Instructions for Ruby Buttonholer and Vanguard Buttonholer


I only found out today that if the fates deal you either a Ruby or a Vanguard buttonholer with no instructions, the interweb is not a lot of help to you, so in an effort to rectify that situation, here we go with a crash course …

The common Ruby Buttonholer (the “Type R-B”) might be a different colour to the Vanguard Buttonholer, and it may or may not have an extra adjustment on it, but they’re essentially the same thing so the following instructions apply to both.  Note that your Ruby might have with it a chromed steel queerthing about 2″ long which has TA(103) stamped on it, but don’t lose any sleep over that.  It’s just an alternative means of attachment which was provided for fitting a Ruby to an industrial sewing machine.  Quite why the guys in Japan imagined anybody might ever want to do that is way beyond me, but they did.

Buttonhole attachments for straight stitch machines all work by feeding the material relative to the needle in such a way that a zigzag stitch is formed in the pattern of a buttonhole.  The needle stays put and goes straight up and down same as ever, but the fabric under it goes pretty much all ways at once.  To use these things, you need either to drop your feed dogs or cover them up, so your buttonholer should come with a chromed steel cover plate and the fixing screw for it.  If it didn’t and your machine won’t let you drop the feed, any cover plate which fits should work, as long as the needle will centralise in the hole and the plate will stay in place.

OK, on to the device itself.  The red knob on the top of it is what you turn in order to make it do its thing when it’s not on the machine.  Turn the red knob clockwise and the moving parts will cycle through the full range of movements used to produce a buttonhole.  Turn it anti-clockwise and all that will happen is that it will eventually come off, but helpfully, an arrow is provided for those who have never been good with clock and anti-clock.  It might have been more helpful still to make the head of that arrow far more obvious than it is, but apparently we should always be grateful for small mercies.

With most of the Ruby/Vanguard buttonholers, you can set three variables – stitch length, buttonhole width and buttonhole length – but sometimes you can set four.  Gosh.  How exciting is that?  I don’t know, but let’s look at each adjustment in turn …

The stitch length lever can be set to any position between “W” and “N”, and that setting determines how many zigs and zags per inch.  All the way to the “W” gives you a really ziggy-zaggy stitch, all the way to the “N” gives you more of a satin stitch, and no, the logic of using “W” and “N” for those markings is not obvious to me either.

The “buttonhole width” lever clicks into one of three positions, and as you might have guessed, it determines the overall width of your buttonhole.  “1″ is the narrowest.

If you’re still in any doubt about what manner of gizmo it is that you’re playing with, that will now become obvious as we come to the setting of the length of your buttonhole.  For this you need both a screwdriver and a sense of humour.  See the screw that’s visible through the slot in the casing?  Yep, that’s your length adjustment, and it’s only really accessible when the planets are in the right conjunction.

OK, that’s not strictly true, but in order for your screwdriver to have any hope of turning that screw, you need to turn the red knob clockwise until the screw’s positioned itself more or less central under the slot in the cover.  Only then can you slacken it off, move it along the slot in the metalwork and re-tighten it.  If you hold the buttonholer with the slot towards you, you move the screw to the right of its slot for longer buttonholes, to the left for shorter ones.  In theory the middle of the slot gives you a buttonhole getting on for 3/4″ long, or around 18mm-ish on a good day.

So you now know what the three adjustments are, but not how you actually drive the thing.  Obviously we need to fit it to the machine, but first we need to either drop the feed or cover it.  If you have a thread cutter fitted, we then need to swing that round to roughly where the one in the picture below is, so as to ensure that it’s not going to interfere with the drive to the buttonholer.  Only then do we fit the buttonholer itself …

Now, the first time you try this, it will be fun.  I reckon you’re better off getting the hang of fitting it without a needle in the machine, but the general idea is that you end up with the slot in the end of the arm of the buttonholer over the collar into which your needle clamp screw goes, and the device itself fastened securely to your presser bar by means of the thumbscrew used for your normal presser foot.

If you’ve got it right, the body of the buttonholer should be square on to the bed of the machine, and just about level when the presser bar is raised.  When you cautiously turn the balance wheel towards you, you should see the needle clamp moving the arm up and down, and that in turn causing the buttonholer to strut its stuff.

