Feast your eyes on one of the first ever "Automatic Buttonhole" accessory feet ever made:
Yes, this frightening looking contraption turns an antique straight stitch only sewing machine into a fully adjustable zig-zagging buttonholer. This is a Famous brand Buttonhole Worker "Model C", and although it is hard to find an exact date but it is probably about 100 years old.
These two gauges controlled the width of the buttonhole zig-zag stitch and the size of the space inside the buttonhole.
Adjusting this screw to the top of the slot made shorter buttonholes, and adjusting it to the bottom made the buttonhole longer.
Here's how it works. Since the straight stitch sewing machine could only make a straight stitch, a cover plate is put on top of the feed dogs so that the giant feed foot in front of the attachment can move the fabric around to make the stitch.
The driver lever attaches to the needle bar, and when it moves up and down the lever actuates gears that drive the feed foot both back-and-forth and side-to-side to create the stitch.
Check it out in action! Here's a video I found over at YouTube:
And here is a nice blog post describing the use of this baby in action at yarndiva's blog Sew Old - Sew New!
Singer made some improvements on this style in the 1930's with the Singer Buttonhole Attachment 121795, which works in the same way and has the same basic adjustable parts, but is a little more streamlined.
See this style of Singer buttonholer in action:
And check out an awesome post from one of my favorite sewing bloggers Susan from Spare Time (For Sewing) stitching with her Old Style Buttonholer.
And here's yet another sweet little video showing one in action:
And another excellent blog post from one of my favorite fellow antique/vintage machine collectors Susan at Spare Time (For Sewing) showing her work with this style of buttonholer.
Sewing machines equipped with a built in zig-zag stitch started to become widely available after the 1950's, but it would still be a few years before a buttonhole stitch would be a built-in or even "automatic" feature in sewing machines.
The 1970's would be the first time home sewers began to see a built-in buttonhole stitch on a home sewing machine. Going forward the built-in automatic buttonhole stitch became a standard feature for most machines, making the "Automatic Buttonholers" a thing of the past. But, if you love sewing old school with a vintage sewing machine, this is definitely the way to make buttonholes.
And, if you own a vintage sewing machine or two like me, you might want to give one of these oldies a try - it definitely gives you a new appreciation for sewing buttonholes the NEW way!