The American Canvas Back Button End of an Era... and New Options for the American Custom Bridal Industry
For thirty years, the last canvas back assembly machine left in the United States sat broken and unused in a dusty corner of a New Jersey button factory. For decades, this hulking collection of gears and springs supplied the nation’s factories and bridal shops with canvas button backs – backs for covered buttons with a cloth “pouch” or tuft that could be sewn nearly flat against a garment. The machine inserted a small cotton canvas wad that served as the shank for finished covered buttons. Hand-operated button presses cranked out millions of these buttons in dressmaking shops all over the country.
Clothing production started moving overseas, and domestic demand for canvas backs fell. When the assembly machine broke down in the late 1970’s, factory owners decided to wait. The machine was old and repairs were expensive. What if the market never rebounded? They waited. Vendors like Steinlauf and Stoller emptied the factory shelves, hoping for the best, but bracing for the worst. They waited. Custom dressmakers started to feel the pinch. Some switched to hopper backs, or even wire eyes, but disliked the higher shanks. Vendors quietly raised prices on dwindling stock, still hoping, but realistic. Desperate, they looked to Europe and Asia for new suppliers, but their customers owned American presses and the buttons weren’t compatible. One by one, vendors removed canvas back buttons from their websites and catalogs.
In November 2012, the last canvas back assembly machine left in the United States was sold for scrap. My name is Dede O’Hair, and I own Workroom Buttons. We distribute and manufacture professional covered buttons and button-making equipment to a variety of industries, including custom dressmaking and tailoring. As an American company, we are deeply committed to purchasing inventory and materials directly from American mills and factories. We do stock some foreign-made products, but only if they are unavailable domestically. And canvas backs are no longer available domestically.
Workroom Buttons is committed to providing the custom sewing industry with the most complete selection of covered button components available. To that end, we have made arrangements with a European button manufacturer to re-size their canvas backs to fit American button presses. We will be the exclusive distributor of these new backs, stocking sizes 16, 18, and 20 to meet the needs of professional dressmakers for years to come.
For additional information, please see our website: www.workroombuttons.com. We welcome questions on any covered button-related topic, and can be reached by telephone 978-597-2228 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by Dede O'Hair