Assuming all seems to be well, it’s then time to re-fit the needle if you removed it, and thread the machine as usual.  Before you start mass-producing buttonholes, though, try to contain your excitement long enough to turn the red knob until the needle is at one end of the buttonholer.  Makes no odds which end and it’s not strictly speaking essential, but it’s good for the soul. Then off you go.

Note that you’ll probably have to faff with your top tension a bit and maybe even your presser foot pressure.  And it’s usual to go round the buttonhole twice.  Maybe even three times …

And here’s the fourth adjustment, which may or may not be present on yours.  If it is, it enables you to vary the bight i.e. the width of the actual zigzag stitch which the buttonholer produces.  This time the “W” and the “N” make sense even to me, because they stand for “wide” and “narrow”.  The range of adjustment isn’t huge, but it doesn’t really need to be.

And that’s about it!  Neither the Ruby nor the Vanguard is as good as the 86662/86718, but once you get used to their peculiarities and their limitations, they do in fact make quite a decent buttonhole – certainly one that’s better than the auto ones on many modern machines.

One final thought, which actually applies to any buttonholer really, and also for that matter to zigzag attachments .  If you tend to “drive” the fabric as you’re sewing even though you know you shouldn’t, do try and train yourself to stop doing that!  Let the attachment do the feeding :)

Buttonholers, zigaggers, foot controllers and a Lotus treadle


Just in case you rarely venture onto the Bits ‘n’ Bobs page, here’s a quick update so you know what you’re missing.

Seeing as how in the last week we’ve sent a Singer USA 160985 zigzagger (that’s the big black one with the four red cams) to Birmingham, one of the big Ruby buttonholers to Canada and a Singer 160506 buttonholer to Germany, we’ve been toiling by night even as by day to replace them with more goodies for your consideration.

I’ve just listed a good Singer 161157 zigzagger, which is the third and final version of the one which started out as the 160985, another big Ruby in very fine condition, and another one of Elsie’s favourite buttonholer, the 160506.

There’s also a nice Singer 485910 buttonholer which is perhaps more common in the US than it is over here, a particularly good example of a Precision Built Button Holer B-3 in a nice tin (and unusually, this one’s complete with all its bits), as well as a bit of a rarity called the Zick Zack Kuli Rändelapparat.

Rounding off the new listings is the standard vintage Singer button-type foot controller.  Hoorah! I finally remembered to mention that we can usually do you a nice one of these at a sensible price, and maybe even offer a choice of black or brown.  Actually, now I come to think of it, maybe I ought to do a post about them on the home page  before long?

On the Singers for Sale page we’ve added this gorgeous 1920 Lotus 66K treadle, which Elsie was all for keeping because it’s a lot prettier than the 1909 one in her harmonium (or, if you prefer, her later drawing room cabinet) …

Picture of 1920 Singer Lotus decal 66K treadle

In the end though, and unusually for us, common sense has prevailed.  The Lotus which is in Elsie’s harmonium’s been in it for 102 years now so it really ought to stay here, and there’s no way that Elsie’s going to part with her favourite cabinet.  Besides, as far as we can tell, this Lotus has always been in this base, so they ought to stay together too.  And besides again, Elsie finally admitted the other night that perhaps (just perhaps) I was right after all, and we really do not have the space for her to add yet another machine to her collection.

I did intend to update you with the latest developments on the bicycle front but that needs pictures, which will have to wait until the snow and ice has gone from the lane.  So more on our bikes anon …

The Ruby Buttonholer and the Vanguard Buttonholer


This post was going to be titled “The Ruby Buttonholer and the Vanguard Buttonholer and how to tell them apart”, but in fact there’s only one way to tell them apart.  You see what it says on the box.  If you haven’t got the box or the instructions, you’re basically stuffed.  Oh yes …

Picture of two Ruby buttonholers and a Vanguard buttonholer

From the left we have here the big Ruby buttonholer, the Ruby Buttonholer Type RB, and the Vanguard Buttonholer.  The big Ruby’s the odd one  out, so if we ignore that and concentrate on the other two, what differences do we see?

The first difference is body colour, but that’s actually no help at all if you’re trying to tell them apart, because we’ve seen both of them in all kinds of blue-grey and grey-grey, as well as one or other of them in a sort of buttermilk/pale cream.  I have a feeling we’ve also seen a black one, but I wouldn’t swear to it.

