Thursday, March 13, 2014

Sewing Machine Review: The Iconic Singer Model 221 Featherweight


"Bette," my 1935 Singer Model 221 Featherweight
Since my sewing machine review post on my Bernina 750 QE has been so popular, I thought I'd do a similar post for my Singer Model 221 Featherweight sewing machines.  This also gave me an excuse to do a Glamour Shots photo shoot with both machines, which was fun in and of itself.  ;-)  I own two Featherweights, the 1935 issue pictured above and another one made in 1951 pictured below.  They are the perfect complement to my high-end, high-tech behemoth of a Bernina.  Although I have only had the Featherweights for about a year, they are the first purely mechanical sewing machines I’ve ever used – no computers or electronics – and I was surprised by how quickly I bonded with them despite being spoiled by all the bells and whistles of my modern computerized machine.
"Judy," my 1951 Singer Model 221 Featherweight
·         Machine Description: One of the most popular sewing machines ever made, the Featherweight was introduced at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair and was sold until about 1964.  Therefore, this review is for a USED, VINTAGE sewing machine (not the Alphasew Featherweight Reproduction, which is priced higher than many genuine vintage Featherweights but is not even in the same league when it comes to craftsmanship or quality).   Please note that I'm going to give you a BRIEF overview of the machine, hitting on some of the major design changes over time, but skipping over others.  For a more complete history of all Featherweight models and feature changes, I recommend Nancy Johnson-Srebro's book, Featherweight 221 - The Perfect Portable

     The first thing to know when you’re shopping for this machine is that the Singer Featherweight sewing machine does not actually SAY “Featherweight” anywhere on the machine.  It may say Model 221 (earliest U.S. made machines), 221-1, 221K, 221J (light bisque/beige machines made in Britain) or, if it’s the rarer free-arm version, Model 222K.  Some Singer Featherweights do not even have a model number anywhere on the machine, so it's important to know what you're looking for. 
Originally, the Singer Featherweight came only in glossy black with gold decals, an ornate “Egyptian” scrolled face plate and a chromed balance wheel. 
1935 Singer Model 221 Featherweight with My Kiddo in the Background
The very earliest machines (like the 1935 issue shown in most of my photos for this review) had no markings on the stitch plate for seam allowances and did not have any numbers on the tension dial, but when these features were introduced they were quite popular and were often retrofitted at the owners' request.  The graduated stitch plate markings (introduced in 1956) facilitate sewing with a consistent seam width, and the numbered tension dial (which began to appear in 1935) makes it easier to switch back and forth between different types of projects, since you can make a note of the tension setting before you alter it and then just set it back to the same number when you are done.  Without a numbered tension dial, you would have to adjust tension through trial and error any time you make changes.  Since I only use my 1935 Featherweight for piecing with quilting weight cotton and Aurifil cotton thread, I rarely need to adjust the tension setting at all so it’s a non-issue for me.  I also prefer to use the adjustable cloth guide attachment (pictured below) to maintain an accurate seam allowance because the glare on a chromed stitch plate makes it difficult for me to see markings engraved on a stitch plate. 

There are not nearly as many early Featherweights like mine out there without the numbered tension dial and graduated stitch plate – I only mention this so you can look for these features if they are important to you.
1951 Featherweight Model 221K with Numbered Tension Dial
Singer’s factories were converted for war production during World War II, and around that time or soon afterwards Singer stopped using chromed nickel plating on the balance wheel due to scarcity of those metals and the need to control costs.  In the late ‘40s or early ‘50s, Singer switched from the ornate Egyptian scrolled face plate style to a more modern, striated face plate, and the gold decals on the machine bed were updated at about that time as well. 


Early Egyptian Scroll Face Plate Left, Later Striated Face Plate on Right
Singer sold a bazillion Featherweights in the 1950s, and machines from this decade are going to be the easiest ones to find in good condition and at reasonable prices.
Around 1960-1962, the Singer Featherweight given another modern “facelift” and was offered in Tan/Beige as well as in Black, and later, between about 1964-1970, a funky White was introduced that has just a hint of green to it.  These machines had a painted rather than chromed face plate and no decals on the machine bed, giving them a very different look, but they sew just as beautifully as the black ones.  White and tan/beige Featherweights go for slightly higher prices because not as many of them were made and sold. 

