Tufting is a 3-dimensional pattern – usually a diamond grid – made by sewing down center points and fixing them with decoration. That process creates the typical tufted look, which is dimpled and comfortable.
Covered buttons have been used as anchors since tufted details came popular in the mid-19th century. On deeply-tufted upholstery they are kept small. Pillows can take large fabric- or gimp-covered buttons or even a homey one made of horn as these sit gently on the surface. Decorative stitches are found most often on textiles. The pick stitch, a small cross, is used for tufting on quilts and French mattresses. The knotted tuft stitch is made with several embroidery threads which makes a pretty treatment for bedspreads or pillows. Different qualities of the buttons and stitches serve various styles.
Buttons also help emphasize furniture features or shapes. The most famous buttoned up sofa is England’s leather deeply tufted Chesterfield, first designed in the 1880s with tufts almost two inches deep.
While deep-button-tufting is clearly traditional, shallow or float buttons were used in 1929 on Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona ottoman.
Buttons helped to define furniture throughout the remainder of the 20th century, as seen on this rare 1940s era chair by Guillerme et Chambron. Even the contemporary chaise longue, or fainting couch [top], gets heaps of style from the tufted pattern and texture.
A contemporary silk quilt from Restoration Hardware uses contrasting fabric- covered buttons to create an elegant effect without much pillowing.
Pick stitches are simple and well suited to this vintage-washed Belgian linen quilt (again, Restoration Hardware) which has a country or rustic look. I would love to hack this one with handmade tassel tufts using multiple strands of embroidery thread finished by graceful knots.
(Source: British Homes & Gardens, Ralph Lauren Home, Rago Art and Auctions, Tilton Fenwick)
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