The other visible difference between those two is that little doohickey sticking out towards the front of the Vanguard, to which this red arrow is pointing …

Detail shot of Vanguard Buttonholer

That’s a setting screw which varies the width of the stitch from narrow to wide, and it’s not to be confused with the control which varies the width of the buttonhole.  Buttonhole width is the one which you can see on the side of the body with the 1-2-3 markings.

But alas, the presence of that stitch width wotsit does not mean it’s a Vanguard!  Nope, there are Vanguards with and without that, and the same goes for the Ruby.

It really is the case that if you haven’t got the box or the instructions, you can’t tell them apart, because they are indeed one and the same thing.

So, if you see a Vanguard Buttonholer for sale, it’ll look like either of those two with the plastic body but it may be a different colour, and it may or may not have variable stitch width.

If you see a Ruby Buttonholer for sale, it could be that contraption on the left in the team photo, but it’s more likely to be the plastic-bodied one.

If you see a Ruby Buttonholer Type RB for sale, it’s definitely the plastic-bodied one.  It may or may not have variable stitch width, and it may or may not have with it Part Number 17, which is the means by which a Ruby RB can allegedly be fitted to an industrial machine – as if anyone would want to do that.

We have nice examples of all three for sale on the Bits ‘n’ Bobs page, where you’ll also find snaps showing the boxes and instructions.

Vintage buttonholers


We were in a bit of a silly mood earlier today, and at one point Elsie said “Why don’t you do a team photo of the buttonholers?”.  I couldn’t think of any reason why not, so here you go …

Picture of 12 Vintage buttonholers for Singer sewing machines

Top row left to right is a Green’s from the land of the Vegemite sandwich, Precision (the one that comes in the maroon tin), Greist, Greist Rotary, Singer 489500 (the one which is usually seen in the green “Jetson” case), and the bigger of the two Ruby buttonholers.

Bottom row left to right is a Y.S.Star buttonholer, the common or garden Ruby type RB, Singer 86718 (the red plastic case one), Famous Buttonhole Maker, Singer 86662 (the usual one in the card box) and a Singer USA 160506 (the dark green plastic case one).

I know we have examples of most of these for sale, even if I haven’t got round to putting them on the “Bits ‘n’ Bobs” page yet, and I’ve just now realised that we missed out the Vanguard one from this picture.  No biggie though – a Vanguard’s just a Ruby RB with a different coloured shell.

Hmmm … I guess we need to do the same for zigzaggers next.

The studio, buttonholers, a 201K, the harmonium. And logs.


picture of Singer 201K23 in beige/brown

Detail picture of Singer 201K23

Detail photo of Singer 201K23

Detail of Singer 201K23 stitch length regulator

Well, I finally finished the bathroom cupboard and between us we got it painted (magnolia – we’re not very adventurous where decorating’s concerned).  No sooner had the paint dried than I set up the studio i.e. put the board over the bath, spread out the white hotel tablecloth on it, plonked a sewing machine on top and started snapping away.

And when I came to open the files in Photoshop, I discovered that oh poo the new magnolia-coloured “wall” was now producing a colour cast.  Long story short, the studio has now moved into our bedroom.  The board and tablecloth which sat on the bath now sit on top of The Harmonium, as the later Singer drawing-room cabinet is referred to (‘cos we think it looks like one when the machine’s down and the top’s over), and as long as I time the picture-taking to avoid the direct sun which comes in around noon at this time of year, I have better light now as well as more room to move.

Anyhow, these ‘ere snaps fresh from the new studio are of a really nice 201K23 which we’ve now added to the “Singers for Sale” page, and I’m not saying anything more about this machine now lest I be inclined to go off on one about the way 201′s are hyped up on Ebay.  Having said that, though, I can’t help wondering how come an identical machine to this one seemingly in similar cosmetic condition but with a scruffy case lid has this very evening sold on Ebay for £170!

Whatever, we finally realised over the New Year that we do indeed have a surfeit of buttonholers (you can say that again -E), so I’ve just added a Singer 160506 (the one in the green plastic case) with extra templates, and before much longer I’ll be adding still more to the “Bits ‘n’ bobs” page.

There’s another Swiss zigzagger listed now too, by the way, and I must say you’d be hard pushed to find a better one either here or in the States.

Finally, having for the last two months been burning a load of timber we scrounged from a building site, last week we managed to clear enough space in one of our log sheds for a couple of loads of proper logs from our friendly neighbourhood log lady, and we finished stacking those this afternnon.

