Learning to use a button hole machine

So I’ve been playing with the button hole (and previously) machine I bought and not making as much progress as I would have liked. I was having a heckuva time figuring out how to line up the goods to get button hole placement where I wanted it. There is no depth guide to bump up against when you’re feeding the goods. This didn’t make sense; machines are usually engineered to facilitate this sort of thing so I was obviously doing something wrong.

Perhaps I should back up a bit. If you’ve only used a home machine to make buttonholes, an industrial is a bit odd by comparison. Succinctly put, what you would normally think of as the front is the side and the side (the left side) is the front you sit at to operate it (a photo of the side is top right, follow the link to see the front). I hope this isn’t confusing but when you make a button hole on a home machine, it is sewn vertically relative to your seated position. It is also true of this machine that button holes are sewn vertically relative to your position but if you were looking at the side of the machine, the buttonholes would be made horizontally.

But back to my problem of lining up markings to place button holes where I wanted them, as it turns out, there are guides on the machine but they are for vertical placement such that you’d find along the placket of a dress shirt.  The photo below illustrates:

So this machine is optimized for a great many casual products but I typically do coats and suits, products that usually require horizontal button holes (photo).

Meaning, I need to rig up some kind of guide¹ to butt a front edge against at the proscribed optimal depth. For now I’m using two pieces of masking tape (photo), this is guess work unless somebody has already figured this out (which I’m sure they have, I just don’t know who it is). The feeding depth of a garment edge will vary based on button hole length and button stand width. It also means I will have to completely change the way I’d been making button hole guides (links to guides listed below). Again, this is one of the reasons why a pattern maker will need to know what kind of equipment you or your contractor has so the patterns and guides can be made optimal to the equipment.

I’m sure I’ll write more about this machine once I am more familiar with it but for now will mention it has one excellent feature -the machine stops sewing immediately if the thread breaks! Speaking of threading, it is challenging to thread the needle on this machine without a needle threader. I was shopping for a supply of those this morning; knowing me I will need a couple dozen.

¹ Mr. Fashion-Incubator says one should be able to use magnet seam guides on computerized machines -heresy considering everything you see on the web. I thought that might be the case, how can a motor work without magnets? In any event, I will get one and show it to him before I try it. These magnet seam guides might be bigger than he imagines.

Pop Quiz #472 pt.2
Reverse engineering standard work pt.8 (very important!)

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  1. Lisa Blank says:

    Thank you for the detailed photos and info. This is the best thing I’ve seen all day! :-)

    Knowing how notoriously bad machine manuals can be, did this machine come with one and if so, was there anything at all helpful in it?

  2. Kathleen says:

    Claire: Thanks for those links. DH (electrical engineer) said something the weight of a refrigerator magnet is nothing so worse case, I might get a strip of that (I need two, one for each side of the clamp) and glue some balsa wood to it or something. I think a good long term solution would involve removing that plate and taking it to a machine shop to have grooves etched in it.

    Lisa: I insisted several times that I had to have the manual and I’m happy to report I did get it!

    The manual is okay, I’ve seen worse. A critical bit of information I needed (that prevented operating the machine) was buried further in and I only found it accidentally after the fact.

  3. David S. says:

    It looks like there’s an extension table on the right side of the machine. I suspect you could drill and tap (or have someone) some holes there and use those to hold a guide of some sort. I’ve got a swing away one that might work: http://www.southstarsupply.com/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=797

    Also, I’d ask whoever you bought the machine from about guides. They might not tell you anything, but it’s not much work. And the manufacturer, if you can figure out how to contact them. You’re unlikley to be the only person trying to use it for horizontal holes.

  4. Grace says:

    I think the strength of the magnetic field drops off with r^(-2) or even more sharply. Check with EE Mr F-I. So you can safely stick a magnet on the plate as long as your computer memory isn’t underneath the plate.

  5. Russell White says:

    Hi Kathleen,

    In all of the years that I worked with factories in my travels overseas, there are workers who mark the buttonholes with chalk or washable pen using a template that the patternmaker has made for each size. The machine operator then lines up the chalk dot with the needle and starts the process. They move to the next buttonhole on the garment, never clipping the threads until the very end. Then another worker cleans up the garment by clipping and trimming all threads.

