Button, Button, Tile & Button

I don’t like tile.

Oops. Did that just come out of my mouth? In a, you know, tile store? Yes, yes it did.

I’ve carried the shame of that moment for more than 30 years, which really is a shame since what I said isn’t even true. I mean, it would be one thing–not a good thing, exactly, but at least an on-the-other-hand thing–if I had stood up rudely but fearlessly for some principle. If I had spoken truth to power. Instead, I just spoke frustration to a tile salesperson.

I like tile just fine, but picking backsplash tile to match or to complement or at least to-not-look-completely-boring-against a kitchen countertop sounds like it should be simple, and yet it is not. Young and carefree, I walked into the tile store with my countertop sample, naively confident that it would be a matter of five minutes to select something spectacular. Older but wiser, I walked out an hour later with a pedestrian selection that at least/best didn’t offend.

What was the problem? The tile colours were just a little bit off my countertop colour, even though they were all from the same production year or five-year. It wasn’t like I was trying to update a Boomer countertop with a GenX backsplash, for goodness sake.

Standing in that tile store, just after dissing the salesperson’s entire reason for working, I had my epiphany: I should have chosen the tile first. I remembered, fondly but uselessly now, the seemingly endless shades I had seen in the laminate-countertop showroom and catalogue. It would have been easier to pick some delightful tile and then go find a countertop that went with it.

I hate buttons.

At least this time my voice is only in my head. I’m in a warehouse-style fabric-&-notions store with a wider selection of buttons than I’ve ever seen in my life. Long skinny boxes (4x4x12 inches) are stacked 3-deep along each of 5 shelves, extending for 20 feet. Boxes on the top shelf look me in the chin. Top to bottom, end to end, that’s a lot of boxes. A lot of buttons. A lot of choices.

With all these choices it should be simple to pick buttons to match or to complement or at least to-not-look-completely-boring-affixed-to a neckwarmer scarf I have just finished knitting. And yet, it is not. The buttonholes are already made according to the pattern, so I’m constrained in the size I can consider. That eliminates at least three-quarters of the boxes, but the real problem is the colour.

I want a spectacular button: something that will pick up one of the subtle shades in the yarn; something that will look as if it was made for this very purpose. Something that will add to the beauty of the project and not just sit there, a utilitarian nondescript lump. Even with 100 cubic feet of buttons to choose from (top to bottom, end to end, front to back), even with the maybe one-quarter of that plenitude that is relevant this day, after an hour I walk out with something that is only OK. Something that will not offend.

While it seems ridiculous to build a knitting project–to choose the yarn–around the buttons, I begin to suspect that this might be the easier path. As far as I know, no one does this: Lightning strikes in the button store, or they settle. I’m pretty sure I know which one happens more often.

I’m also pretty sure this all ties into some design or project-planning principle about letting the element with the fewest degrees-of-freedom drive said design or project plan. In tiles and buttons, I’ve seen two examples of the power of that principle, although I clearly haven’t, you know, learned it in any useful sense.

Third time lucky?

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6 Responses to Button, Button, Tile & Button

  1. Tom Watson says:

    “Button, button, tile and button.” Ah, so many choices, so little time.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – 🙂 Yes, for sure. I guess for me the challenge isn’t in picking one, it’s picking two to go together, but at different times and in different places.

  2. Ken from Kenora says:

    Your button choices are perfect. My wife, Franny from Fort Frances, loves them. Thank you so much. Safe travels.

  3. Alison says:

    You need a button box! I inherited mine from my Grandma R, with additions from my mum, and at least that way, you CAN pick the buttons before you start the project. Although, if you need several the same, it might be an issue? I fondly remember spending time sorting through the box, an activity that still remains popular with my grandkids.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Alison – A good point. I do have such a box at home. I’ll give that a try next time.

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