For starters, I've done some research on this machine and I can tell you a few things about it:
- It was Canadian-made in St.-Jean-sur-Richlieu (QC) NOT St. John's (NL) as many people have mistakenly supposed. Back then, mon Dieu, the suburb of Mtl. was known by its English name. Kind of contextualizes the October Crisis...
- It came with a piece of paper sporting my MIL's measurements in 1959 (before she had kids): Bust 35.5, Waist 25, Hips 35. OMG. Note: She is widely regarded to have been a mega-hottie.
- It's a 3/4 sized, mint-green machine and has (essentially) the same guts as the ubiquitous, early-era Singer 99, which was produced for more than 40 years. The 185J was the "modern" version.
- It was made in "St. John's" and in Scotland. The British version was called 185K and it was a suspect shade of beige.
- Mine came with a Singer Buttonholer kit, the likes of which are readily available.
- It's widely regarded to be an excellent machine - if underrated - with a strong motor (.75 amp) and a cast iron chassis. It can sew through leather and even plastic. I've seen well-preserved versions online for up to 400 bucks (and heard about those purchased for 20 bucks at thrift stores).
- It's a "portable" model. Um, yeah. It weighs 33 pounds.
My green genie gift is not in cosmetic mint condition (pun intended) - my MIL must have worked the shit out of it, what with all the missing enamel - but it runs perfectly, especially since my husband helped me to refurbish it last year. I haven't used it much, though, cuz (honestly) I've been afraid of it. This thing is seriously hard-core. And I never used the buttonholer cuz I'm tremendously freaked out by a) wacky vintage gizmos and b) button holes. You can see my problem.
Today, though, I was so sick of being sick - and so intrigued to figure this out - that I harassed my husband into helping me set it up. It's quite a production to install the buttonholer:
But the piece de resistance is most definitely this:
These holes go through 2 layers of medium weight denim with no stabilizing interfacing. I didn't even press the fold! I've opened the top button and the bottom one is still closed. These are the WRONG SIDE of the buttons, people.
Sometimes vintage really knows how to get it right. The buttonholer moves the fabric, not the needle. Seems like it wouldn't work as well as a modern (needle-moving) machine, but it's 100% more reliable.
I may actually have to make something with buttons now.