1964 Singer Featherweight 221, photo by April 1930s
When you see Featherweights that are bright red, orange, or metallic purple, just be aware that these are not original factory paint jobs.  Repainting Featherweights in fanciful colors with car paint is a hot trend in some circles.  Some Featherweight enthusiasts are scandalized by this practice, and it would indeed be foolish to repaint a rare or valuable Featherweight that was in good condition.  However, if it gives new life to a machine that had a severely damaged finish and enables someone else to love it and use it again, I’m all for it!  Just be aware that, when you’re buying a professionally restored and repainted Featherweight, you’re paying a premium for the extensive labor involved in completely disassembling the machine, stripping the old finish, repainting, and reassembling the machine.  If you really want a one-of-a-kind Featherweight like this “Ladybug” machine from Roxanne’s A Wish and a Dream, expect to pay upwards of $1,000 for the novelty:

"Ladybug" Custom Paint Job by Roxanne's A Wish and a Dream
Now that I’ve given you some background info to whet your appetite, let’s get to the nitty-gritty!


·         Machine Dimensions: The Singer Model 221 “Featherweight” measures a diminutive 15” wide by 7” deep by 10” tall.  She weighs only 11 pounds 4 ounces, and has a throat depth of 5”.  The little extension table on the left side of the machine folds up for compact storage or transport.  This makes the machine ideal for taking to classes, as well as for those with limited space for their sewing paraphernalia. 
5" Throat Space on the Singer Featherweight 221
·         Included Presser Feet:  Because you’re buying this machine used, the number of included feet and accessories will vary quite a bit and should factor into the price you pay for your machine.  When I bought my 1951 Featherweight from a Habitat for Humanity ReStore, the machine only came with the luggage-like carrying case, the regular presser foot that you see in the pictures, and the foot controller.  Its stitch plate was rusted out and needed replacement, one of the thread guides was missing, someone had installed the wrong belt on the motor, and the Bakelite plug on the foot controller was cracked and needed replacement.   I got it for $200, but by the time I had it fixed up and cleaned up I had spent at least twice that amount. 

     Yet my 1935 Featherweight, purchased from a quilter’s estate, came with a complete set of accessories, no missing parts, and even the original 1935 owner’s manual.  By the way, there’s no need to panic if your Featherweight doesn’t come with an owner’s manual.  The owner’s manual and service manual are both available online as free PDF files on the Singer web site that you can either print out or download to your favorite electronic reading device: http://www.singerco.com/accessories/instruction-manuals   

