Finishing a Jacket: Keyhole Buttons and John Reece

The final step in the process for creating my A-1 jacket is the installation of the zippers and/or buttons.  This is the most serious part of the process because the jacket is now at its near completion and the most expensive part of the process if there is some kind of error.  So here is the last and final set of steps before this near perfect beauty is completed.  The button hole.  An A-1 was mostly produced before the common use of the zipper.  This required the creation of either the more traditional European style welt button hole, a sort of slit with two welts like flaps, or a keyhole button.  The keyhole button is the most authentic North American option.  And the button hole is quite beautiful to look at.  There is a storied history to the keyhole button, one that starts in Quebec, Canada.

reece 101 gimped button hole

Perfect vintage gimped button hole

Born in Stanstead, Quebec in 1853, John Reece was a descendant of Welsh immigrants to the region.  Excelling in the newly emerging service of fixing the rapidly spreading sewing machine, Reece took his mechanical skills and invented the first Automatic Buttonhole machine.  This launched Reece Company which managed to continue in business for well past 100 years. I have pictures of some of the early machines and the patents here.  Suffice to say, Mr. Reece’s machines became the standard for leather jacket gimped keyhole buttons.  A gimp is a thread that runs around the keyhole shaped button and is sewn down.  On my jackets this risky business of putting in these keyholes at the end of the jackets production bears the ultimate fruit of authenticity.  It is always stressful, it almost always works … very occasionally it doesn’t and then I have an aneurysm!





Finishing a Jacket: Hand Hammered Rivits, Zippers and Bits

Now the last bunch of steps to making a leather jacket are the most complex.  Not because they involve a lot of stitching but because they require a lot of finesse.  The more time spent on a jacket and the farther along that you get, the more dangerous the cost of a mistake.  With leather there are few second chances.  Unlike fabric, any holes sewn in leather cannot be undone.  A very skilled tailor can often resew in the holes previously made but the reality of leather jacket production means that any errors are difficult to undo.

himel bros d pocket jacket

Hand gluing and tamping seam folds

Pile of Avros with leather swatches and liners

Pile of Avros with leather swatches and liners

horsehide leather

Himel Bros options






Attaching the sleeves requires a very strong hand.  This horsehide is tough, and the tougher the leather the harder to manipulate the sewing.  Once the sleeve is attached allowing for the seam allowance the leather needs to be notched.  In order to turn out the sleeve and top stitch it, the notches allow the easy turning and rotation of the sleeve and the nice flat arm hang.  It requires constant awareness and attention to not make any mistakes and ruin a nearly finished garment.

Avro D Pocket Horsehide leather jacket

D Pocket on an Avro being finished by hand with spot work

Avro D Pocket Horsehide leather jacket

D-Pocket horsehide pull tabs

gromit zipper 1930s heron himel jacket

Grommit zipper installed with hand tapped rivets

Avro D Pocket Horsehide leather jacket

Hand installing pulltabs on the Avro D-Pocket jacket

1930s Rivets Avro Jacket

Avro gun pocket re-enforced rivets

Avro Pull Tab Horsehide Jacket

Hand Punching holes into an Avro Pull Tab

Avro horsehide jacket

Hand punching holes for spot work




















The collar must be attached the right way round.  There are many types of collars but the two typical ones for a jacket are the stand-up collar and the turndown collar.  This jacket typically has a turndown collar.  That means that the collar should be attached with the top stitching showing when the collar is folded over.  I had no idea there were so many different collar types when I researched it.   For our jackets, turndown collars are typical.

prongs spot work avro horsehide jacket

Hand turning the prongs for the pull tabs on an Avro

d pocket skiving gluing

Hand skiving and gluing seams on a d-pocket jacket

Avro horsehide jacket

Welted tobacco pocket on the Avro D Pocket, hand skived and glued seams






The really hard parts after completing the sewing of the leather are the installations of the linings, zippers and snaps.  All of these require super careful placement in order that the jacket fits nicely.  The two sides of a zipper need to be level, button holes must be sewn in on a completed jacket, snaps for collars need to be adjusting because real leather expands and contracts when sewn and adjustments have to be made at the end. It is a very difficult and stressful process!  If the liner isn’t sewn in tight enough it will hang down past the leather of the jacket.  If it is too tight it risks tearing or limiting the mobility of these tight fitted styles.  A 1930s A-1 may appear to have a simple design but in reality the techniques are very advanced working with the best materials.



Making a Heron A-1: Sewing the Body, Sleeves and Collar


Once a jacket has been cut and all the pieces checked for quality, the assemblage of the body can commence.  Typically the seam allowance for a leather jacket is 3/8ths; this helps save on very expensive leather wastage.   Our jackets are sewn with two types of thread.  The inner seams are synthetic for strength and the top stitching is done in cotton thread for both beauty and authenticity.  As a jacket wears the cotton thread tends to protect the leather from wear and tear.  The strain on the stitch holes can lead to a sawing effect with nylon thread so rather than experience that kind of wear over time the more authentic cotton thread which was used in the 1930s and 1940s is preferred.  Thread gauge and stitch counts are maintained to the original jackets of the 1930s. We had to overcome many technical difficulties in order to use cotton.  The main one being that the sewing has to be slowed down in order to not constantly break the thread as the needle penetrates the very tough beautiful horsehides.

Closeup of Capeskin seams on a Heron jacket

Closeup of Capeskin seams on a Heron jacket

When sewing, the body is sewn first separate from the sleeves and the collar.  Any external hard wear and straps like the nickel d-rings are attached to the body of the jacket.  Inner seams are sewn, first maintaining the seam allowance and then the top stitching is applied to finish the seam.  We keep our top stitching accurate to the widths of the original jackets.  In order to maintain flat seams and smooth stitching, seams need to be tamped or hammered as the sewing progresses.  As well anywhere where there are multiple folds and seams that are joined, the seam allowance needs to be cut away and often edges get skived down.  Skiving is a process of shaving down the leather in order to minimize the thickness.  As typical in the shoe industry, jackets made with real horsehide leather would be too thick on seams where leather can be folded over up to 8 times.  8 times of 1.1 mm leather makes for an almost 1 cm thick seam to top stitch over.  High quality sewing leads to very nice flat seams on these joins. This takes time and the sewing techniques of very skilled craftspeople.

Whenever pieces of the body are joined together, we finish each seam with a knot.  Few manufacturers would take the extra time to do

this.  By hand knotting the seam the likelihood of ever coming unstitched is minimized and creates an extra strong seam!