In case you ever need to know, I can now tell you with some authority that an average pickup load of mixed hardwood logs cut at 10″ and split consists of about 330 logs, which when stacked one row deep along a wall amounts to 33 square feet of logs, or a stacked volume of 0.7 cubic metre.  And round our neck of the woods, that’s very close to 25p a log, which I guess seems expensive – until you weigh up the advantages of heating by woodburning stove …

The Greist Buttonholer


Picture of complete Greist buttonholer model #1

I just put a particularly nice one of these up for sale on the Bits ‘n’ Bobs page, so I thought a little bit of background information might come in handy.

I’m not an authority on Greist, but I do know that the firm originated in Chicago, and judging by the 19 pages of lovely old typesetting about them here, they used to be called Griest!

In later years they produced attachments on a contract basis for various makers of sewing machines including Singer, as will be immediately apparent to anybody looking at this picture who owns a Singer 489500 or 489510 buttonholer (the “Jetson” ones, about which I really ought to do a post sometime).

Anyhow, we’ve got a nice one for sale now in a good box complete with all its bits including the standard template set.  Brian seems to like it …

The Singer Buttonholer Attachment 86718


Picture of vintage Singer Buttonhole Attachment 86718

Another picture of Singer Buttonhole Attachment 86718

Picture of Singer Buttonholer 86718

I just added a Singer Buttonhole Attachment 86718 to the goodies for sale on the Accessories page, which until last week was called the Attachments page.  Hey, that’s progress for you!

This is one of the two vintage Singer non-template buttonholers i.e. the type on which the length, bight and spacing of your buttonhole is set by means of adjustments rather than by changing templates.  OK, you can’t do keyhole buttonholes with a non-template buttonholer, but if your buttonholer doesn’t use templates, that’s one less thing to disappear down a black hole at the back of a drawer as soon as you look the other way.

Like many of these vintage attachments, it seems a bit clunky and agricultural when you first start playing with one, but you soon realise how versatile the thing is – and it certainly makes a lovely buttonhole, particularly if you keep sewing and go round twice.

Here’s a brief video of this one on test on Elsie’s 201K Mk2 treadle machine earlier today …

Elsie’s Bargain Basement – check it out!




Well, it’s finally happened – I’ve just finished listing loads of new stuff for sale.  Not only that, but we’ve also reduced the price of some items which are beginning to outstay their welcome, which explains why what used to be the Bits ‘n’ Bobs page has now turned into Elsie’s Bargain Basement!

While I was sorting that lot out, I checked out a few other UK suppliers of vintage Singer stuff just to make sure that we’re not getting expensive, and was reassured to find that we’re in much the same territory as the other sites for most stuff.   However, I must admit to being somewhat surprised by the asking prices elsewhere for buttonholers and zigzaggers in particular, so if you might be in the market for either, do take a look at our latest offerings.

By way of a break from all the uploading to WordPress I was doing and the research into pressure canners that Elsie’s been doing, we sloped off to the allotment this afternoon to get some greens for our poor chickens, who will very shortly turn into ducks if it doesn’t stop raining, and found that the tide was up …


We’ve seen that path a bit wet before, but never quite like this!  Fortunately the spinach which constitutes Phyllis and Clarice’s winter greens is still above flood level under that glass on the left in this rather poor snap taken with my dumbphone.

And apparently it’s going to be raining off and on for the rest of this week …

The back-clamp Singer 66 mystery …


One of the things which often confuses folks about vintage Singers is this whole back-clamping business, so last week when Elsie was faffing about and deciding which Lotus to keep, we realised that a photo opportunity had presented itself and a blog post was called for…

In the top picture we have your usual, common-or-garden, bog-standard vintage Singer presser foot*, which is of the side-clamping type.  And below that we have the vintage Singer back-clamp presser foot, about which the only thing that might not be immediately obvious is that in the normal course of events, you don’t go messing with that slotted screw head.   The part with the serial number on it and the slanted end stays on the machine.  When you want to change the presser foot on a back-clamper, you use the thumbscrew – just like you do on a side-clamper, except it’s in a different place.

Here’s another comparison …

and one more for luck …

Now you see why none of the usual low-shank vertical needle attachments like buttonholers fit a back-clamping 66, which explains why the back-clamper has its own set of standard attachments like the ruffler, hemmers and whatnot.

