Publishing from Scratch: The Button Factory

People always ask me where we get our project ideas. While it’s true that many of the things we publish come from literary agents’ and authors’ pitches, a lot of what we make is born right here by the brains of Chronicle employees.

Fig. 1: The Button Factory.

Here’s a rundown of just some of the things that went into creating this project from scratch.

In July 2009, my coworkers and I cooked up this idea in Format Breakfast, a weekly meeting where Chronicle’s editors, designers, and production coordinators come together to think, talk, draw, and build dream projects. We come up with a lot of stinkers, it’s true, but a lot of gems, too. One Line a Day, 642 Things to Draw, and Port-a-Pug, to name just a few favorites.

We all love buttons (aka, pins or badges, depending on your provenance) and were lamenting how expensive button-makers are. We decided it would be awesome to offer an affordable way to cover buttons with fabric. We hammered out what the kit should include, did our competition research to see how our product had to be distinctive, and then I pitched the project to our board (sounds scary, but actually pretty fun). They agreed it would be a strategic addition to our list. Game on!!

With the board’s shiny seal of approval blessing our project, we then spent many months going back and forth with various printers to arrive at an affordable format that we liked. It’s quite costly to publish things that include non-paper components, so we had to explore many different scenarios.

We looked at boxes with windows, boxes without windows, and hanging blister packs. Anne in design made these rough schematics to communicate our vision so that Erin in production could request pricing estimates and dummies from printers. I also used these visual schematics to consult with our sales and marketing teams about which packaging direction they felt would be most successful for the stores that would do well with something like this. In the end, I was so happy we settled on a Kraft paper box sealed with a big label. In addition to liking the way it looked, this option was the more environmentally friendly route, as it doesn’t require any plastic for a window. Without that see-through window to display the box’s contents, we’d have to rely on photography and text to communicate what you’ll find inside the box.

While all this format research and development was happening, I wrote the manuscript over winter break last year. I’m usually an editor, not an author! So I started with the bare bones, charting out in my Moleskine what content I needed to cover (see below). I wrote text explaining how to cover buttons with fabric and project ideas for using vintage fabric, making photo pins, spreading birthday wishes, promoting a business, adorning buttons with embroidery, and making button cards.

For the photographs, Anne hired the dynamic duo Rebecca Thuss and Patrick Farrell of THUSSFARRELL. I was blown away by their work on this project – they went above and beyond. They made so many fabric-covered buttons for their photo shoot, they discovered some really useful craft tips that I added into the manuscript. And their photos were so fun, we decided to extend the length of the booklet so we could include more. With THUSSFARRELL’s inspiring photos in hand, Anne designed the booklet, cover sticker, box, and four custom fabric designs. We knew from the beginning we wanted a super poppy, ’80s palette, so it didn’t take long to come to a consensus on the designs.

In September 2010, just over a year after we started, we reviewed and approved color proofs and all the final component samples from the printer. And in December, the best moment of satisfaction ever: an advance copy hit my desk, I tested the components, they all worked, and this button factory was in business. (Well, after they are assembled, travel across an ocean, arrive at our warehouse, are inventoried, and distributed to accounts around the world. No big deal.)

Now we get to share our creation with you. Our sales team has been pitching The Button Factory far and wide – literally to stores around the world. One of the most exciting things about this project is two foreign publishers, one in Sweden and one in Germany, like it so much they’re going to translate and publish their own editions. I cannot wait to see what I wrote translated into Swedish and German (Die Bütton Faktory?!). Product started shipping to stores last week. You can find it online now on our site, at Urban, at Barnes & Noble, and beyond.

This is a super simplified slice of the mountain of work that goes into this kind of homegrown publishing. If you have questions about things I glossed over, fire away in the comments.

I’m so excited to share this project with you, that I’ll choose one commenter at random to send a copy so you too can spread The Button Factory love.

Kate Woodrow



  • Nari March 17, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    I'd love to be a fly on the wall during the Format Breakfast meetings! I love the Button Factory. What an awesome gift for crafters. I could definitely use those awesome buttons to add to the clothes that I knit. =)


  • nancy wong March 17, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    love this! i had an obsession with buttons and pins throughout school…and it really hasn't stopped (it's just become more sophisticated in nature…i now collect brooches!) would love to get this…i am looking at it NOW! =)


  • Tara K March 17, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    How fun! Sign me up!


  • Kelly M March 17, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    Super cool! What would be really great extension pack would be "low-tac" paper that you could mount the fabric to and then run through your ink jet for a multi-layered effect. Love the package and am sort of addicted to button badges…

    I'm the Creative Director for a non-profit, and for a fundraiser last year I designed the small badges that fastened onto the guest's name tags (I had notches die cut into the laminated tags). Each event entertainment you bought (pre-event, VIP, raffle, etc) garnered you a pin for your name tag. The tag showed room for 5, and we had people buying up the entertainment just to have a full tag. Or finding them on the floor and adding them in. HA!


