Refined Details: The Porcelain Button

From Series No. 22, the new cashmere X Scarf featuring porcelain buttons handmade by ceramicist Len Carella.



Attention to detail is a fundamental precept at the Atelier, and we recently collaborated with our friend, San Francisco artist Len Carella, on an exquisite embellishment: porcelain buttons. We previously worked with Len on our ShanFeng Incense Vessel, and this time he turned his hand to the smallest of ceramic objects.

Buttons can be an art from in themselves; most notably, the iconic 20th century ceramicist Lucie Rie designed many.  Earlier this year the Kettle’s Yard house and museum at Cambridge presented the exhibition, Lucie Rie: The Adventure of Pottery which included her button work. As the exhibition noted, Rie "made ceramic buttons for the fashion industry, experimenting on a miniature scale with new forms and coloured glazes.”


Lucie Rie, “Lettuce” stoneware button, ca.1940-45.
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London.


For this commission, Lan wanted Carella to showcase the pure beauty of porcelain. In the spirit of ShanFeng, her line of pure undyed cashmere, silk, and cotton garments, the buttons would be left in their natural color, evoking Blanc de Chine.



 The Blanc de Chine cardigan from the ShanFeng line of undyed cashmere. Artful buttons handcrafted by Len Carella.


“Porcelain is notoriously difficult to work with, and requires a more specialized hand," says Carella. To create each button, Carella rolls out little slabs of porcelain clay, cuts them, and punctures the holes. The button holes are drilled with a tiny tool. "It's labor intensive, and sometime they break, or crack when fired," says Carella. "It’s a process and you learn to refine your technique.” Each button is also smoothed and refined by hand. 



 The tiny tools used to craft each button. 


Each button is also hand stamped with the insignia of ShanFeng. The characters represent Mountain | Wind, and are poetically evocative of the origin story of clay. "Clay is a rock powder that runs down the mountain, and is swept downstream where it settles in little pockets," says Carella. "That’s where people collect it.”



 The ShanFeng insignia is hand-pressed onto each button. 


The final step is glazing. "Porcelain holds glaze so beautifully," says Carella. "There will be an unglazed version—a matte, bright white--and one with a clear, glaze—a glossy white that almost registers as a very pale blue."

Accompanying the Lucie Rie exhibition is Artist Buttons, a project featuring buttons made by ten leading artists, including Edmund de Waal, Ai Weiwei, and Cornelia Parker, in support of Kettle’s Yard. To paraphrase French philosopher Gaston Bachelard's reflections on the miniature, "A tiny door opens a world."



Ceramicist Edmund de Waal (left) and sculptor Antony Gormley's (right) work for the Kettle's Yard Artist Button project.