Vintage Singer Featherweight Tips and Tricks

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Vintage Singer Featherweight Tips and Tricks - In Color Order
Happy Wednesday! Today I want to share a few of my favorite resources, tips, and tricks for Sewing on a Vintage Singer Featherweight 221. I was very lucky to find a featherweight under the tree this past Christmas from my parents. It is in beautiful condition, and had been picked up with it's original case, accessories, and even the loan agreement. You can read a bit more about that story here.

I had it cleaned and serviced at my local sewing machine shop after I got it, wanting to make sure it was in true working order between I started using it. I don't regret having it serviced that first time, because I really felt like it needed to be seen first by a professional. However, since that first cleaning I've serviced and cleaned it myself. Now that I've been using it pretty heavily for the past 5-6 months, I want to share my experiences with you all!

Vintage Singer Featherweight Tips and Tricks - In Color Order
Ever since my machine returned from it's first tune-up, I've been using it almost exclusively for piecework. Nearly anything that was just simple piecing, since March has been done on my featherweight. That includes the majority of the projects that I made for my Quilt Market booth this past Spring!

I continue to use my Janome Horizon 7700 for anything that requires a walking foot, like bags with interfacing, shirring and for all my quilting. I wouldn't trade it for those things for sure. But for pretty much everything else, I'm preferring the featherweight. It is so easy to use for piecing, and creates amazing stitches. In addition, it is so lightweight and it takes up such little space so it's great for traveling.

Vintage Singer Featherweight Tips and Tricks - In Color Order
Two resources that have been really helpful for me is Featherweight 221: The Perfect Portable And It's Stitches Across History by Nancy Johnson-Srebro, and The Featherweight 221 and I by David McCallum. Nancy's book is all about the history of the featherweight, the different models and accessories. There is part of the original manual in it as well, but in general it is more of a commentary on featherweights rather than a how-to manual. It was really interesting, I read through most of it in one sitting!

David McCallum's book is a true how-to guide. It is a comprehensive guide to care and also repair. I turn to this book every time I need to oil my machine. It has very clear, easy to read diagrams for where to oil and how often each spot should be oiled. Only the front of each page is printed, so you can use the backs of the pages to take notes. I keep track of each time I oil my machine to make sure I don't oil it too often or not enough.

I highly recommend both books, but if you only buy one, buy The Featherweight 221 and I by David McCallum.

Vintage Singer Featherweight Tips and Tricks - In Color Order
You don't need much to take care of regular maintenance on a featherweight. These are some of my favorite tools:

I always have compressed air on hand to use on all of my machines. It's great for getting dust and lint from hard to reach places, like under the needle plate and in the bobbin case.  I seem to keep buying this one by 3M, it lasts a while. Early on I picked up a non-abrasive car wax to protect the surface of the featherweight and keep it nice and shiny. This butter smooth wax has worked great and doesn't have a strong smell. Make sure to test any wax on a hidden place first.  I buff it on with a microfiber cloth.

Unlike most of today's machines, featherweights need oiling on a regular basis to make sure it's running smoothly. I oil mine after every 8 hours or so of use.  Not all parts of the machine need oiled that often though. Once you get used to your machine, you'll be able to hear and feel when it needs oil.

I really like the Zoom Spout Oil*. It has a thin spout that comes way out of the bottle, making it easy to get hard to reach places. You only need a tiny drop in each spot, and this oil makes it easy to control the oil. I use q-tips to clean up any excess oil. You'll also need Singer Motor Lubricant for the gears and motor.  Before you start sewing again, sew through some scrap fabric to make sure everything is running okay and to let any excess oil run onto the scrap instead of your project.

*Update: I recently started using this oil pen, which makes it even easier to deliver one drop at a time. I absolutely love it, and it's refillable!

Vintage Singer Featherweight Tips and Tricks - In Color Order
Once the machine is all nice and clean, it's back to sewing! I use Schmetz Universal Needles in my featherweight. They work great in all my machines, I like not having to order anything special.  The needles go in sideways and you thread it from right to left. I only use Aurifil cotton thread in my featherweight. It feeds so smoothly through the machine, and it only seems right to treat it to the best thread!

Vintage Singer Featherweight Tips and Tricks - In Color Order
Like all machines, featherweights have their own quirks when it comes to actually sewing. I like to use the stock foot that came with the machine to do all my piecing. It's super skinny which makes top stitching really nice and the 1/4" guide is easy to see. You can buy a 1/4" foot for your featherweight, but I don't have one for mine.  I don't ever use the 1/4" foot I have for my Janome, so I probably wouldn't use one for this either. I'm not sure why, I just don't like using them!