Illustration of Original Standard Accessories in Carrying Case
When the Featherweights were sold as new machines, they did come with an assortment of basic accessories such as the cloth guide, Adjustable Hemmer foot, Binder, Narrow Rolled Hemmer, Edge Stitcher, Ruffler, Shirrer, Tucker, and perhaps a Cording/Zipper foot (only standard with the white machines), as well as a little oil can and a couple of little screwdriver tools.  Different accessories came standard with the machines in different years, and of course, just as when you purchase a used modern sewing machine, sellers will often include non-standard accessories that they purchased separately.  For that reason, additional vintage Singer accessories for these machines such as buttonhole attachments may be included with your vintage Featherweight as well, and may justify a higher price point.  Vintage Singer presser feet and attachments were very well made and produce excellent results, but if you’re primarily a quilter you won’t use many of them.
The one vintage Singer accessory that I use all the time on my Featherweights, and you can see it attached to my machines in the photos, is the Cloth Guide that screws very securely right into the bed of the machine.  I love this accessory because I can adjust its position in minute increments to achieve a perfect ¼” or scant ¼”, or even wider for hems, and it doesn’t loosen or move from the vibration of running the sewing machine.  If your machine doesn’t come with one of these, they are easy enough to find separately. 
Perfect 1/4" Seam with Vintage Singer Cloth Guide
Keep in mind that the Featherweights in good cosmetic and working condition, with all of their accessories, original manuals, original case, etc. are going to be the ones that command the highest prices.   If you’re buying a machine for sewing and not for collecting, you can save money by finding one that doesn’t come with a lot of extras that you don’t need and won’t be using anyway.
·         Bobbin type: The Singer 221 “Featherweight” sewing machine has an all metal bobbin and bobbin case that is vertically mounted on the left SIDE of the sewing machine (not in the front, where you find the bobbin on most modern machines). 
Side Mounted Vertical Bobbin Case
When you are shopping for your Featherweight, you do want to look for one that has the ORIGINAL bobbin case with it, stamped SIMANCO (Singer Manufacturing Company) if possible.  There are reproduction bobbin cases available, but they do not work well in all of the machines and you’ll get the best stitch quality in most cases with an original vintage bobbin case made for your machine.  You can occasionally find a vintage Featherweight bobbin case for sale on eBay, but they can run as much as $50-70 or more – so if you’re considering purchasing a machine that doesn’t have an original bobbin case, you should factor that into your negotiations.

·         Computerized Functions: None!  There are no computer boards or print drivers to short out and need replacing on this machine, no touch screens to go bad, no buttons to stop working, and no programming sequences for you to master.  Step on the pedal to sew.  Take your foot off the pedal to stop.  Flip a lever on the front of the machine to go backwards, like throwing your car into reverse.  Turn a screw on that lever and reposition it to make your stitches longer or shorter, then never touch the screw again and always get stitches exactly the length you prefer, even after turning off the machine.  If you can operate an alarm clock or an automatic drip coffeemaker, this machine will be a piece of cake. 
·         Needles: Use new Schmetz needles in your Featherweight for best results.  Note that the needle must be inserted SIDEWAYS on a Featherweight, with the flat side to the LEFT, and you must thread the needle from right to left in order for the machine to sew properly.  Sometimes you will find a Featherweight offered for sale “needing repair,” and it turns out the only problem is that the needle is inserted incorrectly or it’s threaded backwards, so check for this when you test-sew a machine you’re considering purchasing.  I like to use a size 75 Schmetz Quilting needle for piecing, or a 70 Microtex if I’m using a finer thread like Aurifil Mako 50/2.
Needle Goes Sideways, Flat Side to Left, and Thread from Right to Left
·         Basic Setup and Ease of Operation: This is an extremely easy, user-friendly sewing machine.  This makes it a great machine for teaching children to sew.
Perfect Machine For Beginners and Children
The Featherweight produces a beautiful, reliable straight stitch that is superior to the straight stitch on many of the most expensive modern machines, and the only way you can mess it up is if you put the needle in backwards (in which case you get perfect stitching again as soon as you fix the needle) or drop it down the stairs (in which case you need to find another one).  There is zero learning curve with this machine, and it’s absolutely ideal for precision patchwork piecing – that’s why so many hard-core quilters own and cherish Featherweights even if they also own and enjoy high-end computerized sewing machines. 
If you are just starting out sewing, or wanting to make your first quilt, the Featherweight will shorten your learning curve dramatically, eliminate the various difficulties that come into play on multipurpose modern sewing machines, AND leave plenty of money in your pocket for fabric, rotary cutting tools, and all the other gadgets on your shopping list as a new quilter.
·         Included Stitches: The beauty of the Featherweight is that it is a straight stitch ONLY machine – but that straight stitch is absolute perfection. 
Straight Stitch Perfection!
The Featherweight sews forwards and backwards, but cannot make any sideways motion stitches.  When zigzag sewing machines were first introduced, the side-to-side needle motion of the new machines required design changes that compromised the quality of the straight stitch slightly – a wider hole in the stitch plate as well as relocating the bobbin from the side of the machine, where it rotated in the same direction as the seam being sewn, to the front of the machine, where the bobbin rotates perpendicularly to the seam line.  Each straight stitch of a machine “lock stitch” is formed by a twisting of the needle and bobbin thread between stitches to “lock” the two threads together between the fabric layers.  On the Featherweight, that twist-tug action is exerted in the same direction as the seamline, keeping your stitches nice and straight.  I found this fantastic animation of how a sewing machine forms a lock stitch, and the needle, presser foot, and bobbin are oriented exactly like they are on a Featherweight machine in this video:
On most modern machines, the needle and the bobbin case are both turned at 90 degree angles to the presser foot and the seamline.  Consequently, the threads are tugged SIDEWAYS where the needle and bobbin threads "lock" together between each stitch, which can create an ever-so-slight slant to the "straight" stitches no matter how perfectly balanced your tension may be. 

