How to Make a Pearly Box Fit for a Queen, or King

comments (8) March 4th, 2009     

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erika_kern Erika Kern, contributor
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Inspired by Londons Pearly Kings and Queens, this box adorned with pearly white buttons and a black background makes a striking addition to your dresser or counter.
The interior shines with pearlized paint and even more pearl buttons.
My inspiration: Pearly Kings and Queens in Covent Garden, August 2002.
Inspired by Londons Pearly Kings and Queens, this box adorned with pearly white buttons and a black background makes a striking addition to your dresser or counter.

Inspired by London's Pearly Kings and Queens, this box adorned with pearly white buttons and a black background makes a striking addition to your dresser or counter.

Photo: Erika Kern

When I think buttons, among the first things that come to mind are Pearlies. Pearlies, Erika? Yep. Pearlies. Their button-covered suits are a common sight in London's tourist areas. I met a few in Covent Garden when I visited a few years ago where they were continuing the Pearly tradition of collecting for various charities.


My inspiration: Pearly Kings and Queens in Covent Garden, August 2002.

This button-covered box honors their history and style and is easy to make, too.

What you'll need:

  • A box (or if you've got the time and the buttons, a table or chest or, maybe, a chair!)
  • Pearly white buttons (buttons with flat backs work best)
  • Black paint
  • Paint for the inside of the box (I used a pearly white)
  • Paintbrushes
  • Pencil and measuring tools
  • E-6000 glue
  • High-gloss spray varnish (optional)

First, find something to decorate.


I found this simple wood box at a local craft store, but you could probably find a box to decorate at a thrift store or around the house.

First, prep the item you'll decorate. If it's painted, strip it or roughen the surface so that it will take the black paint. If your box or piece of furniture has any hardware on it, remove it. Keep the hardware and the screws in a safe place so that you don't lose them when it comes time to put them back on your finished box.


Paint the box black. I used two coats of acrylic craft paint for the exterior. The interior is painted pearly white and glazed with an acrylic pearl luster medium.

Set the box aside to dry and move on to the buttons.


If you're not lucky enough to have jars of Grandma's old buttons around the house, don't fret. Check out local flea markets, antique malls, and thrift stores. I found a huge jar of old white buttons for $25. The buttons on this box are just a drop in the button bucket.

I'm not going to lie: This project takes a lot of buttons. My 7-1/2-inch x 4-inch x 4-1/2-inch box took about 327 buttons for the exterior, but if you use an open pattern and/or bigger buttons, you can get away with using fewer buttons. 

The Pearlies use a lot of common patterns in their designs. Here's a short list from the Pearly Society and their meanings:

  • Horseshoe = Luck
  • Doves = Peace
  • Heart = Charity
  • Anchor = Hope
  • Cross = Faith
  • Wheel = Circle of life
  • Symbols of playing cards = Life is a gamble
  • Flower pots = Costermongers
  • Donkey carts = Costermongers

Once you've chosen the pearly pattern for the box, draw it on with a pencil. I went with a spoked wheel on the lid and diamond patterns on the front and back. You can use a compass and small quilter's grid to mark the pattern.

Since you will be working with different-sized buttons, it's a good idea to do a trial layout before you start gluing.

Glue the buttons onto the box. A little glue goes a long way, so don't use too much. Allow each side to dry before moving on to the next. I worked on the lid and box separately so that one could dry while I was glued the other.

Repeat until the whole box is covered, then allow the glue to cure overnight.

After the glue has cured, add extra polish with a spray varnish, if you wish. I used two coats of varnish on my box, allowing it to dry completely between each coat.

Before reassembling my box, I added buttons to the inside of the lid, for extra flash.


The interior shines with pearlized paint and even more pearl buttons.

If you add buttons to the interior, remember to let that glue cure before reassembling the box. Once the glue cures and the varnish dries, reattach hinges and other hardware and the box is ready.


That's a loverly hen n' fox you 'ave there, simply loverly.

Translation: That's a lovely box you have there, simply lovely!

posted in: buttons, Pearlies

Comments (8)

Mork_the_Dork writes: What other buttons do you think you could use successfully
Posted: 10:02 am on October 30th
NancyWard writes: Hi!

Today I posted an entry on mny blog with a link to this tutorial.

Would you let me know if that's OK?

Thanks,

Nancy Ward
http://paperfriendly.blogspot.com
Posted: 11:01 am on July 25th
erika_kern writes: blue and white sounds lovely!
Posted: 3:46 am on March 9th
eveh writes: This just inspires me. I have a box I painted ugly and I can reclaim it with some black paint and buttons. I think I will do a deep blue with the white buttons, sorta cameo style. Maybe use an actual cameo on the front. Thank you Erika, you are a talented and inspirational person.
Posted: 10:14 pm on March 8th
iHanna writes: I would've never painted something black and added white buttons to it, but when I see it it's visually stunning! Great project!
Posted: 1:14 pm on March 7th
Cindy_Gimbrone writes: What a great project and terrific idea to use up the buttons I can't resist buying at the flea market! Thanks for the link to the Pearly Society. Great project and learned some fascinating history!
Posted: 7:41 am on March 7th
erika_kern writes: Thanks! I, too, love the pearl button (can you tell?).
Posted: 9:50 pm on March 4th
susanstars writes: Erika, this is fantastical! I love it! I have a huge soft spot for pearl buttons and this is the perfect project to celebrate them :)
Posted: 4:00 pm on March 4th
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