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. Â 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!!!