Small Needle Hole and Narrow Feed Dogs
Triangle Points Love Narrow Feed Dogs!
The feed dogs on modern sewing machines are also spaced farther apart to accommodate the 5.5 mm or 9 mm stitches.  When you’re sewing ¼” patchwork seams for quilts on a modern sewing machine, your fabric is only in contact with the left feed dog at times, which makes it more difficult to feed the fabric through the machine perfectly straight, especially at the beginning and end of seams, and when dealing with little triangle points.  The wider needle hole in the stitch plate of a zigzag sewing machine also has a habit of “eating” your triangle points, pulling them down into the bobbin area.


·         Can you Drop the Feed Dogs?  No, you cannot lower the feed dogs on most Featherweight sewing machines for free-motion quilting.  (The feed dogs CAN be lowered on the convertible free arm Model 222 Featherweight, but those machines are very rare, difficult to find, and typically sell for three times what you’d pay for a Model 221). There is a small vintage Singer accessory called a Darning and Embroidery Plate that some quilters use to cover the feed dogs on a Featherweight 221 for free motion quilting work.  The one in the photo below is an original vintage part that April 1930s sells for $150:
Featherweight Vintage Darning and Embroidery Plate, Photo by April 1930s
There are other vintage and modern reproduction parts out there at lower price points that can be used to cover the feed dogs in a similar manner, and I recently read on the Featherweights Yahoo forum of some workarounds for doing free-motion work on a 221 without a darning plate, such as setting the stitch length to zero to render the feed dogs inoperable.  However, with only 5” of throat space to the right of the needle, the Featherweight really does not have enough room for quilting anything other than small projects, IMO.  I personally do not use my Featherweights for machine quilting because I have another, larger machine that is much better suited to quilting (my Bernina 750 QE). 
·         Automatic or Manual Thread Cutting: When you read the Featherweight owner’s manual, they refer to a “thread cutter” at the back of the needle bar.  This is merely a metal loop that is about as sharp as a butter knife, and you’re supposed to pull your threads straight down over this thing hard enough to snap them.  I cut all of my threads with a little scissor or thread snip when I’m sewing on a Featherweight.
·         Is There a Start/Stop Button? Not only does the Featherweight not have a start/stop button, it does not have an on/off switch, either!  That switch on the bed of the machine only turns the light on and off.  If a Featherweight is plugged in, it is turned on.  That’s why I always leave the light switch in the on position, so if I see light, I know I forgot to unplug the machine. 
·         Pros:
1.    Affordable machine for those on a budget, either as a first/only machine or as a backup for traveling
2.    Stitch quality and reliability are equal to or superior to the most expensive luxury machines made today
3.    This machine has adjustable presser foot pressure so you can adjust it to feed your fabric evenly whether you’re sewing with sheer chiffon or heavy denim.  Shockingly, many manufacturers’ smaller, entry-level models built today do not have this basic feature that has been around for over a hundred years.  It’s not on the Bernina Activa 215 or on any of the 3 Series machines, either, but it came standard on every Singer Model 221 and 222 Featherweight from 1933 on!
Adjustable Presser Foot Pressure on the Singer Featherweights
4.    Very easy to use and maintain, seldom needs repairs.  If you're even moderately mechanically inclined, you can learn to service and maintain this machine on your own.  Even if you prefer to pay a sewing machine technician for service, it's unlikely that anything will ever go wrong that will cost very much to fix.  Most parts for the Featherweights are available either vintage or reproduction at reasonable prices.
5.    This is a solid, well-made machine, built to outlast you AND the lucky person who gets it after you.  They don’t make ‘em like they used to because it would be so expensive to produce a machine like this today that no one could afford to buy one, seriously.  The machines and their vintage accessories (still readily available on eBay and from online Featherweight parts dealers) just work so beautifully for what they were intended to do
6.    All metal construction, with no plastic parts
7.    Unbelievably stinking cute, vintage chic machine that will be the belle of the ball wherever she goes
8.    Extremely lightweight and portable, easy to tuck away and store when not in use
