How to repair a Singer Featherweight 221 Case

I’ve already talked about how to clean up your Singer Featherweight 221 sewing machine, but what about the case? Is it possible to reclaim an old and damaged case – of course it is. So while I was searching for information on the best ways to reclaim an old case, I came across this video that explains it all.

So take a few minutes and see how to salvage that battered old Singer Featherweight 221 case.

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How to Clean Your Featherweight

WD-40 image by illuminea

WD-40 image by illuminea

Regular cleaning of your Singer Featherweight 221 sewing machine will keep it running smoothly for years. You should clean your Singer Featherweight 221 at least once a year, and sometimes even after an extended period (several weeks) of continuous sewing.

Like any machine that needs to be cleaned and oiled, it’s a good idea to work over a layer of newspapers in order to minimize any additional mess. Other items you’ll need are a screwdriver, WD-40 lubricant, baby oil, sewing machine oil, lint free cotton fabric, Q-tips or toothpicks, an old small head toothbrush, and possibly 0000 fine steel wool and kerosene. Do not use alcohol (or Lestoil) to clean your Featherweight as it will dissolve the finish and the machines decals.

Start by scraping off all visible grease with a lint free cotton fabric. If you have not cleaned your Featherweight in some time, or you just purchased one and this is its first cleaning in a while, you may need to dissolve some grease that has hardened. To do this pour a little kerosene (or WD-40) onto the solidified grease and allow it to soften. Very stubborn, hardened grease may need to be soaked overnight in which case you should tip your Featherweight so that the solid material sits on a cloth soaked with kerosene (naturally this should be done in a well ventilated area, and away from open flames). Once all the old grease is removed, reapply approved sewing machine oil only. Refer to your owner’s manual for the appropriate oiling locations.

If you notice bits of grease or grime accumulating around the Singer Featherweight decal, or lettering, these can be easily removed with a Q-tip or toothpick covered with a small section of your lint free cotton. Stubborn bits can be removed by first soaking the end of the Q-tip with WD-40 or kerosene.

Remove the needle plate (throat plate) and remove any thread that may be wound around the shaft. Also clean out any accumulated lint inside the cover and under the thread spindle with a toothbrush.
If you are mechanically inclined, it’s not a bad idea to give your Featherweight 221 a very thorough internal cleaning as well. This means having to remove pretty much every mechanical component that can be unscrewed including the face plate, presser foot, bobbin cover and flywheel, but not the motor. It’s always a good idea to keep the components together (and labeled if necessary) so you know how to put it all back together again. All components should be thoroughly sprayed/soaked with WD-40 and wiped clean. The WD-40 will actually clean, lubricate, and help to protect the metal components.

Remember, although you can wipe down the motor housing, do not lubricate the motor. Electric motors require very little lubricant, and it is very easy to damage the motor by over lubricating it.

After you wipe down the motor, take a moment to check the belt tension. There should only be ½ to ¾ of an inch of play in the belt. Also, if the belt is worn, replace it. This is done by loosening the screw directly under the belt at the base of the machine, almost straight back from the light switch. Loosen the screw just enough so that the motor slides (do not remove the screw) and the belt is able to be removed. Place the new belt on, slide the motor back into position and retighten the screw. Make sure you have the proper belt tension. If the belt is too tight you will strain the motor. If the belt is too loose, you will lose power. To get the best performance out of your machine, take your time and make sure you have the proper belt tension.

If you notice any light surface rust (not deeply pitted) on the metal parts of your machine, this can also be fairly easily removed. Rub the rusted section gently with 0000 fine steel wool. Stubborn spots can be helped off by first spraying the steel wool with WD-40 or dabbing with kerosene. Do not use the steel wool to remove any dirt, grease or debris from the machine surface since it will leave scratch marks on the lacquer finish.

Once you’ve finished cleaning your Singer Featherweight 221, make sure all of the screws have been tightened. Any loose screws can cause grinding or rattling noises and in extreme cases can possibly damage you machine, if it causes a jam.

Finally, put a little dab of baby oil onto a soft lint free cotton fabric and rub it all over the outside of the machine body. Wipe off any excess. Not only will this give the unit a nice shine, but the oil will help to preserve the varnish finish.

3 Reasons to Buy a Featherweight 221

Almost 80 years ago, in 1933, Isaac Singer first introduced the Featherweight model 221 sewing machine at the Chicago World’s Fair. Today, almost 50 years after the last featherweight was produced in 1960, in the modern age of sewing machines with computer controlled stitching, the featherweight is still a highly sought after sewing machine. In fact, some model 221 Featherweights are still in the hands of their original owners. Here are three reasons why you should find, and buy one.