    Of course, now many factories use a computerized machine that you do not even have to mark the buttonholes, you just place the garment on the machine and it makes the buttonholes and shifts the garment to the next buttonhole–it is amazing to watch. The spacing has been digitized before hand.

  6. Mimi Jackson says:

    Interesting! In the NYC garment district, (as Margaret already mentioned) you can go to get your buttonholes professionally done at Jonathan Embroidery, and these are the few things I’ve noticed by watching them do their work on their machines: Yes, they sit at the “side” of the machine with it pretty high (about chest level) for ergonomic reasons, I’m assuming, and they ask you to mark regular buttonholes on the front of the garment, but keyholes on the back of the garment. You mark buttonhole beginning and end points for them, in chalk or marker, so they don’t have to guess how far from the edge you want your button hole. So they rely on accurate markings of buttonhole placement, not markings on the machine to give them appropriate spacing from the garment’s edge, it seems.

  7. Sarah_H. says:

    Great idea for a post. I have seen buttonhole machines at work for years and years, but never sat down to one myself. They always intimidated me, mostly because of the little knife that jumps down to cut the buttonhole. I know those can be removed, but nobody is going to adjust a machine for a lowly patternmaker especially sewing on break. Is there a place to go on the web to see a similar view and explanation of various machines? I think a tour of machines would both interesting and worth doing. I know it would been of help to me back in those days (we won’t say exactly how long ago) and I would find it interesting today.

  8. Kathleen says:

    Great explanation Russell! I illustrated how to make the button guide so it can be used in the manner you described in the two entries I linked to at close. The issue I have is that being the pattern maker and so, responsible for making the guide, determining the position of the holes on the guide depends on the machine configuration, button hole orientation and also, the preferred manner of the operator to feed the work piece into the machine. This one is just a bit more complex than the old Reese SR2’s or its clones (which I’ve mostly made guides for).

    The machines that are configured to do the buttonholes in a series are commonly referred to as “indexers”. And you’re right, these are really neat. The machine I have will do a series of 3 in sequence; don’t know if you noticed but the clamp is really long to facilitate it. To set that up, it would be a matter of entering the data in the CP. It is possible the BH790 will also take digitized information (there is a spare port on the unit) but I wouldn’t know how to do it. Actually, I haven’t figured out how to do the series of 3 yet. Still getting my legs under me.

  9. Avatar photo

    I don’t wish to bore frequent visitors by repeating myself so I leave links to background information that I’ve published in the past. You can find those links in the first paragraph of the entry.

  10. Karen says:

    I do an occasional buttonhole in my work but right now I can’t justify looking at purchasing a dedicated machine for that purpose. I have seen buttonhole attachments mentioned on ebay for various machines. Do they work or would I be better off finding someone to do my occasional buttonholes professionally?

  11. Kathleen says:

    On the forum there are mixed reports on buttonhole attachments. It’s not a subject I follow closely.

    Before I had this buttonhole machine, I used a home machine for buttonholes. Keep in mind I don’t do production, only mockups and protos so I’m not recommending this option (your mileage may vary).

    When I lived in Dallas, it was common for manufacturers (back when everybody still did their own production!) to send out buttonholing if they needed a type they didn’t have a machine for. In the olden days, all we had were the little Reece machines and these only did one or two types at most.

  12. Suzanne says:

    Any update on the buttonhole machine? Did it work out now that you had a chance to learn? Where did you buy it from? How much did it cost? I saw your prior post that pegged it around 3k, but the internet is selling it for $4600.

  13. Kathleen says:

    I bought it from the Siruba office in Miami. I think I paid around $3,200 (or was it $3,600?), plus shipping.

    The machine has worked out fine altho it is not liking me much lately. The more complex machines can be finicky so you should only get one if you have a good mechanic or aren’t afraid to tear one down yourself.

  14. Joel says:

    Hi, I recently purchased a Reece s2 buttonhole machine however as I was cleaning the machine I accidentally stepped on the pedal and set the clamp down. When I turned on the machine with clamp down it started but did not sew the outline? Is there a lever or something that would release the brake so that the machine sews the button hole?

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