9.    Time traveling!  It is so cool to be sewing on a machine that was built and sold during the Great Depression.  I wonder how many hands my machine has passed through, how many quilts, dresses, wedding gowns, baby bonnets she has sewn.  That sense of history is part of what makes sewing on a Featherweight such a special experience.
·         Cons:
1.    No zigzag stitch.  If you’re mainly a quilter, this is not a big deal.  You can also sew home dec items, crafty items, and clothing made from woven fabrics beautifully on this machine.  However, if you want to sew with knits, you really need a zigzag stitch and this may not be the machine for you.
2.    Small throat space, can’t drop feed dogs (unless it’s a rare Model 222).  This is a great machine for piecing quilt tops, but it is not ideal for machine quilting them. 
3.    The built-in lighting on these machines is pretty weak.  I replaced the incandescent bulbs on my Featherweights with LED bulbs, and although I prefer the safety of a cooler-running LED bulb over incandescent and the whiter light is easier on my eyes, it’s really not all that much brighter.  I always use supplemental task lighting when I’m sewing on my Featherweights.
4.    No power switch.  You have to remember to unplug your Featherweight when you walk away from it
·         Where Can I Find a Featherweight and How Much Will it Cost?  Singer manufactured over two million of these machines from 1933 through 1964, and there are still plenty of them out there even though there are a lot of folks looking for them.  I have heard legends of collectors who stumbled across a Singer 221 at a yard sale for $50 “back in the day,” but that’s pretty unlikely nowadays.  There are always several Singer Featherweights listed on eBay or Craigslist, and you might get lucky and spot one at a second-hand store.  Just keep in mind that any machine that has been sitting unused for a long time is going to need to be cleaned, lubricated, adjusted, and have its electrical wiring inspected for safety before you can sew with it successfully, which could run you $50-100 depending on the going rates in your area.  For that reason, I recommend purchasing your Featherweight from another quilter or from a dealer/collector who will service the machine, even if the initial price point is higher.  The Model 221 Featherweights that have sold on eBay recently have gone for anywhere from $260 on the low end up to $405.  If you buy a machine on eBay for $300, then spend $50 to have it shipped with insurance and another $95 for a tech to clean and adjust it for you, you really spent $450 on that machine.
The price of a Singer Featherweight is going to vary depending on the condition of the paint and the extent to which the gold decals have worn away, whether the machine is in working condition with all of its parts, whether it comes with an original case, accessories, etc.  If it’s a Model 222/222K Featherweight (the convertible free arm machine with feed dogs that can be lowered) – expect to pay $900 to $1,400 or more. That’s because this model was only made from 1954-1961 and there just aren’t that many of them out there.   Furthermore, not all of the parts are interchangeable between the more common 221 machines and the 222, and if you ever need to find parts specific to the 222 model you’re likely to have a terrible time finding them and then have to pay through the nose.  That’s an important consideration if you’re buying the machine for actual sewing and not just as a collector’s item.
Singer Model 222/222K Convertible Free Arm Featherweight, Photo by April 1930s
There are a number of very reputable, knowledgeable folks who deal exclusively in Featherweights out there, who can sell you a beautiful machine that is already serviced, running perfectly and ready to sew, and who even offer guarantees on these used machines.  You can expect to pay between $500-$700 for machines from these sources; here are just a few that I consider reputable:
·         Graham Forsdyke out of the U.K.: http://www.singer-featherweight.com/sales-pages/Standard_main.html 
·         April 1930s sometimes has Featherweights for sale, and she sells vintage and reproduction parts and accessories and has lots of great information on her site: http://www.april1930s.com/html/sewing_machines.html
·         Larry & Carol Meeker: http://www.patented-antiques.com/Sewing_Machines_Fw.htm
·         Additional Online Featherweight Resources:
To find out how old a particular Featherweight is from the serial number on the bottom of the machine: http://www.singerco.com/support/machine-serial-numbers/double-letter
For fabulous video tutorials on how to thread your Featherweight, how to change needles, and how to wind a bobbin: http://singerfeatherweight221.blogspot.com/2012/12/vidoes-on-how-to-use-your-singer.html
For parts, repairs and maintenance information, check out Dave McCallum's Featherweight Rx web site and blog: www.featherweight221.com

