Friday, May 21, 2010

buttons galore

I read a lot of interviews with writers that make me feel totally inadequate -- not because of their amazing sales, or fabulous output or self discipline, but because so many have tried all sorts of interesting jobs before they started writing. I read their fascinating lists of jobs -- everything from helping in a wildlife reserve in Botswana to being a pavement artist in Paris and I sigh and remember I've only had one other job besides writing and that's teaching. Which is not boring in reality. Every day, every hour in a classroom brings surprises. But to an outsider... it doesn't quite measure up as exciting or eccentric or Bohemian.

But I mustn't forget that I have had one job that was a little bit different. My very first job (a holiday job when I was about 14 or 15) was in a little factory that made fabric covered buttons.
OK, I know that doesn't sound exciting either, but it was for me. We made all those gorgeous buttons -- like the tiny ones covered in silk or satin that go all the way down the back of a bridal gown. And because this was in the olden days when everyone still made their own clothes, we got tons of orders for all kinds of specialised buttons. Each morning, I would do a round trip of the haberdashery departments in all the major department stores in Brisbane -- David Jones, Mc Donnell and East, Finneys, Allen & Stark etc and I'd collect the orders for the day. In the packet with each order would be the small, very precious pieces of fabric we were to use to cover the buttons. I say precious because if we (school friend, Cathy Harrison and I) made a mistake we'd be in danger of not having enough fabric to complete the order.

Then we would beaver away cutting out circles small, medium or large, depending on the button size and squeezing them in the little presses, praying that nothing slipped and they came out perfectly neat. Oh, the responsibility!

In the afternoons, one of us would go back to all the stores again delivering the finished buttons. I earned 5 pounds four shillings a week and I felt terribly important. I liked this work much better than later holiday jobs, selling things in shops. I was always nervous about giving change.
So that's my tiny try at something different (except that I was a breastfeeding counsellor later and I ran playgroups, but these were voluntary). I'm sure some of you have had incredibly interesting and varied jobs. I'd love to hear.


2paw said...

I make buttons like that now, and I embroider them. It's a very satisfying task. I understand your button covering fear!!!
I have only ever had one job: teaching, which I loved. I did teach dancing to many enthusiastic and wonderful little girls after school!! I think that counts as teaching too.

Lacey Devlin said...

I really love the sound of that. All my first jobs were in customer service and no where near as fascinating.

jenny wilson said...

I am a nurse and have done care work all of my career, which I enjoy...well maybe not the paperwork and the stress. But I would love to have had a job on the button factory.

Apart from being a writer my dream job would be either a librarian or a postman

Barbara Hannay said...

Actually, all these things we've mentioned here -- teaching, customer service, nursing -- keep us in constant contact with all kinds of people so that's a great background for writing, too. Or for reading, for that matter.

Barbara Hannay said...

I love the idea of embroidering fabric covered buttons, 2 paw. They'd be gorgeous!!

Anne Gracie said...

Barbara, I love buttons. When i was a little girl one of my favourite "games' was to get the button jar and tip all the buttons out and sort them -- into colours, sizes, all kinds of ways.

My first ever job was in a dog & cat boarding kennels in the school holidays. Involved much scooping. LOL Not at all glamorous, but I loved it.

Barbara Hannay said...

Oh, i loved the button jar, too, Anne. With imagination, buttons can become people, families, nationalities, can't they? So can bobby pins and flowers for that metter.

Helene Young said...

Barb, I'd forgotten all about making buttons! We did that in Home Ec in Grade Eight and I was amazed! I'm not at all creative with my hands and I remember being stunned at what could be produced. Thanks for a lovely memory!