Reece 101 Button Holer: Becoming an Expert

Since I started this project to create beautiful originally crafted leather jackets I have been on a learning curve.  I have a great deal of expertise in the generalized knowledge of vintage jackets.  I have seen thousands of jackets, noting cut, leather, labels, manufacturers, stitching techniques, design changes over time, period, uniqueness of the era and all the other factors that make vintage jackets and their constituent companies interesting.  What I had little knowledge of was applied techniques.  By far the hardest part of starting Himel Brothers has been re-learning the old techniques of sewing and tanning and patterning vintage jackets.  I routinely find myself calling the old timers of the schmata business asking for advice.  Everybody over the age of 60 has advice.  As an example, I sat down in an office with Bernie of Cansew who explained to me the subtle and different makeup of cotton thread today vs. the lubricated threads of the 1950s.  He advised me on the various gauges and brands available today vs. the past. He also filled me in on the antisemitism he experienced here in Toronto and how tough it was to get a job outside of the schmata business.    It became clear to me that the mass producers of the day had refined their machines and materials down to an efficient perfection which  delivered the best designs and the best product at the best price.  Today the focus is mostly profit.  That is because the consumer now values price over quality and has lost the education to know the difference.

My operation almost came to a crashing halt this week.  My button hole  contractor called me to let me know her machine could no longer reliably make button holes on my Heron jackets. As I was told many times the Reece 101 needs to be set up just for leather otherwise it would be unreliable.   I was in a quandary.  I had been looking for a Reece 101 button hole machine for almost a year and a half and had been unable to locate a good solid working model.  These machines are very precious.  They make a perfect “gimped” keyholes,  which before its invention had to be done by hand.  Almost every machine in Canada has been exported to China.  Sadly,  almost every clothing factory here in Canada has been shut down.  When closed, factories were  entirely packed onto containers and shipped to China where they re-opened.  This makes finding a good used machine almost impossible and very expensive.  Even if you can find a machine, finding a mechanic who knows how to fix and maintain it is even more difficult as almost everyone has retired.  I spent almost a week calling every used sewing machine company in Canada and the U.S.  I called loads  of elderly Jewish schmata Kings that own warehouses hoping they still had old machines locked in the basement.  After my long hard search I finally found a good machine hiding in a garage in the suburbs  and a mechanic to set it up for leather.  Oh yeah…even if you can find a machine you need to set up the 101 specifically to do leather button holes.  This is why my trusty contractor could no longer do my jackets.   Her machine was set up for cloth and suits…leaving me in a panic.  Thank goodness for my good friend Simon and the mini truck too, because this sucker is heavy!!!


9 Responses to “Reece 101 Button Holer: Becoming an Expert”

  1. Hi Dave. Congratulations on finding the 101 and I hope it provides many years of faithful service. It sure looks like a durable (and heavy) piece of machinery. Just wondering when your new jacket designs will be going up on your website? Cheers, Tom.

  2. Im making samples right now…usually I post pics on facebook for my friends first…then on my facebook Himel Bros page and then the blog…and then the site…it is basically structured on the complexity of the posting lol fb is easiest…integrating into the site the most difficult. I am spread thin right now and all the costs to make jackets in Canada have gone through the roof with the price of gas :O( .

  3. Gotcha. In particular, I’m looking forward to seeing how the WS and Sons railroad jacket design turns out. Definately something I’d like to get my hands on.

  4. Greetings Dave,
    I have a REECE 101. But as you stated, no good mechanic to help me w/ the set up. I’m in Seattle, would your mechanic know someone here? Also, what is the longes btt hole the 101 could do, with the right set up, do you know?
    THanks! 206-280-7272

  5. try contacting john chapman of goodwear leather he might know somedy

  6. Hi David,

    Congrats on finding your 101! I’m currently looking for one, and I think I may have found one (keeping my fingers crossed that it’s not a lemon!).

    I’m in Toronto, as well. May I ask who your Reece mechanic is? Also, who was doing your buttonholes before? I may just get someone else to do mine, as the Reece sounds like it needs a lot of love and attention.

    Thanks so much for any help! :)

  7. Hi

    Messaging you from the Island of Malta. We are a small comapny creating suits. We’ve got a reece machine which we’re trying to figure out what best thread to use. Would you be able to advice the proper thread to use? The gimp sold at most haberdeshary stores seems too thick.

  8. Reece machines are always recommended to use Gutermann threads….and gimp….good luck its trial and error

  9. Reece..ugh…very difficult to maintain. Email me and we can exchange some information…such as what sorts of materials you are working on etc…
    best
    David.

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