How to Make Oyster Shell Buttons

Written by jen wilson
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How to Make Oyster Shell Buttons
The interior oyster shell, known as mother-of-pearl, makes for beautiful buttons. (seashell image by Allyson Ricketts from

Oyster shell buttons bring an elegant and aquatic touch to nearly every outfit they adorn. Their delicateness combined with the swirl of colours they display make them a beautiful complement to many different colours and fabrics. For those interested in making their own oyster shell buttons, the process is both exciting and challenging, and made all the more wonderful once your buttons are sewn on and admired by friends and strangers alike.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Jeweller's saw and blades
  • Fine knife
  • Sheet of paper
  • Glue stick
  • Protective gloves
  • Sturdy work surface
  • Board of wood with bird beak cutout
  • Large woodworker's clamp
  • Small woodworker's clamp

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  1. 1

    Acquire your oyster shells. The most efficient way is to pick up some from your local grocer, seafood marketplace or nearby seafood restaurant. For restaurants, call ahead of time or make friends with staff members since they will be going out of their way for you. You can also order mother-of-pearl online (see Resources).

  2. 2

    Soak your shells in equal parts of bleach and water or vinegar and water to remove the scent of the sea. Let then sit fully immersed for 12 to 24 hours, then rinse and soak them again in a solution of equal parts water and baking soda. You will need to do this multiple times to completely neutralise the oceanic aroma.

  3. 3

    Remove the mother-of-pearl, also known as nacre, from the inner surface of the shell by scooping it out with a fine knife. Wear cutting gloves during this process to protect your hands. Use the large woodworker's clamp to brace your bird beak cutout onto a sturdy surface, then add the smaller clamp to secure the piece of mother-of-pearl you will be cutting onto the cutout.

  4. 4

    Cut your desired button shape into your sheet of paper, add a thin layer of glue from your glue stick, and attach the shape pattern to the nacre. Use your jeweller's saw to carefully cut the nacre in your desired shape and size.

  5. 5

    Cut the number of button holes you would like into the button using the tip of your fine knife. Buff away any rough edges with fine-grain sandpaper. Sew your buttons onto your desired outfit and enjoy.

Tips and warnings

  • For extra shine, rub mineral oil into your new shell buttons and allow to soak in for a day before sewing them onto clothing. You can also coat them in clear fingernail polish or high-gloss clear acrylic spray for a deep shine and smoother surface.
  • Do not use detergents to clean your shells as they break down the calcium structure and weaken the shell.

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