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Buttonholer Extravaganza

2012 December 5
by elizabeth_admin

Thank you for all the compliments on my two linen shirts!  They have both been worn right away and I love them, even with their backwards pleats.  As promised, here’s my post on my brand new vintage Singer Buttonholer (No. 489500).


But first, I don’t know if you remember, but when I bought my Singer Featherweight, a partial buttonholer set was included in the accessories that came with my machine.  It included the buttonholer itself and only one cam, the 5/8th, already inside, but that was it.  No feed cover plate, no screw to attach the buttonholer and none of the other cams.  It did come with the instruction booklet though.  This model (No. 160743) matches my machine with it’s black paint and is more svelte than the buttonholer above, but it takes the same size cams.


Here’s a side by side comparison…

Ebay purchase on the left / Original purchase with machine on the right


Besides the difference in size, I noticed the following between the two models:

The white plastic model is harder to attach to my machine (probably due to size?) than the black metal model.  And look at how close the cloth clamp is to the feed cover plate.  It’s really hard to position your work without “chewing” up the fabric.  More on that later.


The black metal model makes a much more consistent buttonhole than the white plastic model.  It’s not as evident on the smaller size buttonhole in this picture, but when you see it made on a large size cam, the inconsistencies of the zigzag on the white plastic model are really pronounced.  Both are produced by going around the buttonhole twice.

White plastic model buttonhole on the left (5/16 size) / Black metal model on the right (5/8 size)


15/16 sz buttonhole on the left by white plastic model / 5/8 sz buttonhole on the right by black metal model


The cloth clamp (the part with the white notches) on the white plastic version is much more rough on the bottom than the black metal model.  The purpose for that finish on the bottom of the clamp is to grip the fabric solidly while the attachment moves it back and forth enabling my straight stitch Featherweight to make a zigzag stitch.  Obviously, it needs to grip the fabric adequately to accomplish its purpose, but does it need to chew the fabric as you place your garment into position?  There were parts of my shirt that I needed to hammer to get it thin enough to position in the right place.  With 6 fabric thicknesses, two of them interfaced, at the collar and stand join, it was impossible to get my collar into position with the white plastic model without hammering the collar stand first.


Distressed buttonhole


Above you can see how the fabric has been manhandled.  I think, but am not sure, since I didn’t use it on either of shirts, that the black metal model is higher off the feed cover plate, thereby making it easier to place your work under the attachment.  It’s smoother cloth clamp surface also means that your fabric is less likely to be manhandled during the process.

I wish I had thought to try out the black metal buttonholer when I was constructing my shirts.  Hindsight is 20/20, huh?  I am still satisfied with my buttonholes though.  They are perfectly serviceable and I doubt that anyone will look at them as closely as I do.  (Well, except for Alexia maybe, as she noticed my backwards pleats straight off.)



Here are my two buttonholer instruction booklets side by side.  On the black metal model, there is a handwritten note inside which reads, “Lay Tissue paper on material, set, then pull paper out.  Or wrap paper around edge of material & etc.  Thin knit go around 3 times.”  I wonder if this was to prevent fabric chewing?


Note how the white plastic model’s instructions say that it is intended for use on Singer family sewing machines “without [requiring] any special skill on the part of the operator.”  That is so funny!  I wonder if they meant that to be supercilious in tone.  The black metal model’s booklet says that it is designed for use on the Class 301 family sewing machines.  My machine is a 221 class.  Hmmm…  It still works on my Featherweight 221.  And I like it’s buttonholes better.  Peter, do you want to chime in here with any info you may have between the two models?

So, in closing, I am happy that I have two buttonholers.  I have a lot of different size cams, although I am missing the eyelet cam.  I can now make buttonholes easily and quickly without any of the problems I always had with my Husqvarna buttonholer.  What a piece of crap that was.  I almost want to throw it out in disgust.

Let me know if you have any questions about my buttonholers.  I would be happy to answer them.

11 Responses leave one →
  1. December 5, 2012

    Both those buttonhole samples look good to me but here’s my 2-cents:

    1) Linen is a rougher, bulkier material that’s more likely to catch on the underside of the buttonholer. You’ll have much better results with smooth shirting, especially if we’re talking six layers.