There is also a Yahoo forum for Featherweight collectors and enthusiasts, where occasionally machines are offered for sale, but where you can also get help with any questions or trouble shooting: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/featherweight/info

UPDATED 7/19/2016: I'm linking up with Val's Archive's Linky with a Featherweight theme today.  Be sure to visit her post there to find even more Featherweight inspiration!


Val's Quilting Studio

38 comments:

Carrie P. said...

your singers are in pristine shape.
That straight stitch is really close to being perfect. Great info you shared.

Chris said...

GREAT post! So much information and the pictures are wonderful. I've been tempted, but there are already too many machines in my sewing room, and someday I'll inherit my mom's Singer 301, the big sister of the Featherweight which also sews a perfect seam. If it wasn't for that, your post could put me on the prowl for one.

Lynn Vega said...

This was such a fun article to read. Like you, I have a BERNINA 750QEE and two featherweights. Actually, once one is back from servicing I will own my third featherweight. I agree with everything that you mentioned and because of that I strongly recommend that people use a featherweight when doing either foundation or paper piecing. The sew, press, sew... is a perfect opportunity to use your featherweight. The motors on featherweights were never designed to be used for hours on end. Finally, I have followed Nova Montgomery for sometime, as she has a wonderful website and business devoted to featherweights. From her, I learned that there were two bobbin cases each with a different part number. If you lose your bobbin case, replace it with the exact same part number... they are not interchangable. I encourage everyone to make a note of their bobbin case number... just because. Thanks again! Lynn

Rebecca Grace said...

Lynn, that's a great tip about the bobbin cases! That must be why the replica bobbin cases work on some Featherweights but not on others.

Rebecca Grace said...

Chris, I’ve heard great things about the 301 as well. It’s not portable, though, is it? Of course what constitutes “portable” depends on which machines you’re comparing it to. My Bernina 750 is so big and heavy that, to me, probably any normal sized machine would seem portable in comparison. I’ve never seen a 301 in person. Is it one that needs to be mounted into a cabinet, or can you set it up on top of a table?

LindaBee said...

I just picked up a Featherweight 221 because I hear glowing reports about them. I'm having a hard time adjusting to the foot pedal and read in your blog that they have 'adjustable pressure foot pressure'. Can yu expand on that for me? I can only sew like a bat out of hell.

Rebecca Grace said...

Hi, LindaBee! Congrats on your new Featherweight! I tried to respond to you directly but you're set to "no reply."

Presser foot pressure has nothing to do with the speed of the machine or the foot pedal that makes it go. The presser foot pressure adjustment affects how tightly the presser foot (the interchangeable piece that attaches to the needle bar) is pushing down on your fabric as it feeds through the machine. It's a setting you would adjust when you're using heavier or lighter than normal fabrics, to improve the feeding and stitch quality.

