An alternative textile tour of London – part 1

1 July 2011

On the hottest day of the year, I was to be found traipsing round the west end of London for son No 1.  It was a bit of an ‘alternative’ tour and I thought it worth sharing.

I started off in Berwick Mews just off Berwick Street, Soho – the location of DM Buttons.

Now we only tend to think of Soho as home to sex shops and other dodgy goings on, but believe me, Berwick Street is a textile hub.  When I first knew it in the 1980s it was a textile haven.  It did decline, but I get the impression that it may be on the up again and does have a small street market.

I understand that as well as the shops, Soho was also once home to many specialist trades, now sadly declined, and it is possible that DM Buttons is one of the few that is hanging on.  You have to go to the bottom of Berwick Mews, D'Arblay Street ( not particularly glamorous) through an unprepossessing door and down some rickety steps into what was a very cool basement.  Trust me, on Monday, just being in the basement was a huge relief.

I believe from a bit of web research that DM Buttons has been trading out of the same building for nearly 100 years ago.  The sole proprietor is David Miller, who took over the business from his father, who took over from his great aunt.  Apparently, Mr Miller senior was originally a hat maker, working in the same building with his grandfather. As well as proprietor, Mr Miller is also the ‘worker’ and when I arrived was sat at a machine in the corner making fabric covered cufflinks. (Apparently they supply a west end shop with these).  The basement, which is not very large, has a number of different button hole and riveting machines – some of them looking pretty antique as well – and it all felt a bit ‘Harry Potter’
If you have ever sewn a button hole on a domestic sewing machine, you will know how long it can take and how frustrating it can be.  It takes me ages just to do a row of button holes on the front of a shirt.  And of course a domestic machine will struggle with thick materials.
DM Button’s special machines do this in the flash of an eye.  I had two jackets which needed button holes and we had marked up the fabric on the wrong side.  So while I was faffing about with some tailors chalk, Mr Miller (who had rolled his eyes as I staggered into the room thinking ‘we have a right one here!’), did the button holes in the two canvas shirts I had with me, tended to two other customers who came down and did the button holes in another shirt.  I ear wigged one of the conversations and understand that he can work on any kind of garment fastening: buttons, poppers, rivets, eyelets, etc.
If you do call, it needs to be early morning – their opening hours are 7.30am to 3pm.
Apparently DM Button’s work features on stage in just about every West End show there is, plus operas and feature films.  What is also great is to know that the business (whether by luck or design) ensures the continuation of the trade by linking to some of the UK’s best known art and fashion colleges.  I was carrying work by students from Ravensbourne, but fashion and textile Students from all the fashion colleges apparently come to DM Buttons for help and advice in completing their graduation projects.  Bruce Oldfield and Lee (Alexander) McQueen apparently  first visited when they were originally college students and their design houses still use DM Buttons for their special requirements. 
So, if you have a lot of button holes to do you might want to consider using DM Buttons.  Mr Miller did the button holes while I was there and I did not have to wait.  I guess that at certain times it can be very busy (running up to London Fashion Week for instance) so it might be worth phoning first.  I don't know if you can send stuff in - you would have to ask. They also do specialist cover buttons - you can have buttons made in your own fabric. 

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