Class 2: Restoring Mother-of-Pearl Buttons for Embellishing Vintage Quilts

If you have and/or are planning to add mother-of-pearl (MOP) buttons to your Quilt(s) or any project there are some things to know about these little treasures.

Back in the day, MOP buttons were removed from garments before they were laundered as the process and the laundry detergent chemicals could and did cause much harm to these buttons made from shells.

If you’ve ever seen MOP buttons that are dull, chipped and peeling you can assume the buttons have been exposed to the laundry process.

There is a way to save these abused buttons, I’ll outline it below:

  1. Sort through your buttons and remove any that are not MOP.
  2. In the laxative section of your Drug Store look for Mineral Oil.
  3. Place your buttons in a container and pour in enough Mineral Oil to cover everything.
  4. Very gently stir the buttons over the next few days.

The Mineral Oil will penetrate the button surfaces and restore the lost luster. The oil will most likely also loosen and dirt etc. from the button surfaces.

  1. Transfer the buttons to a colander and rinse them well using warm-hot tap water.
  2. Place the buttons into a clean container, cover with warm tap water and a teaspoon of Baby Shampoo. Carefully wash the oil from the buttons. Do not leave them in the shampoo water for any length of time!
  3. Again, using the colander and warm tap water, rinse the buttons and spread them out on a terry cloth towel to air dry.

You should see a remarkable difference in the before and after for your mother-of-pearl treasures!

Mother-of-Pearl Buttons From the Banks of the Mississippi

Photographs courtesy of the web sites listed above.

Isn’t it wonderful to think we can save these precious little buttons! Blessings to all and happy quilting,


18 thoughts on “Class 2: Restoring Mother-of-Pearl Buttons for Embellishing Vintage Quilts

  1. For those of you who wonder how to tell if a button is plastic or shell
    1- compare two buttons, one you know to be shell and one is plastic (like the ones still on the card and marked that way.
    2- hold them in your hand and look at the back. The shell often has marks that only shell have. Yes, shell is heavier and more imperfect than plastic. It’s part of what we love about old shell buttons. After awhile you’ll be able to tell the difference all the time!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. MOP buttons have a bit of weight to them, they have imperfections, they have a luster/sheen lacking in plastic buttons, they can become dull from laundry detergents, they are often times a layering of several different colors and usually no two are perfectly identical. I’m sure there are many more ways to tell the MOP from plastics, these were the ones that quickly came to mind.


    2. MOP are colder to the touch than plastic. If in doubt, a surefire way of determining whether a button is MOP or plastic is to tap it on your teeth (gently, obviously!). You’ll soon appreciate the difference between them. Glass and plastic buttons can be confusing, too, and the same applies, as well as glass being heavier than plastic.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m from Iowa and as a child we’d find heaps of shells with little holes in them out along the Mississippi River in Guttenberg, Iowa. They had a button factory there in Guttenberg, too, as the River was a rich source of fresh-water clams. Thank you for the information for restoring old mop buttons. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is so helpful. I didn’t know you could restore them. I saw some of these shells with the holes on the Mississippi shore around Davenport Iowa. I was told that there were a button factory around there. But I never actually checked that information. Thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. MOP buttons are my favorite. I’ll be happy to try your cleaning technique to brighten up some of the dull ones. Thanks for continuing to blog and share your designs.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh my, now to go MOP treasure hunting. I have a handful of these beautiful buttons but I mostly stay away from them due to how dull and chipped they usually look. Now I know how to give them new life. I can’t wait.

    Liked by 1 person

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