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Singer "Featherweight" Sewing Machines
Singer's Portable Electric Sewing Machine
One of the most popular vintage sewing machines is the Singer Featherweight. This was the nickname given to a series of portable electric sewing machines that was manufactured in the mid-20th century. The nickname "featherweight" was not actually used on any of these sewing machines.
Compared to present-day, state-of-the-art machines, these still seem rather hefty, but contrasted with the monsters that preceded them, their portability at the time was extreme refreshing. The Featherweight series came in a variety of colors over the years including white, black, cream, tan and pale green. There were two basic machine variations, one of which was a flat-bed and the other was a "freearm" that allowed for easier sewing of hems and cuffs.
Although there are lots of modern sewing machines that are a lot more versatile than these classics, the sturdy work-horse nature of these simple machines is part of their great appeal to the sewing fans who love and collect them. Quilters are especially fond of them, and they can be a great gift for a teenage fashion designer too. For those who might be looking for a machine that has less parts to break or which is less complex just as a benefit for maintenance, these sewing machines are very attractive options. Those with limited space like the smaller size. If cared for regularly and properly, a Singer Featherweight can have many decades of functional, sewing life.
All the Bits and Pieces
My Featherweight machine is something I inherited from my paternal grandmother. According to some research I did online, this particular sewing machine was manufactured in a Singer factory in Elizabethport, NJ. The serial number shows it was part of a production run that started on January 12, 1950 and which ultimately included 40,000 machines. It's style number 221-1, a flatbed machine that's black with gold trim and highlights. It's funny how it was so modern for its age and yet sort of looks like a toy now.
It can sew a straight stitch and will run forwards or back, but that's it. No zig-zag stitch, no buttonholes, nothing but a straight line. You can set the stitch length to vary from 6 to 30 to the inch, but that's it.
Parts and Accessories
Although the Featherweight only does a straight stitch, it does come with a variety of specialty hemming and decorative attachments. There are several interchangeable feet available, to facilitate hemming, sewing ruffles and trim. Unlike modern sewing machines, there is almost no plastic involved in this one, making it extremely sturdy. The drive belt is rubber and the power foot is plastic, but otherwise I think the entire machine (and the bobbins!) are all metal. This is probably one of the factors that has contributed to the continued popularity of these machines.
The parts most likely to wear out are the drive belt and the power cord. For the drive belt, making sure it does not get damaged and keeping it lubricated as appropriate for rubber can ensure a long life. The power cord should be carefully coiled during storage and during use, take care not to unnecessarily bend or stress the cording. Most often when a power cord fails or is damaged, it is either right where it goes into the machine or down in the foot box.
A Guide to Featherweight Models
Care For Your Featherweight
Cleaning and Care of Your Singer 221
- Featherweight Facts
A great synopsis of the Featherweight's history and information about the machines.
- Singer Featherweight Sewing Machines
Selected used machines for sale including Freearms. Also provides manuals, hints and tips, dating and cleaning of machines.
- How To Clean a Singer Featherweight
Here is a great PDF document that can guide you through cleaning your Singer 221.