Attachments · Buttonholes · Jersey · Singer · Transverse shuttle

Buttons and buttonholes with a transverse shuttle machine

Impossible! It doesn’t do zig-zag.

True. But possible. 😁

I made a pair of long-sleeved tops out of fine viscose jersey, so I used my Singer 48K to get that flexible stitch with 60% stretch. Now I need to make buttonholes in the cuffs.

I’m fussy about the feel of my clothes, so I did not want to put stiff interlining in the cuffs because these tops are otherwise quite soft and light. Instead, I added one internal layer of the same jersey, so my cuff is just three layers of fine jersey.

Normally, you can forget about making buttonholes in this with a sewing machine because it will either chew up the material or skip almost all the stitches, or both. Which is why you are supposed to use stiff interlining to avoid these problems. But I didn’t.

I am using Singer buttonhole attachment No. 86718 for straight stitch machines. It makes fantastic buttonholes every day of the week, but it is not designed for TS machines. There is nothing in itself that would stop you using it, if you can manage to fit the feed dog cover.

Normally with a TS machine you don’t need a feed dog cover for, say, free hand embroidery or quilting, because of the spring-driven feed. You simply set the stitch length to zero and stitch away – the feed dogs do not interfere with the stitching. Not so with the buttonholes. You need to cover the feed dogs in order to have a smooth surface for the machine to maneuver on, the feed dogs (or the feed dog hole) interfere with the movement.

There are some very rare (and expensive) feed dog cover plates for TS machines, but I haven’t got one. I did manage to fit the standard feed dog cover that came with the buttonholer, but I must say this is a hungry needle breaker because you cannot fix it with two screws as designed, and it tends to wiggle as you sew. You need to screw it down with troll’s force, so make sure you’ve got a troll handy before commencing. πŸ˜‰

Once the plate is fitted however, you’re off!

This extremely versatile buttonholer allows you to set every aspect of the buttonhole. The photo above shows controls for the bight (the width of each zig-zagged side), the space between the sides and the density of zig-zags (the screw in the middle).

On the other side you have buttonhole length (rear control) which is shown in the sewing frame. The big knob is for “fast-forwarding” the pattern to a particular point in the buttonhole so that you’d know where you’re at.

After you’ve practiced the buttonhole a zillion of times at least, you can make lovely buttonholes on your garment without excessive markings: I just put a dot where I want the buttonhole to begin.

Oh, and did I mention that the buttonholes are rounded? 🀩

With fine jersey however, you have the additional difficulty because it is very stretchy and rather thin, so it gets stretched out and chewed up quite easily. You need to take the following precautions to avoid misbehaviour:

  • Use a fine jersey needle, size 60 or 70. Make sure it is brand new and perfect. If it is not, expect skipped stitches and in the worst case fabric pulled into the needle plate (a.k.a. chewed up).
  • Reduce tension of the upper thread a bit in order to avoid skipped stitches.
  • Increase tension of the bobbin thread (actually on the shuttle) to compensate. The stitches will be pulled over to the underside a bit, which is common for buttonholes.
  • Reduce zig-zag density and go around the buttonhole twice. This prevents the jersey from stretching out and at the same time covers any skipped stitches.
  • When you lower the foot onto the fabric, stretch the fabric slightly so that there is absolutely no bubbling in the stitching frame. Avoid pulling on the fabric during stitching – this will ruin the buttonhole.
  • Do not be tempted to stitch too fast! Slow going will avoid mishaps.
  • Practice the buttonhole in the same orientation with respect to the fabric grain, as you are going to use on the garment. It can make a big difference because of different stretch levels.

But even with the most careful execution, disaster still might strike, because the needle can betray you at any moment.

Chewed up! 😀 😠

Don’t panic. Your buttonhole can be saved! If you were not stitching at a break-neck speed, you can stop as soon as this happens. Bring the needle up, lift the foot and carefully – carefully! – pull the fabric out of the needle plate without moving it out of position. Yes, it is possible. Now lower the foot and make a few stitches manually to make sure that you are back on track with the stitching. This is most likely to happen on the first round, so you can correct any skipped stitches on the second round.

So why am I fiddling with all of this on a TS machine? Aren’t there simpler ways to make a buttonhole?

In general, there are. I normally use Pfaff Creative 7551 for buttonholes which is a modern(-ish) computerised machine with a very nifty buttonhole sliding plate attachment. Simply brilliant. Works every time, but it cannot resist chewing up fine jersey, no matter how many croissants I feed it for breakfast. Other machines skip stitches a lot, so no good either. The only other contender would be a VS machine, but there we have exactly the same problem with the feed dog cover. In fact, the standard cover fits better over a TS top than over a VS top. So I stick with Singer 48K since this is what I’ve been using on this project all along.

Having made 16 buttonholes, I am too lazy to hand-sew 16 buttons. I am also too lazy to set up a zig-zag machine to sew them on in the usual way. There must be a way to do it on my TS! πŸ™‚

Yep. Button foot with a Stoppax darning attachment.

I keep the feed dog cover which makes it easier to move the piece under the foot.

I stitch very slowly, but it only takes a few stitches to sew on a button. I make a few stitches in place to secure the thread. Done! πŸ˜ƒ

3 thoughts on “Buttons and buttonholes with a transverse shuttle machine

  1. What an amazing contraption – huge! But if it works that’s good enough. All very fascinating, so thank you Elena. πŸ˜€


    1. You mean the buttonholer? Yes, that’s one of the best ways to make buttonholes – with any machine, including many computerised ones. Part of it is the feed dog cover – only my computerised Pfaff has something like that, I haven’t seen this idea anywhere else except for other Singer buttonholers. As for other mechanical buttonholers, including later Singer, they typically come with templates, so nothing is adjustable. Great if it includes what you want, useless otherwise.


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