  • beth March 18, 2011 at 10:36 am

    I would love these fabric buttons to mix and match each day. I'm sure the girls at my Library would have a great time making them and being creative in their color choices.


  • kelli March 18, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    I love hearing the stories about how products are created! I'd love to make my own badges.


  • Laila March 18, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    What a cool new kit! This looks like loads of fun and a brilliant project to do with kids, fingers crossed I win. Something to entertain the 2 little ones this spring!


  • @glasscastle March 18, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    Fabric buttons would be fantastic fun for adding to little coin purses my daughter and I are making. Now that she's 8, we are doing lots of sewing. Awesome kit, I'd love to see another one where kids can make their art into 1 inch buttons. Thanks!


  • Jessica C. March 22, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    I've always meant to learn how to make buttons. This would be the perfect thing to help get me started.


  • Ingvild March 23, 2011 at 10:09 am

    Sounds like such a fun book – both to make and to read! I would have so much fun doing these with my kids.


  • Nnenna March 23, 2011 at 10:45 am

    This is such an awesome idea for a book project and it is so cool to read about the behind-the-scenes process! I can't wait to pop into my local bookstore and take a look through! 🙂


  • @ModernGirlStyle March 23, 2011 at 11:39 am

    Totally awesome idea. I loved the finished box. The whole kit looks like a spring day of fun!


  • sherri s. March 24, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    Love seeing the whole process of how a product gets from point A to point Z. I'm probably late to the party, but please enter me in the giveaway! Thanks!


  • Kate W. March 24, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    Ding ding ding! We have a winner – congratulations, Nari! We'll send you a copy of The Button Factory stat. I hope you like it. And, thanks everyone, for reading and commenting.


  • Annabel Richards July 6, 2011 at 7:21 am

    Hi I'm from the UK and got this book a few days ago and LOVE it. I can see, however, that I will run out of backs and fronts very quickly – do you know where I will be able to buy more of these? Great great book!!


    • Kate W. July 9, 2011 at 10:04 pm

      Hi Annabel, thanks! So glad you like it. For now, you can always buy another kit to make more pins. And for future crafting, know that we're hard at work at Chronicle figuring out the best way to offer refill supplies (more pin fronts and backs) – stay tuned for more info!


  • Dara July 11, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    I love your kit! I've been going crazy making pins. I have even been skipping the pin back and making some rings. I was just wondering which brand of photo paper would you recommend? I had some leftover from a project that I used but it was waaaay too thick and the buttons were too hard to make.


  • fred August 4, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    where can i order the badge components when i run out? thanks, great machine / idea.


  • andrea e October 21, 2011 at 7:18 am

    Hi there,
    I'm starting a bit of a big craft project, and need many more of these buttons and backs…any idea where I can get them?


  • ckilgore January 9, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    Hello all! I have been looking for refills too since my daughter blew through the supplied badges in the blink of an eye. Not sure if they will work, but I found these and they look similar to the ones that come with the kit, so I am going to give them a try:


    • joholly January 19, 2012 at 10:05 am

      Did they work? Am in UK but very keen to find some refills for this fab kit from anywhere…nothing from here fits! My daughter went through them all on Christmas day!


    • Kate Woodrow February 13, 2012 at 2:48 pm

      That's a good idea, ckilgore! I've never tried those specific pin fronts and backs. If you use them, will you leave a comment letting us all know how they work out for you? We've had some requests for refill packs but it's not something we're able to offer at this point. You might try their 22-mm option, since our button-covering tool is intended for 1-inch (25-mm) buttons. (The 28-mm one you linked to might be too large…)


  • Crafted by Carly April 30, 2012 at 4:45 am

    Hi there,
    I LOVE this kit! I am totally addicted to making fabric-covered buttons, so making fabric-coloured BADGES was a very exciting prospect indeed! 🙂
    I have a cheeky little question for you. I’ve almost run out of the 25 badges in the kit, and really want to make some more. Can you reccommend anywhere where I can buy the blank buttons from?
    Happy week to you!


    • Kate Woodrow April 30, 2012 at 4:09 pm

      Hi Carly – I haven't used these badges myself, but another fan of the kit (ckilgore) suggested above that these badge fronts and backs might work:

      I think the 28-mm will be your best bet, but it looks like that company makes a variety of sizes. And they're really affordable, so would be worth a try.

      Good luck! And I'm happy to hear you're loving our kit! That's awesome.


  • LIsa May 15, 2012 at 5:41 am

    PLEASE!! Where do we order button refills?


  • Kate W. September 5, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    Looking for refills? Unfortunately we do not publish refill packs at this time. But you can find them from other vendors. I would suggest shopping your local craft store or your favorite online craft supply source. These ones that Christy (above) suggested look like a good option:

    And we now have four Button Factory titles available. If you're looking for more fabric options and additional pin fronts/backs, try these kits:





    It's so nice to hear you're having fun making badges with our kits!! Happy crafting!


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