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creative uses for pinback buttons… and all about PAX!

First off, I apologize for not putting up a post last Friday. I was in Seattle, busily depriving myself of sleep and being surrounded by 90,000 or so amazing people. It was awesome. My lack of posting was less than awesome, but let’s remember my double post of the previous week and move along, forgiving and forgetting. Should be quite easy if you were at PAX and are thus as sleep deprived as me.

PAX, for anyone unfamiliar with the event, is a twice-annual celebration of all things gamer and geeky, an encapsulation of why online gaming communities, D&D groups and games night companions are amazing and will make your life a happier place, full of rainbows and unicorns and (My Little) ponies. It’s a massive video game convention hosted by Penny Arcade, an event to which the word “epic” can actually be applied with honesty and accuracy. It’s a place where people dress up as blue aliens because it makes them awesome. Everyday life should be so wonderful.

It’s difficult to describe the whole weekend without spiralling into run-on sentences of glassy-eyed wonder and incoherent adoration. One of the neatest things about this year was how much of a spontaneous reunion it became. Every year more of my friends attend, and every year I get to know more and more people at PAX, and throughout the weekend we’d see someone and I’d think, “Cool, we’ve now run into everyone here that we know!” And then I’d be proven wonderfully wrong as we turned a corner and bumped into someone else.

The talented Mike Robless! Works for WotC, performs hilarious nerdy improv, sings his heart out at karaoke.

One of the awesome Enforcers, also from the island!

Another awesome enforcer. Had to get pictures with Enforcers while wearing those shirts, you see.

And then we bumped into the fellow who had designed the I <3 Enforcers t-shirts (as a Child's Play fundraiser)

We got to do things like play Cthulhu gloom and Cthulhu Fluxx and one of WoTC’s up-and-coming, not-yet-released boardgames.  We got our faces made into MtG token cards and enjoyed a wild and crazy dance floor where people were simply having fun, not getting down and dirty. We went to an improv show, we did an MtG draft, we met people we know online and connected IRL faces with avatars. We learned how to play Betrayal. We tried out the Mass Effect 3 demo and the new Zelda game. I managed to kill three dudes in the Skyrim demo, instead of being killed, which just goes to show how far I’ve come towards not totally sucking at games in the last few years. I could go on and on, but if you were at PAX you already have the idea, and if you weren’t at PAX hopefully you’re thinking that you should be next year.

Turns out it's quite tricky to balance a unicorn on one's head. But Paul is a determined fellow.

Some of the Bandland folks get their hackey sack on. Overall, not a show of great atheletic prowess. One of great hilarity and fun for all, though.

Now, I promised a craft tutorial as well, but first we need a segue. Shouldn’t be too hard, because…

…there’s a huge overlap in the communities of gaming and geekery and crafting, and this is always evidenced at PAX. People wander around in the most incredible array of homemade costumes, they carry self-constructed Portal guns and Companion Cubes, they lug their merch and Magic cards around in hand stitched Castle Crashers tote bags, they walk around with self-designed puppet companions. And I was so busy admiring all this crafting goodness that, for the most part, I utterly failed to document it with photos. But trust me, these things were there, and they were awesome.

T-shirt mod buddies! Both of us wearing the same Threadless shirt, modified two totally different ways. How awesome is that?!

Crafts are magical, and Magic was meant for crafting with.

Wee Castle Crashers!!

A few years ago, the trend of giving out and trading pinback buttons got started at PAX Prime. As an obsessive crafter, I am all over the idea of collecting small pretty, aesthetically pleasing things. And while I’m certainly not among the most determined of PAX’s buttoneers, I do have enough buttons from the past couple years to add significant weight to the front of my shoulder bag.

Two PAX's worth of buttons

My very first personalized PAX buttons.

I’ve been looking for creative uses for these buttons once PAX is over. Obviously you can wear them on bags or clothes, but I worry about losing them. And Murphy’s law dictates that you’ll lose your favourite, most irreplaceable buttons first and always. There are also just so many of them. So, what else can you do with all these buttons?

1) Turn them into magnets. 

You’ll need:

  • buttons
  • magnets (small round ones that you can get at the hardware store)
  • superglue
  • pliers
First, use the pliers to pull out the actual pin backing. This is pretty easy – the backings pop in when the buttons are made, and can be popped right back out again with a bit of force. You should actually be able to do it without the pliers, but they make things easier.

If you have a larger pin, that has a different kind of backing on it, use wire cutters to remove most of the backing, and a hammer to flatten down the little bits that are left.

Use the superglue to attach the magnet to the back of the pin (there will also be some magnetic force between the two objects to help out).

Apply to your fridge, filing cabinet or pet robot.

Use this same method to make your buttons into thumb tacks, by gluing flat-headed tacks to the back, rather than magnets.


2) Use them to decorate gifts. When you wrap your presents, tie a lovely ribbon bow on top and pin a button in the middle.


