Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The "Famous" Buttonhole Worker

I saw one of these and had to get it.  What a contraption.  I use Singer's buttonholer a lot and am familiar with the concept of how those work.  How about this one?  What is different about it?  Does it do a good job?  Is it easy to use?  My search for information came up with nothing.  That means I better figure it out myself and post some information for others who may also have one of these.  Now that I've had it for a while it's time to shed some light on it.

This type of buttonhole maker has been around for a long time, since 1895.  They were marketed by several companies ending with Greist and Singer through the 1950's.  That's when buttonholers with templates came into popular use.  They are still made today for industrial machines by YS Star.   There are still lots of vintage ones out in circulation.  I can see why.  They are a heavy and sturdy accessory.  Nothing dainty about it.

How does it work?
The buttonholer fits over the needle clamp and onto the presser bar.  The one I have is for a low shank sewing machine and is shown on a Singer 201, a flat bed.  There are adjustment screws on the sides for setting the width of the hole opening and the stitch width.   An adjustment screw on the back sets the stitch length and another single screws sets the stitch density.  Like other buttonholers the fabric is moved to make the button hole.   Clickety clack clickety clack!

Making the Buttonholer Work:
1.  Remove Presser foot.  Place the cover plate on the sewing machine bed.  Make sure the needle goes into the small hole strait on.
Cover plate placement.
2. Place the buttonholer hook on the needle clamp at the same time setting it against the presser bar.

Turn wing thumb screw towards you.

3.  Turn the side wing nut towards you, until it gets to the front and left.  That's the beginning of the buttonhole.  ( It will form the buttonhole backwards from there.)
Needle placement
 4.  Stitch as normal, I go kind of fast and keep the fabric taut.

Making Adjustments:
This model is adjusted by screws.
Set the Length of hole.
 To set the length of the buttonhole move the screw at the back.  I have found that it's easier to do this by marking your fabric sample and holding it up to the opening.  Loosen screw and move it down or up to correspond to the marks.  The measurement should include the screw itself.  The buttonhole length will equal the opening (from the top) including the diameter of the screw open space you see.  The maximum is 3/4.  Larger lengths are done in two parts, well described in it's manual so I'll leave it out from here.
 Setting the Cutting Space Width.  The cutting space opening can be adjusted by loosening the screw and moving it.  The "W" is for wider and "N" is for narrow.   Experiment with this with the type of fabric you have. 
Adjusting the cutting space.  It's set for cotton broadcloth now.

Setting the Stitch Width:
The stitch with or "bite" is adjusted much the same as the previous step.  The change is that to make it bigger or wider, move the screw towards " W" for wide and towards "N" to narrow.

Setting the Stitch Density:
The density of the stitches can be adjusted by turning the screw on the side up or down.  This is a very subtle adjustment so turn it down or up a little at a time.  The way it is the photo is perfect for cottons.
Stitch density screw.

The buttonholer requires a lot of adjusting to get it right.  You can't just plop in a cam and have it go.  This makes testing very important.   Here is an example of a few changes that come from changing the stitch width and bite. 
Just as with the Singer buttonholers, I suggest making a sample to keep with your attachment to refer to.   As you can see there is a big difference between widths.    The lengths shown are all the same.The most narrow bite is too small in my opinion.  It snarls every time.

Does it work well?
This is not very easy to use.  I have to be honest, it is more complicated than a template style one.    The wing thumb screw can be hard to turn.  That said it has one feature that is REALLY helpful.  That is the ability to change the cutting space.  There are few things more frustrating that making a buttonhole and having the hole be too small to cut and so threads are shredded.  It can ruin your work, at the final step.  That horror can be avoided with this buttonholer.   For all the time spent in testing, it IS good to be able to adjust for variations in fabric density or type.
Button hole samples

The quality is OK but is improved with a bit of tear away stabilizer underneath.   It works very well with heavier fabrics but has not been tested extensively on silks.   My biggest complaint is that it is hard to make a hole larger than 3/4".  It can be done but not easily - or at least easy for me.  I do think this buttonholer has a  place in your tool box and if you see one, think about getting it.

The one key feature it has is a good one, and that is the ability to customize.  There is a certain inspiring quality as well, to see it in action.  The ingenuity of people is amazing sometimes.  The Famous Buttonholer is is a good example of that!


  1. That's quite a contraption! Thanks so much for your report - it seems like it could be a good one to have for coats or items that need a wider slot.

    So if one wants to follow me home from somewhere, I'll allow it ;^)

  2. Question, can you use the buttonholers with the templates on straight stitch machines? I have a few, but, I have never tried them.

  3. Both of these work great on strait stitch machines. They work on zig zag too, depending on the model. Find one for the shank type - such as a slant shank for the Singer 401. The only thing that complicates things is if the machine can fit the cover plate. For example, my Elna Grasshopper's free arm is too small. Flat bed machines are best.