Every back-clamping 66 we’ve ever seen has been graced with Lotus decals, which fact is no doubt down to us being in England.  If we were in the States, I’m guessing they’d all have had what are called the “Red Eye” decals, which we’ve never actually seen on a real live machine.  That’s because as far as I know, all the Lotus decal 66s were made in Scotland and all the Red Eye ones in New Jersey, but as with most things relating to Singer production, I’m by no means certain of that.

Be that as it may, in due course the penny dropped and Singer realised that making just one model of machine with a totally different presser foot clamping system made no sense at all, so they did the obvious and standardised.  Exactly when that happened I have no idea, but it’s a fact that all early 66s are back-clampers and all later ones are normal side-clampers.

So how then do we explain the fact that Elsie’s back-clamper 66K is dated 1910 and her side-clamper 66K with the Lotus decals is dated 1909?  Easy – her 1909 one’s had its back-clamp presser bar swapped for the side-clamp one from a later 66K!  I’ve never done that myself because I don’t see what the problem is with back-clampers, but providing you have a donor side-clamping 66 to hand, I can’t see it being a major undertaking.  There’s probably instructions for the conversion on the interweb somewhere, but before you search for those, see if you can find the adaptor which is apparently available by means of which side-clamp attachments can be fitted to a back-clamp Singer.  It’s made by somebody in the US.

* Note for those of a pedantic disposition – I do realise that that presser foot’s hinged, therefore it’s not actually your usual, common-or-garden, bog-standard vintage Singer presser foot.  But its means of attachment is, so there.



Vintage Singer “Stitch Patterns” and Swiss zigzagger cams – cont’d


Elsie ‘s been rummaging about in The Sewing Room again and has discovered some spare red cams for the big black zigzaggers.  Funnily enough, I had a rush of blood to the head and a bit of a tidy up of my desk yesterday, and I found a few more of them lurking down the side of the printer, so I’ve added them all to the “Accessories” page.  So, if you need any red “Stitch Patterns” to complete either the standard set or the same-as-the-white-ones set (Set No.2, part no. 161008), drop us an email and we’ll gladly see what we can do for you.

That set of 10 cams for the Swiss zigzagger with the snail shell (160991) is probably for sale too, but frankly we’re still trying to decide what we want to do with it.  We normally just see if we can remember what an item cost us, then add a modest profit to cover our time doing whatever it took to get it ready for sale, but sometimes the figure we come up with does leave us wondering.

This set of Swiss cams is a good example of where our difficulty lies.  Given that anything which supplements my state pension is most welcome, common sense says we should do the obvious and put it on Ebay.  The problem is, though, that Elsie and I don’t see the blog and the sales we make through it as a money-maker (which is probably as well, because it certainly isn’t), so if we put it on Ebay, one of our readers will probably miss out.  And we’d be happier if that didn’t happen.

So what to do?  Who knows, but while we’re still prevaricating, if you fancy a perfect set of nice shiny cams for your Swiss zigzagger, you could do a lot worse than make us an offer for this one.

Anyhow … talking of Ebay and Swiss zigzaggers, we’re much obliged to Alice for drawing our attention to three that sold recently on Ebay UK.    The first of those was a 160991 with a full set of 10 cams, a less-than-perfect snail shell, no instruction book and an 86663 feed cover plate (complete with clearly visible rust) instead of the correct one.

The second was a 160990 with its instruction book and the correct set of 5 cams, but its box was broken and it too had an 86663 cover plate, albeit one seemingly without the rust.  Lest you be wondering, the significance of the 86663 is that it’s the really common cover plate that was supplied with buttonholers like the 86662, and although it’ll work OK with the zigzagger, it won’t fit in its box!   Only the correct one will.  That’s why the Swiss zigzagger cover plate is unique to it.

The third example was what looked to be a very nice 160991 complete with good snail shell and all its cams.  This one didn’t have its instruction book, but it did have the right cover plate.

Now, what I found most interesting about those three Ebay listings was firstly that a seller’s happy to sell, and buyers are willing to buy, a Swiss zigzagger with a cover plate which won’t go in the box.  Next, neither Elsie nor I could confidently have said which of those three would go for the lowest and for the highest price.

And we certainly wouldn’t have predicted that they would sell for £100, £114 and £137.93 respectively …