Learn how to make your own Simple Button Lamp like they did in The Long Winter. An easy and inexpensive source of light and fun craft!
Simple Button Lamp
“She put the button in the center of the square of calico. She drew the cloth together over the button and wound a thread tightly around it and twisted the corners of calico straight upward in a tapering bunch. Then she rubbed a little axle grease up the calico and set the button into the axle grease in the saucer.”
“Give me the match, Charles, please, Ma said. She lighted the taper tip of the button lamp. A tiny flame flickered and grew stronger. It burned steadily, melting the axle grease and drawing it up through the cloth into itself, keeping itself alight by burning. The little flame was like the flame of a candle in the dark.” – The Long Winter
This winter is going to be a long, hard one. I can feel it in my bones. Plus we just happened to move into an area where the winters are supposed to be worse than what we are generally used to. You better believe I’m prepping big time!
At the moment I’m working on creating a much better winter emergency kit than we’ve ever had before. Being further from civilization now without neighbors to help if something should happen, we have to be ready to handle things on our own. When we went through Storm Atlas earlier this year, we learned many things that I planned to work on to make our winter emergencies better and easier to handle. One of those things was producing more alternative light sources. Of course, we are stocked up on flashlights, our favorite solar lamp, and candles, but it’s always good to have a backup for your backup.
I’ve been reading through The Long Winter again to find some new information that we can glean about prepping for a long winter in this very part of the country. Fun fact, The Long Winter took place right here 133 years ago. Our farmstead wasn’t quite built yet (it was built 10 years later) but I often wonder if the family that homesteaded the land was already here and if they had to go through that awful winter.
One thing that immediately caught my eye in The Long Winter this time around was the Button Lamps. I love how Ma made something out of nothing. Took the things they already had (scraps) and created what they needed (light).
Today we are going to learn to make the same thing so you can know how to create a simple and frugal source of light out of pretty much nothing if you should ever need it. Here we go!
How to Make a Button Lamp
What You Need:
- 6×6 piece of 100% Cotton Fabric
- 1 coin
- 100% Cotton Thread
- Dish or Saucer
- Oil *See Below*
How to Make a Lamp:
A few notes before we get started. Please make sure to use 100% cotton fabric and thread in this craft. You don’t want to (and may not be able to) burn synthetics. Also make sure whatever dish you put it on can handle the heat. If nothing else, use a canning jar.
If you haven’t already, cut your fabric. 6 by 6 inches is plenty big enough for this lamp.
Place your coin in the middle of the piece of fabric. We used a quarter because it provided a larger, more stable base. I know what you are thinking…why aren’t you using a button? This is a Button Lamp! Well, our plastic, fake buttons of today aren’t made the same as they were back in The Long Winter. Those would have been quality buttons made with metal. If you have a real metal button sitting around, feel free to use it, otherwise, a coin will do. Do not use a plastic or fake metal button!
Wrap the string around the fabric and make a little pouch with the coin. Tie a tight knot.
Continue to do this all the way up the fabric until you have a thick “wick”. The passage from the book doesn’t specifically say to do this but we found in testing that this works better than leaving the fabric lose.
Now for oil…Ma used axle grease…well, I’m fresh out of that. Instead, you could use lard or olive oil, or maybe a different kind of oil. You don’t need very much. Simply dip the tip of the “wick” in whatever oil you choose to use. Then place a few tablespoons on the dish or saucer you are placing the Button Lamp in.
–Find more Uses for Olive Oil.
Now the magic happens! Light your lamp! Be forewarned that the flame will be pretty large. Make sure you are doing this in the heat resistant dish and in a stable area, away from anything that might be hanging or get in the way, I suggest that this be an outdoors project, maybe for a patio table unless you are in a very well ventilated area.
–If you are looking for another easy light source to make that is better for burning indoors, try this Olive Oil Candle!
This is a fun little educational project and you never know when you might need a little light or heat source like this! Since it was a larger flame, personally I thought it’d be fun to put on the patio table and cook marshmallows over! Be forewarned that these little button lamps burn for quite a while. Make sure to use water to completely douse the flame when you are done enjoying your lamp.
Here are some more posts you might enjoy:
- Living Like The Long Winter ~ Prepping
- Living Like The Long Winter ~ Grinding Grains
- Living Like The Long Winter ~ Setting Limits
- Living Like The Long Winter ~ Being Determined
- Ways to Keep Your Mind Busy Through the Rest of a Long Winter
- Homestead Hints ~ Dealing Without Electricity
- How to Survive Temporarily With No Running Water (Without Going Crazy!)
- Living Like Little House on the Prairie
- Living Like Little House in the Big Woods
Have you ever made a Button Lamp? What are some alternative light sources you’ve made?
This Simple Button Lamp was originally published on Little House Living in December 2013. It has been updated as of December 2019.