So, what can you make with a big bag of buttons?

The last time I was out shopping, a bag of blue and green buttons caught my eye (most normal people would be excited about buying new shoes or bags—for me, it’s a bag of buttons for $1.25).
I bought it, thinking right away that the buttons would be perfect for embellishing a t-shirt in some capacity. The mix of blues and greens made me think of the sea, which made me think next of sea life. When I got home, I dug a plain white t-shirt out of my stash, peered at for a few moments until a picture of a button mosaic in the form of a big fish popped into my mind. Little did I know that this would be the only easy part of this project.

As I usually do, I made up the process as I went along, so bear with me.

(Note: I am a very impatient person, which makes it quite astounding that someone with my personality would even remotely enjoy doing artsy craftsy things. If anything takes too long or is too fiddly, I get super annoyed and start trying to take shortcuts and, I’ll tell you, I was almost constantly annoyed with this project. But I’m glad I stuck it out because (a) it was a great learning experience, and (b) the end result is really pretty cool!

1. Using a pencil, I lightly drew a rough outline of a fish on the front of the t-shirt.

2. Dumping my bag of buttons on my desk, I laid out the buttons on the t-shirt within the pencil sketch so that the different button sizes and colours were fairly evenly distributed, then I took a photo of my layout.

3. Next, I cleared all the buttons off the t-shirt and grabbed my can of temporary spray fabric adhesive. I sprayed the adhesive carefully within the fish pencil sketch. At this point, I had to move quickly before it dried, so looking at the photo I’d taken, I attempted to lay the buttons out on top of the fabric adhesive in approximately the same pattern as the photo. It worked. Everything stuck nicely into place. But then, the next part was more frantic—I had to sew each button down into place, since the fabric adhesive was only temporary. Why do I do these things to myself?

4. Grabbing some blue thread and a sewing needle, I laid the t-shirt out on my lap, rolled the bottom up so I could more easily get my hand in between the front and back layers, and began to sew down each and every button. What a helluva job!!! There was a lot of cursing going on!!! (…and bloodstains on the inside of the t-shirt where I kept sticking my fingers with the damn needle.)

5. Once the buttons were all sewn into place, I looked at it and thought, “Ok. I’ve got a big blue and green fish on my white t-shirt. What can I do to make it a little more exciting?” Sequins would work. I dug some green and blue sequins out of my sewing cupboard and began to sew them here and there, in between the buttons, along with using them to embellish the tail fin. So far, so good. So, what next?

6. I’m always up for a bit of whimsy in my crafts, so I thought a saying of some kind embroidered around the fish would add some interest. So I looked online and discovered a cute saying that reminded me of certain politicians and celebrities: “If the fish hadn’t opened its mouth… it wouldn’t have been caught.”
Loved it.

7. Using some lettering stencils, I wrote the saying out onto tissue paper in the size of lettering that I wanted. Next, I laid the tissue paper out in a way where the words would fall into the right spacing around the fish. Next, I thought to myself, “Ok. How do I transfer the lettering from the tissue paper onto the t-shirt?” When I craft, I have a habit of leaping into things feet first without doing any advance planning. I kind of let things flow as I go along, which we all know isn’t the smartest way to work on a project. But guess what? It always seems to pan out for me in the end. And I’m a firm believer in learning from your mistakes, which is a probably a good thing since I’m continuously learning from mistakes. J

8. Anyway, I had the idea to poke a fineliner pen through the tissue paper around each letter so that dots would outline the letters onto the t-shirt. It worked, and that’s how I transferred the lettering onto the t-shirt. I only did it that way because I knew I’d be embroidering over the dots, so they’d eventually be hidden.

9. Next, I dug out some blue and green embroidery floss and just did straight stitching from dot to dot around each letter. After finishing the outlining, I made lots of little straight stitches inside each letter to fill them in more solidly. Of course, as will happen to someone who neglects to plan ahead, I realized I wasn’t happy with where I’d placed the words “opened its mouth” (originally under the tail fin). Remember what I said earlier about learning from my mistakes?? It just didn’t look right.
I absolutely did not have any desire to pick out all of that stitching and after fuming for a day or so, I decided to try just covering it up with a piece of fabric. I found a nice piece of fabric in my stash with sparkly speckles on it that looked like it could have been bubbles in water. By the seat of my pants, I cut it out and stitched it down on top of the wording that I wanted to cover up. Then I found a silver fish charm to sew on top of it so it would look like there was another little fish swimming through the bubbly water. It ended up working out ok, as you can see in the picture.

10. Then, I used my pencil to just haphazardly write “opened its mouth” in the open space above the tail fin. I was getting sick of this project by now, and couldn’t be bothered to use the stencil and do it properly. That’s me in a nutshell. Impatient as all hell.

11. Last, I wanted to add one more bit of whimsy to my embellishment, so I invaded my husband’s workshop when he was out somewhere, digging through his old tackle box until I discovered an appropriate fishing lure that I could incorporate into my design. I used one of his pliers to break off the barbed end, then stitched it on in the area of the fish’s mouth, using my glue gun to affix the curved end to one of the “mouth” buttons.

12. Phew. I was finally done with this project. But I was also really happy with it! This summer, I will wear it with pride! (Now, how I’m going to wash it is another story. I supposed I’ll be stuck hand-washing it. Ugh.)

P.S. Later, I found a green googly eye in my other button stash and decided to glue-gun it to the collage, as you’ll see in the last photo.

And finally…

The moral of this story: Next time you see a bag of buttons in the store, keep walking! 🙂

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