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What is “Ligne”? The Insider’s Guide to Buttons

If you’ve been exploring the button section of our website you would have by now come across the word “ligne”. Unless you are au fait with your button history you may not have heard this word before or know which size ligne measurement is the best to use for different clothing.

The history of “ligne”

Ligne is a historic unit of length. It is a French word meaning “line”. It is used to measure the diameter of a button and has been used as such for centuries! Although the measurement was generally replaced with the adoption of the metric system, the term is still used to this day to measure buttons.  It is also used in ribbon manufacturing and by watchmakers and horologists to measure the size of watch movements.

How to measure button ligne

As the internationally recognised standard for button measurement, the term ligne is usually expressed as “L”.   Measuring the diameter of a button is easily done with a standard ruler if you just need the millimetre or inch equivalent as per the table below:

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However, if you need to know the ligne measurement it can be a little trickier. As you can see from the table some buttons are extremely close in size which is where a ligne gauge can come in handy. This tool usually shows both the ligne and millimetres of a button so can provide the measurement with more accuracy.

Ligne button gauge

Traditional button ligne gauge showing the measurement of a horn button. The top measurement shows this button measures 30 ligne, equivalent to the bottom measurement which shows 19mm.

James Grove Button Gauge

This button ligne gauge was given to our MD Jonathan Bernstein from James Grove & Sons Ltd., a British button manufacturer established in 1857 which unfortunately ceased trading in December 2012. B&B acquired stocks from James Grove and continue to offer horn buttons which are fully stock supported.

 What button and where?

The size of the button depends on its use. We stock buttons from 14L to 45L which span uses from small shirt buttons to large double-breasted overcoat buttons. The most typically used button sizes are 16L for shirts, 24L for jacket cuffs and 32L for the front of single breasted jackets.

We also stock buttons in both 4 hole and 2 hole. Although traditionally 4 hole buttons are used in men’s tailoring and 2 hole buttons in women’s tailoring, it really does come down to personal preference of both the tailor and their customer.

More than just the button…

We also stock all the traditional components that go into hand making buttonholes.  This includes buttonhole gimp, buttonhole twist, and even the beeswax used to wax threads making them easier to use with precision work such as hand sewing buttonholes.

You can view the wide range of buttons we offer, including genuine horn, mother of pearl and some exclusive solid gold button sets, on our website here.