Retro home

for the love of vintage collectibles

Vintage Singer Model 221 Featherweight sewing machines


Vintage Singer Model 221 Featherweight sewing machines
One of the most popular vintage sewing machines is the Singer Featherweight Model 221. This nickname was given to a series of portable electric sewing machines that was manufactured by Singer from 1933 to 1964. It weighs 11 pounds, hence the nickname "Featherweight".

Although not as versatile as a modern sewing machine, the Featherweight is a sturdy work-horse of a sewing machine. These may still seem rather heavy in comparison to modern plastic sewing machines, but a quick look back at the machines prior to that time show the Featherweight to be a dream of portability. They are great for sewing in small spaces, and they are especially admired by quilters for their ease of portability to quilting clubs.

Their simplicity of design means there are less parts to break, so less maintenance is required overall. With proper maintenance, a Singer Featherweight can have many decades of functional sewing life.

Dating your Featherweight

The number is at the bottom of the machine with a two-letter code for the year:

Featherweight parts and accessories

The Featherweight series came in a variety of colours including black, white, cream, tan and pale green. The coloured versions seem to be Europe-only. There are two basic machine variations: a free-arm model which allows for ease of sewing hems and cuffs, and a flat-bed model.

A Featherweight does one stitch: a straight stitch. It can run forward or backwards, but that's it. No zig-zag stitch, no buttonholes, nothing but a straight line -- which it does well. The stitch length can be set to vary from 6 to 30 to the inch.

It comes with six basic attachments to facilitate hemming, sewing ruffles and trim: the foot hemmer, the adjustable hemmer, the multiple-slotted binder (which the manual says will apply unfolded as well as commercial folded binding), the edge-stitcher, the gatherer (for gathering and shirring), and the ruffler.

Unlike modern sewing machines, there are almost no plastic parts, making it extremely sturdy. The drive belt is rubber and the power foot is plastic, but otherwise the rest of the 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 entire machine and its accessories fits into a compact case. The accessories are in a tray that sits on top of the machine. The case folds up for storage.

Parts list

Care and use of your vintage Singer Featherweight

Basic Featherweight maintenance

If you are used to using a modern electronic machine for your sewing needs, keep in mind that these old Singers are different. They are fully mechanical machines that will need to be oiled regularly, and they also need regular (read: yearly) maintenance by a certified sewing machine specialist to run in optimal condition. With proper maintenance, even a 60+ year old machine can work like new!

If you cannot find a qualified specialist in your area to handle the maintenance of your machine, you may be able to acquire a Featherweight repair manual to deal with the maintenance yourself. This is however not advised unless you are handy with machinery.

The parts most likely to wear out are the drive belt and the power cord. For the drive belt, the important thing is to prevent accidental damage. The power cord should be carefully coiled during storage and during use, taking care not to bend or stress the cording unnecessarily. 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.

Keeping the machine lubricated also goes a long way to extending the life of the machine.

Where to find a Singer Featherweight Model 221

Since there is no "Featherweight" label on the actual machine, these will normally be listed as an "old Singer". Make sure all the parts are included -- the bobbin case has a habit of disappearing.

When buying and selling vintage collectibles, bear in mind these two factors:

As to where to go, try any of the following:

Tealmermaid's Treasure Grotto