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Local woman turns hobby into successful button business

By: CAROL MCGRAW
December 5, 2009
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photo - Jill Gorski describes herself as a buttonologist. The button enthusiast collects buttons, is a button distributor and has written books on buttons. Monday, November 23, 2009.   Photo by The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett
Jill Gorski describes herself as a buttonologist. The button enthusiast collects buttons, is a button distributor and has written books on buttons. Monday, November 23, 2009. Photo by The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett 

Button, button, who’s got the button?

Jill Gorski does.

The Colorado Springs woman has thousands of them — maybe more, if you want to be literal about the name of her company: Jillions of Buttons.

But she hasn’t stopped to count her haul. She’s been too busy operating the button business she started after getting hooked on the hobby eight years ago, which led her to quit her FedEx job of 17 years. Gorski operates the Jillions of Buttons Web site and blog, teaches crafts classes and lectures on buttons, and she’s written several books and articles, including “Warman’s Buttons Field Guide” and the just-published “Busy with Buttons.”

Susannah Jordan, president of the Colorado State Button Society and a member of a rules committee for the national organization, said Gorski’s field guide has filled a niche for those who want to know more about the subject, but aren’t ready to plunk down for the classic professional button book, “The Big Book of Buttons,” which can cost up to $500.

When Gorski wrote her field guide, she was at a knowledge level above her audience, but still knew what beginners need to know, Jordan said.

Beyond being knowledgeable, Gorski is just plain enthusiastic about buttons, Jordan said.

In fact, Gorski’s motto is: “If it moves, put a button on it,” and she walks the talk. On a recent morning, she was wearing button earrings, a button necklace and a button bracelet. Some of her handmade quilts have buttons on them. So do lamps, vests, blouses, aprons, purses and frames.

You get the picture.

But the once-lowly sewing notion is not merely a crafter’s best friend; it’s a collectible that can fetch thousands of dollars for the rarest ones. Aside from the moneymaking possibilities, Gorski says buttons are fun to collect because some have intriguing histories, and people can amass scads of them because they are small.

Gorski calls them miniature works of art, and they come in almost every material, including wood, celluloid, bakelite plastic, metal, nuts, clay and glass. Military buttons are popular, as are those shaped like faces, animals and other objects. Among Gorski’s favorites are plain black rubber ones, some of which Goodyear created in the mid-1800s.
But buttons are much older than that. In the 1200s, there were guilds devoted to buttonmakers, and the buttons were marked and documented, Gorski said. In early America, Paul Revere made fine silver buttons. Buttons were so coveted that people used to include their buttons in their wills.

Gorski got the button bug eight years ago when she rummaged through a so-called “poke bucket” full of buttons at a crafts show. But the addiction really kicked in when she attended a button convention in Denver. “I was blown away. It’s a whole other world.”

When Gorski goes button hunting, she takes along a kit that includes a magnifying glass to determine trademarks, a soft toothbrush to brush away the dust (rubbing is a no-no, because it can remove the finish), and a soft cloth to keep finger oils off the buttons.

Her most exciting find was a bunch of buttons in an old bag at a local thrift store. She paid $4 for them; when she did research, she found they were antiques worth more than $700.

In spite of the jillions of buttons she has collected and written about, there is one that is dearest to her: an inexpensive yellow plastic button that once adorned a robe worn by her grandmother.

 

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