1. Simplicity. The model 221 was designed to do one thing, and do it well, and that was to sew a straight stitch. The stitching mechanism combines the original rotary hook and four motion feeds, both originally patented in the 1850s by Allen Wilson. Similar to not being able to build a better mousetrap, these two mechanisms are still found in today’s modern sewing machines, but without all the electronics. The original mechanism is a simple interaction of finely machined parts which operate with the consistency of a fine Swiss watch. Barring physical damage of the mechanism, the parts will only wear with time but regular maintenance (oiling and cleaning) will keep the mechanism running as smoothly as the day it was originally purchased.

2. Durability. In 1933, Singer designed the Featherweight 221 to be the only sewing machine a housewife needed to buy. The smooth stitching mechanism was complimented by a stiff, all metal frame and a small, but powerful, motor. The metal (aluminum) frame greatly reduced the vibration of the machine during operation, which permitted the stitching mechanism to run very smoothly. This enabled the 221 to stitch any fabric without putting excessive strain on the motor. When first introduced, the model 221 was described as being able to do the work of an industrial sewing machine. So by limiting the strain on the motor with a rigid frame, Singer was able to extend the overall life of the machine. Again, proper maintenance is critical in further limiting the friction of the moving parts, which is another component of the featherweight’s durability, it is so easy to maintain.

3. Weight. It’s called a featherweight for a reason. Singer realized that sewing machines take up space, especially when they are too heavy to move and are usually accompanied by a sewing table. Weighing in at ~11 ½ lbs (thanks to its aluminum frame, and simplified design) the featherweight was the first truly portable sewing machine. When placed in its carrying case, the Featherweight 221 could easily be stored out of sight in a closet. Today, the lightweight is still beneficial to those sewers and quilters who travel to classes and demonstrations where it is necessary to bring your own machine. Sure you can roll in your fully electronic Bernina on a hand truck, or simply carry your Featherweight without so much as breaking a sweat.

Approximately 2.5 million 221 featherweights were produced from 1933 to 1960, and because of its simplicity, durability and light weight it still a highly sought after, and well respected, sewing machine.

Singer Featherweight Sewing Machines

In 1933, when Isaac Singer first introduced the Featherweight model 221 sewing machine at the Chicago World’s Fair, he unveiled a machine who’s history stretched back over 80 years. The foundation of the Featherweight 221’s longevity can be traced back to 1850 when Allen Wilson received his patent for the rotary-hook stitch forming mechanism. Four years later in 1854 Wilson would receive another patent for his four-motion feed. These 2 inventions signaled the birth of the modern sewing machine. Today, all modern electric sewing machines still use both the rotary mechanism and four-motion feed.
From 1850 to 1880, the Wheeler and Wilson Company manufactured more sewing machines than any other company, except Singer. Due to illness, Wilson left the business and later in 1905, Singer bought out Wheeler and Wilson Company.
In 1900, Singer introduced the Model 66, which featured the innovative top loading bobbin. Singer would then introduce the Model 101 sewing machine in 1915. Although it was the first true electric machine it was unsuccessful, probably due to its incredible cost of $250! In the 1920’s Singer introduced the Model 99, and ¾ size version of their Model 66, but it was still much too heavy to be a portable machine. Finally, in 1933 Singer unveiled the Featherweight 221.
The Singer Featherweight Model 221 was the first truly portable, self contained, electric sewing machine. Today, if properly cared for, the 221 will sew just as well as when it was first manufactured. In fact, today ~1% of all Featherweights are still in the hands of their original owners.
Remaining in production until 1960 (except for a few years during WW II), with approximately 2.5 million units produced, the Featherweight 221 is one of the most recognizable machines of the 20th Century. It’s all metal, mostly aluminum construction, was critical in not only dropping its weight to a mere 11 lbs, but also made it highly durable. The full rotary mechanism also allowed it to operate very quietly and efficiently. When not in use, the machine could be placed in a special carrying case so it could be stored out of sight (in a closet). Prior to WW II, when Singer had to stop making the 221, creative salesmen informed prospective customers that if they purchased the Featherweight, they would give them the case for free!
Although the 221 was only capable of a straight stitch, its reliability made it the preferred sewing machine of the American housewife for decades. The 221’s longevity may also be partly due to the fact that the self contained machine also came with 6 attachments. These were a ruffler, wide hemmer, narrow hemmer, edge stitcher, gathering foot and binder. Singer also included 2 screwdrivers, one for the machine and one to adjust the thread tension.
With such versatility, in such a small package, it’s no wonder the 221 was typically the first, and last, sewing machine many would purchase. So it’s no wonder that close to 50 years after it was last produced, the Singer Featherweight 221 is still such a highly sought after sewing machine.