  4. Wow, what a contraption and how very adventurous of you to get it working so well.

  5. I've got a Singer one similar to this (for a straight stitch machine) but I have never had the nerve to test it out. Wonderful photos, I will refer back to this when I get my courage up!

  6. Thanks for the helpful tutorial! I don't own one of these, but I do own the other buttonholer. I always wondered what the difference and quality of stitch from this and the buttonholer with templates.

  7. I'm pretty certain this is the type my mother used in the 50's. I have two buttonholers that are the template-type. Haven't tried them yet. Seeing your post has helped me make sense of the buttonholer world. Thanks. (And thanks for posting about this on Treadle On.)

  8. Great post! I just recently learned that it was possible to make button holes using a machine a hundred years ago, and it is wonderful to see how it was done. The pictures are fantastic and you've done a wonderful job of explaining how it was done.

    1. Thanks, and I enjoyed your blog as well. Wonderful idea and quite thought provoking.

  9. Thank you for this! I just bought one of these for eighty cents at an estate sale. I don't really make clothing, but I couldn't resist for the price. What a cool thing!

  10. iam from indonesia,where buy and how much it costs

    1. These are still made for $79 US Dollars at this online store

    2. If you can find a seller who can mail to you, they are very easy to find used on eBay here in the USA. Make sure the buttonholer is made to fit your machine type. The one posted above is made for an industrial - high shank.

  11. Would this work with a back-clamp singer 66-1 since it attaches to the needle bar?


  12. Sorry but no. This attaches to the needlebar as other attachments do and are held in place by the foot screw. They come in low shank and high shank from what I can tell. I have a back clamp 66 and have yet to find any attachment for it other than the original sets.

  13. was so thrilled to find your blog description as I just got one of these at the thrift store (probably for free)! Had no idea what it was other than I knew it was for a sewing machine and fell in love with the gadget! I have a couple of old singer machines too so will try it out. Thanks!

  14. Hi, just got one of these with the red dials, was really keen to use, it was seized up but managed to get it going, works fine on my 327k but the 201 won't pick up the bottom thread at all, it sews beautifully on straight stitch. Tried a diff needle but no luck. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Sharon

    1. From the images I could find of the red dial buttonholer it seems they are a later model type. I do not have a Singer 327, is it a low shank or slant? The Singer 201 is low shank so maybe there is a mis match here, as later buttonholers may have been made for later Singers like the slant 301. They look similar from the front but turned sideways you can see the difference.
      Anyone else have a suggestion?

    2. I also have a vintage famous buttonhole attachment , though I was able to attach it to my machine , but it won't do nothing , can you help... What do I need to adjust?

    3. I am away from home for a few weeks so cannot check for you. Are all moving parts oiled? If this has not been used in a few years it may be gummed up. I use Tri Flow oil but any sewing machine oil should loosen it all up. Sometimes this sort of thing takes a few tries and a few days to loosen up.

  15. Muchas gracias. Tengo el mismo buttonhole worker famous, me sirvió mucho su manual, thanks

  16. Famous patented 1916.

    Japanese copies by Yoshikoshi since 1945.

    Markings of Japanese YS STAR, not found on Chinese copies.

    I have seen unbranded copies listed on web sites with YS-4455 model number. Take care.

  17. I have one of these and it was missing the directions. Great blog

  18. Hi there, well I just found a Famous buttonholer in a box that previously held a vintage butter plate with glass insert! lol Anyway there was an old piece of paper in there and when I picked it up it was the document that came with this beautiful machine piece! If you would like to have a copy of this please send me an email or let me know on my blog boulderdamcottage.blogspot.com my name is Kat and I too am from So Cal way back when and am a lover of not only paper books but fabric and oh yea old Singers, I have many! haha. Anyway I made a pdf of both sides of this, interesting, split at places but one can still read, though, after looking up on internet and finding your wonderful post, you might enjoy having a copy for your piece. I made myself several at various light and dark and then printed on heavy duty card stock so I can put it in a clean doc holder, so excited as I wasn't sure I had all the parts, but it looks like I do! What a detailed and wonderfully made piece, they do not make things like this anymore, just like the Singer (old ones) Sewing Machines! I know you will agree! Anyway, nice to meet you I am signing up to follow but I don't see a place to get your posts? I blog too but not as much as I used to :) Thanks, let me know, Kat

    1. Thanks for the post. Yes I would like a copy of your file. I can then make it available to others. I wrote this when I found no other information on the one I found so surely there are others needing information too.
      I do not think there is a way to follow comments but posts should show up. I am bad about that but do respond to questions all the time. My email is yarndiva@aol.com