Many vintage buttonholers work delightfully on modern sewing machines. The following Q&A guide explores the what and why of vintage buttonholers.

Vintage buttonholers. Maybe they’ve caught your eye on eBay or at a rummage sale. They kinda look like walking feet on steroids.

Vintage buttonholers are handy-dandy attachments that work on many MODERN sewing machines. I have an old-school buttonholer for my post-2000s Babylock, and it works a treat (after tension adjustments).

Following is a Q&A on vintage buttonholers, including a video where you can see mine in action. If you’re a sewing-notion junkie (*raises hand*) or you’ve never been completely bowled over by your automatic buttonhole foot (*raises hand again*), this post is your Y-O-U!

Why bother with a vintage buttonholer?

Fair question. I got interested in vintage buttonholers for two reasons:

1.) The buttonhole attachment that came with my Babylock Elizabeth sewing machine was unreliable. With some fabrics with was great; with others, it made me want to stick my finger under the needle.

2.) I saw an Instagram story from Helen’s Closet about her vintage buttonholer, and I was MESMERIZED. Lord knows my weakness for sewing gadgets (like, DUH). When I saw her beaut, it instantly sent me into treasure-hunter mode.

So, if you dig on sewing gadgets, particularly sewing feet/attachments, and you’ve been underwhelmed by your current buttonhole situation, a vintage buttonholer could be your jam.

How does a vintage buttonholer work?

Buttonholers work by moving the fabric side to side and forward to backward. In other words, the fabric moves; the needle DOESN’T move.

In a nutshell, here’s how it goes:

1.) Select a template for the buttonhole you want to create.

2.) Place it in the buttonholer.

3.) Attach the buttonholer to your machine at the presser bar. The fork of the buttonholer goes over the needle bar. (If you’ve used a walking foot, this will look familiar to you.)

4.) Drop your feed dogs.

5.) Set up a straight stitch. (Vintage buttonholers weren’t designed to work with zigzag machines, so a straight stitch is a must.)

6.) Add the fabric and get to it.

Always always always test your buttonhole settings before stitching on your garment. It may take a bit of calibration to get your machine and buttonholer in a simpatico relationship.

What should you look for when buying one?

Buying a buttonholer can be tricky, because it’s important to know what’s compatible with your machine. From what I can tell, the most important factor is identifying whether you have a low- or high-shank sewing machine. (For the record, I have a low-shank machine.)

Here are some resources for figuring out which buttonholers will work for you (and just good resources overall):

Here’s some vintage buttonholer trivia for you. You’ll see a TON of Greist buttonholers for sale. Greist manufactured buttonholer attachments for Singer from the 1940s to the 1980s. So, a Greist buttonholer IS a Singer buttonholer.

A vintage buttonholer comes with templates to create different buttonholes and eyelets. My buttonholer came with seven templates.

What comes with a buttonholer?

My buttonholer came with:

  • An instruction booklet
  • 7 aluminum buttonhole/eyelet templates; I’ve also seen plastic and resin templates
  • the buttonholer itself (duh)

My guess is you can buy each of these elements individually.

Where can I buy a vintage buttonholer?

Keep your eyes peeled at yard sales, flea markets, and estate sales.

You also can search eBay and Etsy for buttonholers. I bought mine off eBay.

How much does one cost?

My Greist buttonholer cost $19.99. I chose my buttonholer because a.) it worked with my machine; b.) it came with a bunch of templates; and c.) the shipping was free. Looking at vintage buttonholers today, in August 2019, most of them range between $5-$25. (Shipping is all over the place, natch.)

Over to you, my sewing dears: What are your thoughts on vintage buttonholers? Are you curious about trying one for yourself? Why or why not? If you have a vintage buttonholer, I’d love for you to add more tips in the comments! Thanks!

P.S. Here’s the previous post: Go Fabric Shopping with Me! | Vogue Fabrics [VIDEO].

P.P.S. If you liked this post, and especially the video, consider signing up for the Sie Macht monthly newsletter. The buttonholer vid first went out to Sie Macht subscribers. Ooooh, sneaky peekies!

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