One of the biggest tricks that helped make things easier for me, was learning how to loosen the hand wheel so that the needle doesn't run up and down while you wind a bobbin. Before you start winding, hold the large wheel in place with one hand and turn the small wheel towards you until it loosens.  Wind your bobbin and turn it back until it locks in place when you're done.

Vintage Singer Featherweight Tips and Tricks - In Color Order
I do have the original carrying case for my featherweight, but I decided to create my own set of accessories for travel and storage.  I wanted something cuter and also a little more functional. You can read more about my featherweight travel set here. Want to make your own set? Check out my Sew Portable Travel Set Pattern! I also have a tutorial for a patchwork mat to match!

I'm not a featherweight expert, but I've definitely learned a lot using it these last few months. I'm looking forward to stitching up lots more projects with it!

I hope this was helpful to some of you! Do you sew on a vintage machine? What are your favorite tips, tricks, and resources?

55 comments :

  1. Thanks so much Jeni!! I was lucky enough to buy a great Featherweight a couple of weeks ago from a Craigslist seller. I tested it briefly, but want to really get it oiled and lubricated before I start sewing on it much. Does your Featherweight have an oil wick in the hole near the presser foot adjustment knob? My 15-91 Singer does have one, but it seems like the Featherweights may not. Thanks again for all the great tips! Pinning for reference...

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    1. That's awesome! It doesn't look like there is a wick there on mine but I do put one drop in that hole when I oil it!

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  2. Thanks for the info. I have a Featherweight, but haven't used it because the cord was frayed. I recently got a replacement cord and look forward to trying it out.

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  3. Funny to see how cherished these machines are...I learned to sew on one. My mother got it in 1948 as a wedding gift. I learned to sew on it in the mid 60s, as did my sisters. A few years ago I was visiting my older sister and we pulled it out so we both could sew. It ran like a champ!

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  4. Thank you for your information. I have also a Featherweight and I must let her come out more often from the box . I love to sew with her, name Henrietta, and she behaves so good, with cleaning and oiling. The stitches are beautiful.

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    1. My 'foster Featherweight' is called Tilly, after her former owner. Singer Tilly was new in 1947. I am caring for her until any of Miss Tilly's grandkids show an interest. I think we shall be great friends.

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  5. I have a 1939 FW and clean it myself, I talked to someone who used to service them. He gave me lots of great tips...including how to replace the felt pad inside the machine to get rid of the musky odor...it was soooooo gross! Anywho...love my Sweetie FW.

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    1. Hey Kathy, I need to know the info about replacing the felt - give me a call or send me an email sometime. Who knew the answer to one of my most annoying problems was with someone I know!

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    2. Hey Kathy, I need to know the info about replacing the felt - give me a call or send me an email sometime. Who knew the answer to one of my most annoying problems was with someone I know!

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  6. Thank you so much for this post! My grandmother gave me an 1950s Featherweight a few years ago. My uncle gave it to her sometime in the 90s, and she never used it. I finally opened it up a couple of months ago, and it's in pristine condition. I do want to get it serviced before I start sewing with it, and I already ordered one of the books you suggested through my public library.

    My Featherweight also has the original bill of sale, along with all of the receipts from various repairs and tune-ups over the years. I love having those little pieces of sewing history.

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  7. I sew on a variety of vintage machines. I like the FW for portability, but right now I'm quilting my daughter's college quilt on a vintage Necchi in 1919 treadle irons and having so much fun. (Yes, I also so on other vintage machines.)

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  8. Thanks for sharing the information on your featherweight. I was given my featherweight from my mom and I have been scared to use it. Now I am getting more excited to get my machine out and use it. I have found out that they have a zig zag attachment as well as walking foot and other accessories...whoohoo.
    Mary

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  9. I also have a featherweight and love it! I bought the kind of 1/4" foot that doesn't have that extra metal piece. It works much better! And I don't use the universal needles, but the Microtex/Sharps. The points are sharper & make smaller holes in the fabric.

    Also, if you can ever take a maintenance class from David McCallum, do it! His classes are awesome and he also has a video to accompany the book. I don't ever take my vintage machines to any dealer for service. Everything can be done at home.

