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Fashion fun new look with buttons, baubles

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As children, many of us played with our mother's and grandmothers' button boxes, stringing together clinking charmstrings that seemed like treasures found at rainbow's end. But nowadays, fashioning fun things with buttons is considered quite a grown-up thing to do. Just for starters, consider these ideas:

- Sew buttons onto napkins in clusters to look like cherries.- Create reversible curtains - maybe with plaid on one side and florals on the other - and add buttonholes and buttons at varying lengths so that you can fasten them high or low.

- Alternatively, for a simple look, take plain linen panels and add button holes halfway down and buttons on the end; just button them up when you want light and air and unbutton so that they hang down for privacy.

- Trim pillows with buttons and baubles. One fun project would be to make a felt tree trimmed with round red "apple" buttons.

- Make button-on "jackets" for dining room chairs for dressing up the room when you entertain.

- Make an enchanted button-covered dollhouse.

- Cover a vest with favorite buttons or trim socks with them.

- Cover a plain frame with a bevy of buttons and present as a gift (perhaps with a picture of you in it?) to someone special.

- Thread buttons on baby pins and wear close to your heart.

- String mother-of-pearl buttons on necklace chains for a new twist on "pearls."

- Glue buttons on a plain barrette.

- Skirt a vanity in fabric, with buttons sewn at four corners; then overlay another swag of a different fabric, with loops to hook into the buttons.

- Make a "button quilt" by sewing buttons onto a piece of cloth in intriguing patterns. This is a wonderful opportunity to show off specialty buttons like celluloid "cookies," calicoes (china buttons patterned to look like fabric), metal storybook "picture" buttons with storybook figures, and Bakelite buttons shaped and colored like tropical fruits.

One of my favorite people, Julie Walker (a co-worker and a friend), is a big-time button collector. She displays her finds in shadow box frames, perhaps with an interesting newspaper or a rescued clipping from an old scrapbook as a mat. Julie creates wonderful vignettes by grouping buttons by color - for instance, black and white - and juxtaposing trefoils, ovals, diamonds and bars in symmetrical rows.

You don't have to go to collectors' shows to find these special buttons. Julie recommends bidding on mayonnaise jars full of clinking treasures at auctions and even combing secondhand shops for buttons on coats - they are often much more beautiful than the clothing they're attached to and worth quite a bit more besides.

As for me, I love all buttons, from the rarest to the plainest 79-cent types in the notions department. When it comes to decorating with them, just cast your mind back to your childhood button-box days and let your imagination be your guide.