Your Featherweight should be able to sew slowly or quickly, depending on how hard you push the foot pedal. Have you had a tech look your FW over for you? That would be my first step. Second, I know some people like to use the modern electronic foot pedals for their FWs -- these are more like the foot controllers you're probably used to. April 1930s sells them, and so do lots of other FW sites. Good luck to you!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Rebecca on a comprehensive report on the featherweights. A acquired a singer 222k featherweight, it doesn't have the free arm of the 222 model. It has all its accessories and manuel plus 12 bobbins. It seems to be in working order. Is this as rare as the 222 model, and what would it be valued at?

Rebecca Grace said...

Anonymous -- The 222K is the same thing as the 222 that I referred to. If your machine is a 222K, it is definitely convertible to a free arm. The photo in this post shows a 222K with the extension bed removed (free arm position). With the removable extension bed in place, the 222K looks very much like the 221 Featherweight.

imquilternity said...

Great post on Featherweights. Such wonderful information in one location!!

I have three featherweights - one is white and the other two are black (both with the scrolled faceplate) that I'm selling... if anyone is interested.

LJ said...

Thank you so much for all this great information. Of course, I've heard about Featherweights but just didn't understand much more than the fact that they were a vintage machine. When I see one or if I ever have a chance/ability to buy one, I'll have some valuable facts and information in order to evaluate the machine. Thanks again.

greg @ grey dogwood studio said...

This is a great post with lots of very helpful info and links. THANK YOU. I've bookmarked this so I can come back to it later. I've been stalking Graham's site for awhile and need to jump on one of those white machines soon. We've exchanged emails, and he's able to convert the electrical part of the Euro machines for use in the US for an additional fee.

=Tamar said...

Rebecca Grace: Yes, the 301 is designed to be portable. It even has a built-in carrying handle. It is lightweight (though not quite as light as a 221) and can be used on a folding table. It uses the same bobbin that the 221 uses. With the separate 'cradle' attachment it can be installed in a sewing cabinet.

Angela said...

Love this review! One thing to add, I recently discovered that the white Featherweights are a bit different internally as well as externally to the black ones. There is a nylon gear in there, and it has a belt inside as well as outside, as opposed to being shaft driven inside. They are nice looking, but perhaps not quite as great quality as the black ones, IMHO. I love Featherweights, there are currently 7 in my house!

Rebecca Grace said...

Thanks, Angela! I am aware of that design change with the white Featherweights, but the experts out there concur that it does NOT compromise the quality of the machine and the internal belt even makes the white FW sew quieter than the gear-driven black and beige predecessors: http://www.featherweight221.com/fwrx/blog/blog.php?id=2360758204483780159

Connie Kresin Campbell said...

Thank you for a very detailed descriptions of the Featherweights!

Randi Johnson said...

I am the new owner of a featherweight 221, which I LOVE! Only one problem: when I raise the presser foot the upper tension does not release. Any suggestions? Thanks!

Rebecca Grace said...

Congratulations on your new-to-you Featherweight, Randi! Unlike more modern machines, the Featherweight doesn't automatically stop with the needle completely up or down. After you finish a seam, check that the takeup lever is in the highest position and if not, rotate the handwheel towards you until it is. Then you can pull your work free from the machine without resistance. It's not designed to automatically release tension when the presser foot is raised. I hope that helps!

colorquilter said...

Great article! I have had 6 Featherweights in the past and currently have a black, white, and a custom blue one with flames! I am interested in selling my precious white one named snowflake as I really don't need three; I have 3 Berninas as well-930, 440, and 820.
If you are interested, email me privately. This machine is in very good condition, recently serviced and comes with attachments. Only thing wrong is the handle on the case was missing when I bought it, so I looped a belt to compensate.

Anonymous said...

Can you tell me what needles the 221-1 feather weight uses? thanks!

Rebecca Grace said...

Use Schmetz needles in your Featherweight for best results.

Carin Pease said...

