimes called memory strings and were often left out in plain view to encourage visitors to inquire about the buttons or to contribute their own, as the buttons were supposed to be given not purchased. The term memory string comes from the idea that each of the buttons should have a story behind it as to where it was collected from and how it related to the owner. Perhaps a button from mother’s favourite dress that had worn out, or some from papa’s war uniform.
Another thing I had not known until today is that charm quilts were inspired by these charm strings! The idea of a charm quilt was to use tiny scraps of fabric, where every scrap is different, to create a quilt. The theory was that a young woman could ask a male if he had any scraps of fabric or buttons from an old shirt to contribute to her charm quilt or her charm string, this simple inquiry perhaps would lead to more conversation and maybe even courtship eventually.
I am happy to share with you some photos I took of these amazing buttons up close, please be sure to click on each one to see it larger and with more detail. As I photographed, I must admit I wondered to myself if the girls who made these strings eventually found their true love. I suppose I shall never know.
I hope you enjoyed this little bit of history as much as I did!
Sources and Further Reading