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Thread Buttons - A soldier’s primary job might be to fight an enemy, but that doesn’t mean they spent most of their time in battle. Much time would be spent training, doing domestic chores, and maintaining one’s uniform. Proper dress has been part of military culture for a long time, and the 18th-century English army uniform was such a defining feature that its soldiers are often referred to as “redcoats.” The trims and buttons on the coats helped distinguish soldiers of different ranks, and buttons found archaeologically in Maryland illustrate how these important fasteners were made., Photo images of 2 bone button molds:Bone Button Molds for Thread or Fabric Covered Buttons, Date: ca. 1750-1780, Site Name: Fort Frederick, Site Number:18WA20/Left: Lot 1121, Right: 20-T.001 - Several bone button molds and button-making waste (below) have been recovered at Fort Frederick, illustrating one of the crafts undertaken by soldiers in colonial Maryland. Fort Frederick was constructed by Maryland Governor Horatio Sharpe between 1756 and 1758 during the French and Indian War. The fort did not actually see any battles during the War, but it did serve as a staging area to support the English cause.  Use of the fort ceased in 1758 after the English captured Fort Duquesne in Pittsburgh and relieved pressure on the Maryland frontier.  It was briefly pressed into service again during the 1763 Pontiac Rebellion, but again the main battles took place in Pennsylvania and the fort was soon abandoned. During the American Revolution, Fort Frederick was used as a prisoner of war camp for English and Hessian soldiers.  As an archaeological site, Fort Frederick is helpful in understanding the daily life of 18th-century soldiers and prisoners of war. Maintaining one’s uniform was one thing soldiers could do while waiting for battle. Cow ribs left over after butchering offered a chance to make button molds, which in turn could be covered with fabric or thread and sewn to uniforms. While sewing such items might typically be considered women’s work in the 18th century, not all soldiers brought their wives on the march, nor were all soldiers married, so it was common for men to carry a “housewife” or  “hussif,” which was a portable sewing kit that allowed them to tackle small sewing and mending projects., Photo image of a gold thread button cover:Gold Thread Button Cover, Date: ca. 1720-1750, Site Name: Oxon Hill Manor, Site Number:18PR175/2388 - While some button molds were simply covered with fabric to match a garment, others were covered in thread that was strategically wrapped around a mold in attractive geometric patterns. The button cover shown here is an example of such work, often referred to as passementerie.  This button is extravagant for a number of reasons. First, it uses metallic thread to give it a gold appearance. Although not visible to the naked eye, the silk threads are wrapped in microscopic ribbons of metal, like the ones featured in Bonny Wee Baubles. Second, it takes a lot of thread to wrap a single button in this way. Third, metallic thread required special handling and cleaning to prevent corrosion from forming and making the threadwork look dull. Finally, metallic thread buttons were less durable than buttons made of cast metal, so they weren’t practical for garments that needed to last. For all of these reasons, those who wore such buttons were showing off their wealth and position in society. Namely, their status as individuals exempt from doing the kind of work that would dirty and wear down metallic threadwork.  The coats of 18th-century English officers did boast metallic threadwork, which effectively communicated their rank.  Displays of fine clothing also served to impress and intimidate the people the English Army interacted with, from American Indians to the natives of India. Finally, as portrayed in the Outlander series, metallic thread trimmings fit well with the English Army’s perception of itself as more “civilized” than the various “barbaric” and “savage” groups they conquered in Scotland and throughout the colonies., Photo image of bone button blanks, caption reads:Bone button blanks, such as the ones from Ft. Frederick (above) could be covered with fabric or thread. The gold thread button cover from Oxon Hill Manor (above right) would probably have had a wooden mold with a domed front, and if it were still attached to the mold, it would look like the button illustrated here, front and back (right), also displaying a front and back example of thread wrapped buttons., styles of buttons shown from Diderot's Encyclopedie (1751-1765), caption:Diderot's Encyclopedie (1751-1765) illustrates several popular styles of buttons, including the two at left which are described as gold buttons of the “garde d’épée” or sword guard. Courtesy of the Robert Charles Lawrence Ferguson Collection, the Society of the Cincinnati, Washington, DC.