Friday, October 24, 2014

Singer Featherweight Model 221

A 1938 Singer Featherweight is one of the sewing machines I inherited from my mother. She got it at a yard sale for $25 because "It's a pretty small machine..." The guy was asking $50! They sell for $350 and more today. IS a small machine!

She really enjoyed taking this to classes and even sewing on it at home...among her many other machines. That collection included some treadles, hand-cranks, toy and electric models. I took the electric ones and the rest were sold to other collectors. They should be with people who appreciate and use it was my husband's nightmare that I would bring home all the machines!
(Mom had already given me a nice treadle...)

So after these almost 11 years, I decided I should take care of this baby. The local quilt shop was having a class about how to maintain your Featherweight, conducted by  The Old Sewing Machine Man, Johnny Johnson. He and wife Debbie are experts in old sewing machines, attachments and supplies. They travel to quilt shows and other events, sharing their love of everything pre-computer and providing lots of help to others. I always enjoy seeing them and admiring the machines they bring for sale.
Johnny started off with a history of the Singer Featherweight and how the original machine (made as the Standard SewHandy) was not well thought of by the sales they didn't show it to anyone! But at the World's Fair in 1933 it was on display and everyone who could sew wanted one. They weigh 11 lbs. Have you ever picked up a regular sewing machine? Back in the day, those things clocked in at about 35 lbs!
Having the original case is a nice touch:
I kept Mom's ID don't want your machine to be mistaken for the others!
The most important thing here is DO NOT let those catches snap open! The spring inside will eventually break, and they are expensive to replace. Everyone likes to let them snap open, but you should hold a hand over the latch so it doesn't fly up.
A supply tray sits on top of the also has the original book!

After that, step by step we went through the 42 places that need oil!
Modern machines are sealed up and even boast of not needing oil (some take a bit in the bobbin area). You only use a tiny drop, but some of the places to oil are almost invisible. Maybe Singer wanted you to take it to a repairman. However, these old machines are wonderful because you can do a lot of your own work on them.

The only thing I couldn't finish in class was putting in a new felt pad. It goes inside on the bottom, and acts to absorb all the oil (and grease...yes, there is that, too!) that can drip off. The felt on my machine was fused to the bottom plate, so I had to get the new part, then scrape off the felt when I got home. It had soaked up a lot of gunk since 1938.
You should be glad you can't really see what it looked like. That's the new felt on the right.
The serial number will tell what year the machine was made. Some were made until 1964, and some were made in Canada, Scotland and other places. A few versions were made in green or ivory color, but by far most are black. Some of the refurbished ones have been painted in fun colors, since the old finishes and decals may have been worn away.

I was happy to see several people I know also were taking the class! One had a newly maintained machine, but was learning for herself. Another had two machines with her...and another still at home! We had fun finding small differences in models from over the years. Most had the original foot control, which was used by Singer for most of their machines well into the 1960s:

The oldest ones have some metal parts, but the same design
I never have been able to figure out what the designer was going for with this. It is about 6" long, and the actual power comes from the button on the right. But I am positive (after so many years of teaching and seeing so many machines) that this is responsible for the many people who learned to sew barefooted, and continue to this day. 

Mom liked to give things names, like "SuzyBelle", but I cannot remember if she had one for this machine. Maybe if I sew on it for awhile I will think of one.
My quilt guild retreat is in November, and I think I'll take this along. Maybe I'll invite the other Featherweight owners to bring theirs, would be fun to see a bunch of these little guys purring along together!
They only make a straight stitch, but they do it oh-so-well! And that's all a quilter really needs.

Visit The Old Sewing Machine Man's website:

Learn more about Featherweights:
(scroll down for the chart that matches serial numbers with the year they were made).

Read the book:

Featherweight 221 - The Perfect Portable: And Its Stitches Across History ...

 By Nancy Johnson-Srebro (this includes a re-print of the original manual that came with the machines)

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