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  10. Ooh, this is so timely, Jeni! I rescued my first Featherweight this past April from a Habitat ReStore. She's from 1951 and her name is Judy after the Best Actress oscar winner that year. Then I had to get another one... Just scored Bette the 1935 Featherweight (after Bette Davis, who won her first Oscar in '36 for the 1935 film "Dangerous," and this FW obsession is certainly turning out to be dangerous...). Bette is at the sewing machine tech getting all cleaned up and adjusted, since she seemed to have some old gooked up oil slowing her down, and I'm really impatient to get her back so I can sew with her. I'm also loving piecing with Aurifil on my FW, but I've been using a Schmetz 70 Microtex with that thread (as recommended in one of the many books that contradicto one another). You know, I tried out four or five different after-market 1/4" patchwork feet for my FW but, like you, I decided I prefer the original Singer FW foot for piecing. All of the others just feel flimsy and have a little side-to-side play but that original Singer foot is solid and produces fantastic stitches. Now, I probably haven't sewed for 8 hours on Judy since she came back from the tech, but I am nervous about the oiling process since I'm used to modern machines... Do you use any special kind of oil applicator to make sure the oil goes right where it's supposed to without splashing on anything that it's not supposed to touch?

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    1. Nope! The zoom spout is pretty skinny, and it allows you to let out just one drop at a time!

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    2. Rebecca- Your 1951 is the 100th Anniversary Edition!! Very nice!

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  11. Your machine is beautiful! I've got an old Sew Gem model 215 that needs some parts and a good cleaning, maybe one day I'll get it going!

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  12. I have a Featherweight that I got in 1960 to use in my high school sewing class. Have been sewing on this machine for 53 years. I had it serviced several times and it still sews great. Yvonne

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  13. I love piecing on the Featherweight I inherited from my late MIL. She bought it for herself brand new with wedding money in 1954. I pieced my entire Blackbird quilt on it and it was such a peaceful project. It's awesome that you are enjoying yours!

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  14. I have one for sale $375 and all the money will go to the Relay For Life ( American Cancer Society). Excellent condition with a carrying case.

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  15. Thanks for all the tips. My FW is set into a cabinet and has a leaf that extends out to the left of the machine, making a nice work space. It was my Mom's -- 1947. Still running like a champ.

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  16. Oh how I am drooling and wanting one so badly.....But not in my budget for a good while yet....They are all so beautfiul. I especially love the painted colored ones the best of all. But I would love any colored one to call my own.

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  17. Thanks for this fabulous post! My mom just "realized" she had a Featherweight in her garage for many years that had been her aunt's! It was like a wish come true for me. I just bought the maintenance book and can't wait to get the Featherweight in shape. All of your tips are so helpful. I agree that the stitch quality is amazing on those machines!

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  18. Thank you so much for this. I have 3 featherweights and I want to sew on them much more than I do.

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  19. I have been shopping for a Featherweight for a little while now and was just lucky enough to get one with it's case and accessories in good shape and just at my max price.

    I recently pinned your Featherweight bags because I think they are great for this machine. Your fabric is perfect.

    Thanks for the tips in this post. I have actually looked at David's book online and wasn't sure about buying. Now I know it's a go.

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  20. FYI There is a very active on Yahoo that seems to be a great resource for Vintage Singers
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/VintageSingerLibrary/

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  21. Thanks for the post - I purchased a FW last summer and other than testing it out when it arrived, I haven't used it. I must remedy that and get the books too.

    Happy sewing!

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  22. makes me want to buy one, plus the overall cuteness and quietness factor is pretty huge!

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  23. I was given a Featherweight! Seems like the tension is a little too tight... Perhaps I'll order the 2nd book you mentioned. Thanks for the tips.

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  24. Love my featherweight - perfect piecing. I'd like to carry mine around in a cute bag like yours.

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  25. This is the machine I learned to sew on, and continued to sew on until my high school graduation in 1974 when my parents gave me a JCPenney machine (now owned by my daughter). My sister ended up with mom's Featherweight, but I happened on a British model (it's white!) while working as a preschool director at a Lutheran church. They accepted a donation for the machine (no one was using it). I need to get it tuned up and use it and show my high school fashion construction students what "old school" really looks like.

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  26. Jeni, thanks for recommending these books. I have almost finished reading "Featherweight 221 the Perfect Portable". Lots of great information. I just got the other book in the mail yesterday (autographed too!). I glanced through it last night and can't wait to really check it out. I bought a Featherweight a few months ago and oiled it, but can't quite get the tension right. I will have to play with it some more. Thanks again! Debby

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  27. Jeni- did your machine come with the marked throat plate or did you add that? Mine doesn't have any markings. I love your accessories!!

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  28. I've been unable to find a copy of the service manual or adjuster manual for the Singer model 101 that I just acquired. I've looked all over the web and have only been able to find the instruction manual, which I do have. Does anyone have an electronic copy of know where I can find one, electronic or paper?

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  29. Oh, this makes me wish I still had the old Singer from my great grandmother! Not sure where it went when my parents moved. Hmm. Might be time to track down another one.

