Learn to Make Buttons with Filmmaker Miranda July

We humans have relied on the decep­tive­ly hum­ble but­ton since its first appear­ance in the Indus Val­ley some 5000 years ago.

In the pre-zip­per era, what bet­ter way to show off your shape­ly arms or calves than a row of gor­geous and func­tion­al but­tons?

Need to pay a debt, or bestow a love token on a fetch­ing suit­or? Pluck a but­ton from your gar­ment, and con­sid­er the mat­ter closed.

The first cam­paign but­tons? Actu­al but­tons! Thanks, George Wash­ing­ton!

It is, as Charles Dick­ens not­ed, fol­low­ing a vis­it to a Birm­ing­ham but­ton fac­to­ry, “a seri­ous thing to attempt to learn about but­tons.” It should come as no sur­prise that the great cham­pi­on of the oppressed not only did his home­work, but wound up hav­ing rather a lot to say on the sub­ject.

Judg­ing by his account of what he wit­nessed in Birm­ing­ham, most would assume that the but­ton-mak­ing process requires spe­cial­ized machin­ery, a num­ber of spe­cial­ized mate­ri­als, and a large, nim­ble-fin­gered work­force.

Not so, as film­mak­er Miran­da July demon­strates in the extreme­ly illu­mi­nat­ing how-to video, above.

Yes, cer­tain steps will require a high degree of con­cen­tra­tion. Don’t expect to suc­cess­ful­ly Fer­ber­ize—or in lay­man’s terms, put holes in—your but­tons on the first attempt. Stick with it, though. Even an expe­ri­enced fab­ri­cant de bou­ton like July will occa­sion­al­ly have trou­ble with things like gran­u­lar com­pounds and high volt­age hard­en­ers.

As a new­com­er to the excit­ing world of but­ton-mak­ing, I real­ly appre­ci­at­ed July’s clear, step-by-step instruc­tion, as well as her encour­ag­ing vibe. The project requires a degree of skill and patience that may elude younger view­ers, but I can attest that my 13-year-old son was absolute­ly riv­et­ed through­out. He may nev­er pro­duce any but­tons, but he can’t wait to share his new­found knowl­edge with all his friends!

In clos­ing, let us revis­it Dick­ens, whose enthu­si­asm lives on in July, a fel­low writer and Aquar­i­an, 162 years his junior:

It is won­der­ful, is it not? that on that small piv­ot turns the for­tune of such mul­ti­tudes of men, women, and chil­dren, in so many parts of the world; that such indus­try, and so many fine fac­ul­ties, should be brought out and exer­cised by so small a thing as the But­ton.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Miran­da July’s Short Film on Avoid­ing the Pit­falls of Pro­cras­ti­na­tion

David Sedaris Reads You a Sto­ry By Miran­da July

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the author of sev­en books, and cre­ator of the award win­ning East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

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