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 still a common sight in London's tourist areas. I met a few in Covent Garden when I went over a few years back 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 my local craft store, but you could probably find a box to decorate at your local thrift or even around the house.

Once you find the item you want to decorate, you need to prep it. If it's painted, strip or rough up the surface so that it will take the black paint. If your box or piece of furniture has any sort of hardware on it, remove it. Make sure to 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 it 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 your box aside to dry and move on to your buttons.


Not lucky enough to have jars of Grandma's old buttons around the house? Don't fret! Check out the flea markets, antique malls, and thrifts around town. 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 gonna lie: This project takes a lot of buttons. My 7-1/2 x 4 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 fewer butttons. 

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 decided on the pearly pattern for your box, draw it on with a pencil. I went with a spoked wheel on the lid and diamond patterns on the front and back. I used a compass and small quilter's grid to mark the pattern.

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

Glue the buttons onto your box. A little glue goes a long way, so make sure you 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 was drying while I was gluing the other.

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

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

Before putting my box back together, I decided the inside needed a bit of Pearly flash, too, so I added some more buttons to the inside of the lid.


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

If you decide to add buttons to the interior as well, remember to let that glue cure completely before you reassemble your box. Once the glue's cured and the varnish is dry, reattach the hinges and other hardware to your box and you're ready to go!


Oi, me China! That's a loverly hen n' fox you 'ave there, simply loverly.

Translation: Hi, my friend! 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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