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  30. Just bought a machine like your's today Jeni. I'm so excited. Thank you for the tips. You bags are so nice. I have been reading your blog for awhile now. Really enjoy it. I think I may want an earlier model FW too. Would love to find one that someone loved and took care of. I missed out on a 1938 and am still sad about that. I just didn't know enough about them yet and let uncertainty prevent me from the purchase. Darn!

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  31. Love reading your tips and tricks about your Featherweight and so excited to see that others have names for their machines too! "Annabelle" was my mom's machine and thru research I have discovered it was made in 1934. Annabelle will be celebrating her 80th birthday on my sewing table! I used David's manual to oil and clean it. Today I sewed my first pieced top on it and it was a breeze! My next project will be the carry bag you have in your photo. Thanks again !!

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  32. Jeni, I just found your blog while on facebook and I'm mesmerized. You're my new love; I'm forever following you. I've had a featherweight (exactly like yours) for almost 20 years now. I even have the original 'white' belt and have it in a sealed container to preserve it. I used to have a Spartan, a FW look alike also made by Singer, and have passed it on to my daughter who is 10 years younger than the machine. My 'celery' goes with me everywhere. I recently bought a walking foot for 'celery'. Alphasew #P60400 but I can't remember where from. I'm about to go through my stash to make your cute carrying bag--awesome!

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  33. Thank thank you so much I have two 221 Featherweights now for 6 years and you inspired me to take them in for cleaning and get going on quilting with one! Newest follower and pinned too! Great inspiration!

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  34. Antiques are green! Antiquing is the ultimate in Eco - friendly shopping. Antiques are inherently recycled and reused. Pawnbrokers

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  35. I am waiting for my FW to arrive, 1937, name will be Fritzie! I am a quilter and garment sewer with computerized machines, but look foreword to piecing with the FW! Also plan to service Friztie myself! Carol

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  36. How did I miss this post when you first put it online? You wrote this right after I got my first Featherweight! I have two of them now, and my 10-year-old has claimed the 1951 machine as his own (he's almost finished with his first quilt!) and the 1935 FW is my favorite. I'm going to order David McCallum's book right now based on your recommendation, because I'm still not confident about oiling and maintaining the machines. Anyway, I came to your site today looking for the post where you showed the cute travel bag you made for your FW and found this instead. Happy accident!

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  37. I enjoyed your post. I recently took a Featherweight maintenance class. The teacher recommended the least expensive Q-tips one can find. They are 'harder', clean better and leave less lint behind. Who knew?

    I plan to take an Advanced Featherweight class in April. David's book is on the list of mandatory supplies for the class.

    If you ever feel the Zoom Spout doesn't give you enough control for oiling try Tri-Flow Superior Lubricant. It comes with a very narrow straw for super-accurate oiling. I got my bottle on Amazon.

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  38. I have a small bag selection and these guidelines are really beneficial. However i don't like the fragrance of set purses when they are old. do you know how can i get rid of that old set smell?handbag care tips

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  39. I love my FW and have used it for a number of years. I recently read on a blog that you can replace the light with an LED light that will not get hot, but I cannot find one except and online source in the UK and it is $40. Does anyone have a tip or a resource? I have burned my fingers more than once on that hot light! Thank you! cjudygo at hotmail dot com
    Jeni, I introduced myself at Quilt Market in SLC a couple of years ago. I love your blog and all your great ideas. Keep rockin' it girl!

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    1. Oh that is awesome! I have never heard that! I burn myself on mine all the time too! :)

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  40. best machines ever the featherweight... My mother bought her's in 1947. I learned to sew on it in the mid 60s. A few years ago I was visiting and my mom gave it to me, it runs like a champ! I have made a few quilts with it, I use a fancy Pfaff lately, (my daughter machine, that lives at my house) I must pull out the old featherweight some time and use it too... totally love the old vintage smell, just reminds me of home I guess...

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  41. Great info in the post and very timely, my first featherweight has just arrived on the courier, looking forward to giving it a spruce up and get sewing! Thanks for the helpful info

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  42. My featherweight is in the mail....can't wait to receive it! I also bought the two books recommend here...tickle pink!

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  43. I was just gifted a featherweight today and I am so glad I remembered you did this blog post a while back. thanks, di

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  44. Thanks so much for this! I was given my grandmother's 1939 featherweight and I am having a bit of trouble figuring it out but I'm sure your post will be helpful! I have it threaded but for some reason it's not making stitches... I'm almost positive its operator error since I don't really know what I'm doing.

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  45. Wow I thought these machines are available in our country only as they are so retro. My grand ma had one and I used to ride on the foot of it. :)

    Regards,
    Creately

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  46. I just found my first Featherweight! I love this machine. It is functional, portable, and just plain CUTE! I thank you for this great posting.

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