3) Put them on a headband. Maybe you want to wear your buttons, but not on your shirt? Get a cheap fabric or fabric-wrapped headband from the dollar store and pin the buttons on. Attach just one or two, or a whole line of buttons. Mix up shapes and sizes.


4) Make into cupcake toppers. Cupcakes are so very in right now, which means cupcake toppers are also all over the place. Well why not have a post (or pre) convention party and decorate your food with adorable mementos of the event?
You’ll need:
  • buttons
  • toothpicks
  • paper
  • circle punch or a pencil and a pair of scissors
  • superglue
  • pliers or wire cutters
Use your pliers to remove the pin backing from the button, as described in part 1).

Cut a circle of paper about the same size as your button. I have a circle punch just the right size, which is very fast and convenient. The other, rather obvious option, is simply to trace the button onto a piece of paper, and cut out the resulting circle.

Glue one end of a toothpick to the middle of the paper circle, and let it dry.

Apply glue carefully around the back edges of the button, then center the button on the paper circle, and hold down while it dries.

Combine with cupcake. Though I do recommend real cupcakes over paper ones…


5) Make them into earrings, a necklace or a bracelet. This, if you hadn’t guessed, is my favourite option.

You’ll need:
  • buttons* – two matching (or mismatched, if you like) buttons for earrings, one for a pendant.
  • needle nosed pliers
  • round nosed pliers
  • wire cutters
  • jewelry findings (earring hooks, chain and clasps for a necklace or bracelet, jump rings to add length… whatever you want)
*For this project the buttons have to be the small 1 inch ones that have the pop-out pin backs.

Use your needle nosed pliers to bend the pointy ended pin bit of the backing outward and up, so it makes a straight line pointing out from the edge of the button. Be sure that the bit of wire that curves under the back edge of the button stays curved under, so that the pin backing will not fall out.

Use your wire cutters to trip off the sharp tip of this piece of metal. Remove about 1/8 inch.

Use your round nosed pliers to bend the metal into a small circle. Spin the backing around so that this loop is situated wherever you’d like the top of the earring or pendant to be.

Attach whatever jewelry findings you wish to make the button into an earring, a pendant, or a bracelet charm.

And if your new earrings happen to match your dress… well! Then you’re really in business!

If you have a bunch of buttons that look nice together, or share a theme, you might want to make them into a sort of charm bracelet, or make a necklace with multiple buttons dangling from it.

Now you can start fresh at next year’s PAX, with your bag empty and ready for the next batch of awesome geeky buttons. And if you have other ideas for alternate button uses, I’d love to hear them!
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  1. Oscelot

     /  September 3, 2011

    Love all the ideas! Are you still going to be putting up the hand printed buttons for sale somewhere? I’d still love to get some from you.

  2. Risia

     /  September 3, 2011

    That’s my Pinkie Pie button on the pink gift wrapped package! :)

    What great ideas for reusing the Buttoneering trades… I’m totally making jewelry and fridge magnets out of mine now.

  3. admin

     /  September 3, 2011

    Oscelot: I have quite a few hand printed buttons left, and if people are interested in them I’m happy to list them in my Etsy store.

  4. Heather

     /  September 3, 2011

    Cool. Most of these are pretty new for ideas that I’ve seen to do with pinback buttons.

    Here’s a necklace I did with some a while back: http://fav.me/d1nzhai

    You punch a hole on one side of the button and then twist the pin part from the next button over into it, to keep them all together.

  5. Ariannie

     /  September 3, 2011

    Greetings from Finland! Loving the ideas and Loving the blog =)

  6. Oscelot

     /  September 4, 2011

    woot! I’ll keep an eye on the store then :3

  7. I love the creative uses for buttons you provided. So clever! I’ve been wanting to make my own buttons for quite some time, and now I can see there’s a button maker in my future!

  8. Rebecca

     /  September 6, 2011

    I luv luv luv these ideas!! I collect pins and I keep them on my bag. I will probably make the headband right now!!

  9. admin

     /  September 12, 2011

    Righto, as Oscelot was asking about it, I have listed my hand printed buttons featuring the Tally`s Bestiary critters in my shop: http://www.etsy.com/listing/81614062/tallys-treasury-critters-set-of-3

  10. Our Pin Back Button Holder does these things and MORE :) Just saying :)


    • Tally

       /  April 2, 2012

      Y’know Kyle, I generally dislike companies advertising stuff in the comments (just sayin’), but in this case that DOES seem pretty relevant to the interests of those who might read this post. :) Also, you guys should totally be selling your stuff at conventions.

  11. Nicole

     /  July 31, 2014

    I’ve got a whole collection of buttons I absolutely love but they sit in a jar, unused, because I’m afraid to lose them. Now, not only do I have some fantastic ideas for my own buttons, but endless possibilities for giving them as gifts too. Thank you!

  12. Superb blog! Do you have any tips and hints for aspiring writers?

    I’m planning to start my own site soon but I’m a little
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  13. Hi there, this weekend is good for me, since this occasion i am reading this great informative post here at my

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