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!