Singer actually made 4 colors of Featherweights. Besides the black, white and tan ones the rarest of them all is the crinkle or godzilla finish. They don't come up for sale very often and usually go for about the same amount as a 222.

http://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_from=R40&_sacat=0&_nkw=Singer+221&_sop=3


Cari Pease

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this review. You have taught me a lot about my machine - including the very critical information about the cloth guide - I had no idea what this was about. Thorough job and well written.

CNKuster said...

Quick question: Can a singer featherweight sew through clothing leather?

Rebecca Grace said...

I've never tried sewing leather with my Featherweights. Most home sewing machines can sew through very lightweight glove leather (using an appropriate leather needle), but it would take more of an industrial upholstery machine to stitch through thick handbag or upholstery leather. Sometimes I see sellers advertising the Singer Featherweight -- or pretty much ANY vintage machine as an "industrial machine," but that's not really the case. The Featherweight was primarily conceived and marketed for home seamstresses making clothing, never for industrial use. However, it shouldn't hurt to try.

Marci said...

My mother gave me a Featherweight for my 16th birthday (in 1980). She paid $25 for it. She bought it from a man whose wife had left him, and he was selling all her stuff. True story.

Mary Ann said...

What a great article. As a Featherweight collector I enjoy what other people have to say about them. Unfortunately I now have 27 sewing machines and still look for more. The Featherweights sew beautifully and are addictive.
Mary Ann

Anonymous said...

You mentioned that I can't see knits on my featherweight. Are there other fabrics I should avoid? I love my little machine!

Rebecca Grace said...

Well, I hate to say you CAN'T sew knits at all on a Featherweight... It's a straight-stitch only machine, though, and a straight stitch doesn't stretch with a knit fabric. Having said that, there ARE vintage attachments that allow vintage Singer machines, including the Featherweights, to somehow sew zigzags and other decorative stitches. You can find them for sale on eBay sometimes, and sometimes April 1930s has them on her Featherweight site. I'm not personally familiar with these attachments, but they must work by moving your FABRIC from side to side during stitching rather than the needle moving from side to side, because the Featherweights are engineered in such a way that the needle cannot move sideways without striking the bobbin and hook race.

Kathy Browning said...

I just purchased a featherweight.... I didn't see that the wheel had a gold like glue that was used it looks like to hold a broken bobbin winder or dropped or something... it seems to sew good... is this going to effect the machines performance?

Rebecca Grace said...

Hi, Kathy. It's hard to say without seeing your machine. If you're concerned, it's worth having a sewing machine technician take a look at it. Is it too late to return the machine, or to negotiate a discount due to the undisclosed damage/repair?

Deb said...

Thank you for all this information. I make t-shirt quilts. Would a Featherweight work well for this?

Deb said...

Thank you for all this information. I make t-shirt quilts. Would a Featherweight work well for this?

Rebecca Grace said...

Hi, Deb. The Featherweight wouldn't be my own first choice for a T-shirt quilt, only because T-shirts are knits. My modern Bernina machine has differential feed to reduce the chance of wavy, stretching seams. If you are stabilizing the T-shirts to prevent or reduce stretching, you might be okay piecing them on a Featherweight. A walking foot would help on a Featherweight, too. Thanks for stopping by!

Valerie Reynolds said...

Hi Deb...I hope more people stop by from Tuesday Archives as your post is such an informative read!!! (Oh....how I'd love to have that little ladybug one!!!) :) :)Thank you for writing this post...I bookmarked it for future reference. :)

Hortensia Gómez said...

Excelente, gracias por compartir

Debby, crowefan0517 said...

I have an older Singer machine from 1928 that no longer works but has lots of attachments. I recently purchased a 1948 Model 221 and was wondering if you know if Singer attachments are interchangeable. Or, if not, if you could tell me how I might find the answer to that question.

Rebecca Grace said...

Debbie, the Featherweight attachments work on all of the low, vertical shank Singer Sewing Machines (i.e. 15, 27, 28, 66, 99, 185, 127, 128, 192 Spartan, 201, 206, 221, 222, 237, 306, 319, 320, 328). If your 1928 machine is one of those models, you should be good to go.

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