    2) You’re always compromising when you use the feed dog cover plate because you lose space (it was the same with me when I used mine with an old Singer Spartan I no longer own). Get yourself an old 201 or 15-91 or Singer straight stitch machine whose feed dogs drop, and you will have an easier time. I doubt this would be hard to find in Southern California but you might not want another machine right now.

    3) I actually have one of those black buttonholers — it came with one of my Featherweights — but I’ve yet to ever attach it. It DOES look slimmer but I’m not sure that has anything to do with anything other than aesthetics. I think Greist made the black ones; I could be wrong. Anyway, now I want to try my black one and see if I can see any difference.

  2. December 5, 2012

    The both look great compared to my Janome button holes…and we are talking about a TOL machine that does beautiful embroidery!

  3. December 5, 2012

    One last thing: my understanding is that an eyelet cam was never included (nor was it part of the additional set of 4 templates) — it would have had to be purchased separately. It’s not missing.

    Copies (and originals) show up on eBay if you really want one.

  4. December 5, 2012

    I’ve got that black one, and I’ve used it on my featherweight – I found I had just about enough room for shirt buttons, but I had a horrible time getting my jeans waistband under it. I got there in the end though. I did think of hammering, but didn’t think it would make much difference – I should have had a little faith.

    I love your linen shirts and I actually have fabric almost identical to your red linen that’s already earmarked for a button up shirt. I hope mine will be half as well turned out as yours!

  5. December 5, 2012

    Peter did a good job of answering your questions; the only thing I would add is don’t forget to use your presser foot adjustment – it could make a difference with that clearance.

    I have a couple of the black buttonholers, and I prefer to use them on a 201 or a 15, rather than than the Featherweight.

    The 301, btw, is often referred to as the feather’s “big sister” – it takes all of the same feet and attachments, including the bobbin case & bobbins. I can’t speak to the cream buttonholer specifically though, as I don’t have one.

    Another btw…if you want to give your little darling a good polishing and spiffing up, I have a blog post with pretty detailed instructions – it’s fun and SO rewarding!

  6. December 6, 2012

    The 301 is actually a slant machine, so it would not take the same attachments as the 221, 15-91, or 201. Singer made slant buttonholers, of course, so you’d need one of those.

    • December 6, 2012

      ::slaps head:: brain drain! That was my first thought, and then that thought disappeared when I read the the buttonhole fit on the FW….. . Odd. The fact that it fit, not that I had a brain drain, which is not odd at all….

  7. Lois permalink
    December 6, 2012

    I love my black button holer, slant needle style that I use on Mom’s old 401 machine. I prefer regular printer paper (rather than tissue) for sliding the fabric under the foot without snagging it on the bottom of the foot. Lay the paper on top of the fabric, slide it under just getting it close to the correct position. Then pull the paper out and carefully fine tune the position. After you’ve stitched the buttonhole, pull the bobbin thread up and clip both threads, then slide the paper back in place to remove your fabric from under the foot.

    For thick edges, loosen the buttonhole foot, position the fabric under it and tighten the foot. You can drop the needle into the fabric to hold it in place while you retighten the foot.

  8. December 8, 2012

    I have a hard time using my buttonholer on my Featherweight. Partly the feed dog cover plate is awkward, but the big thing seemed to be that the buttonher body was a smudge too tall, so the presser foot lever wouldn’t go quite all the way down when it was attached, and as a result the buttonholer didn’t grip the fabric quite right. Obviously this might not be the case here, but. . So if your little black buttonholer is lower, that might make a difference. Mine works much better on some of the other machines, especially those with droppable feed dogs. They look great, though, really.

  9. Jean permalink
    February 19, 2013

    Somewhere I picked up the tip of using a piece of plastic such as covers of Christmas card boxes are made of to help slide my fabric under the buttonholer. I’ve not had the chewing of the fabric, but I have much difficulty with the buttonhole in the collar stand. How does hammering it reduce the thickness?

    • elizabeth_admin permalink*
      February 21, 2013

      Just like using a mallet on a chicken breast thins it to make chicken flat, a hammer reduces the thickness of the collar. I really only need to hammer the tips where all the bulk of the SA’s are, despite trimming them down as much as possible. It does distress the fibers though a little.

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