CRAFT CURIOS: Beautiful Buttonholes

by Jamie on May 10, 2015

Singer buttonholer buttonholes

When I go hunting around the second-hand and bric-a-brac markets I’m drawn to objects that have a connection to my past or my own interests.

Based purely on emotion, those finds needn’t be practical or useful in any real sense. Found curiosities act as touchstones for me, reflecting a past and putting context to the present and future… And if those items have a use in today’s world, it’s a bonus – not a necessity.

So it was to my surprise I recently found something full of sewing history and just as useful today as it was 68 years ago.

Initially I had no idea what was in the old singer treasure-chest shaped case, but  I immediately made a B-line for it recognising it as sewing related. It turned out to be a 1940’s buttonhole attachment (No. 160506) for a Singer sewing machine.


Carefully, I opened the case and could hardly contain my excitement – it was so beautiful. It zapped me into a bygone era filled with a sense that this object had been treasured and valued.  Although in good condition, the buttonholer had clearly been used many times by  it’s owner in an era when dressmaking skills were a necessity.

I bought it of course, happily taking home this little piece of sewing history.

Initially, I had no expectations toward the buttonholer, I was happy for it to sit quietly in my collection, to be brought out and admired every now and then – my little window into the sewing past.

But the need to try this thing out was niggling at me… what if it still worked?

My research told me that the Singer 160506 buttonholer was an attachment for early electric Singer sewing machines. That type of Singer I did not have but I seriously started to contemplate purchasing one so I could have a crack at using the attachment.

60's Singer sewing machine

I did have my 1960’s Singer sewing machine. My beautiful, never to be parted with pride and joy. It was given to me by my mother-in–law and had never let me down…except when it came to the buttonhole function – it was enough to entice me to trade it in for a new automatic buttonhole model every time I attempted to sew a buttonhole.

More like a four-step nightmare than a manual buttonhole function,  I’d break into a cold sweat at the thought of making a buttonhole with my beloved Singer. It was hit or miss every time a buttonhole was attempted – and as a consequence many of my sewing projects avoided the use of such fastenings.

It occurred to me that I could try to attach the 40’s Singer buttonholer to my 60’s singer sewing machine. So I studied the instructions, concentrated hard and it worked!

Singer buttonholer attachment

The buttonholer attached to the sewing machine like a dream. I only deviated a little in substituting the buttonholer feed cover plate for the Singer sewing machine’s own feed cover which made no difference in the buttonholer’s performance.

Once I got the hang of it, this buttonholer was so simple to use and created the most beautiful buttonholes without the sort of angst and stress I’d become accustomed to on my own Singer buttonhole function.… I realised this was about to change my sewing life. No more buttonhole neurosis!

I discovered that the attachment worked through inserting specific metal templates into the buttonholer attachment and those templates create the shape and length of the buttonholes. There were 5 template sizes that originally came with the buttonholer but other templates could be purchased separately in their day. They can now be easily purchased on etsy or ebay, which ensures the buttonholer can accommodate most button sizes to this day as well.

Key hole buttonhole

What I was most pleased about was the ability to make keyhole buttonholes – great for jacket buttonholes, which in the past I would have given to a specialist buttonholer to do. I found it was even possible to make the buttonholes look hand sewn by firstly stitching around the buttonhole in a wide stitch, then again a in a narrower stitch… amazingly cool.

I’ve now joined the Singer buttonholer appreciation society – of which I think there are quite a few members quietly making perfect buttonholes and preferring their Singer buttonholer attachments over modern sewing machines with their automatic buttonhole features.

This is my first but I am certain not the last buttonhole attachment in my collection. What was at first an old sewing curiosity turned out to be an invaluable addition to my sewing toolbox.

In the words of Peter Lappin from ‘Male Pattern Boldness’ I now have a “buttonhole attachment, attachment”. Yay!


Sew, Wear, Love


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

D H May 26, 2016 at 4:06 am

Hey Jamie,

Just came back from a recent foray in our neighbourhood where all of the old houses are coming down, and came across this exact item (the buttonholer). It was a beautiful thing so I took it rather than seeing it go to the dump. I don’t want it because I don’t sew. Someone can have it for free. What should I do with it?

Vancouver, BC, Canada


Jamie June 23, 2016 at 12:18 am

I agree – It’s a beautiful thing. How about offering it on ebay or etsy?


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