Monday, April 29, 2013

Score One for Habitat for Humanity, and Score One for Rebecca! This One IS Mine!

1951 Singer Featherweight 221
She is stinky.  She has dirty brown oily gook in her nooks and crannies, and she is not very shiny.  Her toggle light switch is broken off, there is rust on her stitch plate where the chrome plating has worn away, and she is missing the last little thread guide that belongs just below the needle clamp.  Her electrical plug is cracked and has a chunk of plastic (bakelight?) missing, exposing live wires (immediately covered with electrical tape by my horrified and ever-watchful husband).  However, she has a gorgeous scrolled chrome face plate, she has a complete bobbin and bobbin caseand she runs and stitches beautifully -- (at least, she was stitching beautifully until I started monkeying with the needle tension dial...)  But, most importantly, this Featherweight is MINE!

I bought this Singer Featherweight 221 sight unseen from a Habitat for Humanity ReStore located about an hour away from where I live.  They had listed it on Craig's List for $200 with a 30-day guarantee, and I was afraid someone else might snatch it up before I was able to get up to Salisbury to take a look at the machine.  My son Lars told me I should just buy it over the phone -- "Mom, if you don't like it, you can just sell it on eBay."  And he was absolutely right.  

1951 Singer Ad for My Exact Machine, the Same Year Mine Was Made

According to the Serial Number Chart on the Singer web site here, my Featherweight was manufactured in the U.K. in 1951, then sent to the Canadian Singer factory to be fitted with a 110-120 volt motor so it could be sold in the United States.  She came to me with her original Type 3 black leatherette carrying case, which has one broken latch, an intact original handle, and no keys.  The case smells like something died in there, like the something that died is still IN THERE, actually, rotting away...  I'll deal with that later. 

Unfortunately, the machine did not come with any accessories or with the instruction manual, but I was able to purchase a reproduction manual from an online Featherweight parts dealer -- and then I discovered that I could download the Featherweight owner's manual from the Singer web site for free, here.  I printed it out so I can highlight and take notes.  As for the original accessories, they would have added value if I wanted to sell the machine, but I don't need rufflers or hemmers for what I plan to do with this Featherweight.  She's in great working condition, but cosmetically she's not up-to-snuff as a collector's item and she isn't one of those really rare iterations that would command a high price in any condition.  The machine hasn't been abused, just used well over the years, as attested to by the finish wear and all the pin scratches on the flat bed of the machine.  Did she sew children's clothing?  Hem trousers?  Someone's wedding gown, or treasured quilt?  What stories could she tell if she could talk to me? 

The original straight stitching presser foot is on the machine, and the various quarter inch patchwork feet that most quilters use on Featherweights are all after market parts, anyway. 

Hmmm...  Is That Nancy Drew with her Featherweight?
I have ordered a replacement foot pedal and electrical cord for safety, that missing thread guide, a reproduction stitch plate with seam width markings (the original plate has chrome worn away around the feed dogs and did not have the markings), a little spring that goes on the spool holder at the top of the machine, and some Singer sewing machine oil and motor lubricant.  Most importantly, I've ordered a replacement for the wool felt liner inside the bottom of the machine, which is soaked with old oil and probably mold as well, and is the most likely culprit for my Featherweight's embarrassing body odor problem. 

I'm in the process of learning how to clean out the gook and shine her up again. I have read that the factory clear coat finish on a Featherweight is a shellac that is very vulnerable to water and most contemporary cleaning products, as are the mostly intact gold decorative decals on my machine.  Since she's not so shiny to begin with, I certainly don't want worsen that problem or accidentally remove any of the decals in my cleaning zeal!

Nancy Drew Again, or Is This Trixie Belden?
I don't know whether I really got a great deal by the time replacement parts and repairs are factored in, but if I did pay too much, at least it went to a great charity.  Proceeds from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore directly fund Habitat for Humanity, helping them to fulfill their mission statement: "Habitat for Humanity believes that every man, woman and child should have a decent, safe and affordable place to live. We build and repair houses all over the world using volunteer labor and donations."   So not only has my little Featherweight churned out countless sewing projects over the past 62 years; she is also helping to provide affordable housing for a family in need. 

She's a cute little machine, an icon of an era when machinery was built to last a lifetime.  She only sews forwards and backwards, but Featherweights are legendary for their perfect straight stitch and reliability.  I will use this machine as it was intended, as a portable sewing machine that I could take on vacation or to a workshop, and it will also be convenient when I'm doing crazy quilting with bobbinwork decorative stitch embellishment on the seams, because I can stitch the seam on the Featherweight, flip it open, and then stitch the decorative stitch pattern on my snazzy Bernina 750 QE without having to change settings, rethread, and monkey with the bobbin tension after each and every seam.  Sewing on this machine is like traveling backwards through time.

The Singer 221 Featherweight was a modern marvel of design and engineering when it was unveiled at the Chicago World's Fair in 1933, just like my Bernina is in 2013.  But I don't think for a minute that anyone will want to sew on my Bernina 80 years from now.  When it comes to sewing machines, they really don't make them like they used to!


Ivory Spring said...

She is quite a beauty, Rebecca!!!

Unknown said...

Yay! A sewing machine I can relate to. Now you can see what I deal with when I pull Mom's old machine out. I checked the manual (because of course Mom kept it in pristine condition) and hers is a White Zig Zag model #262. The date on the manual says 1963, but I'm not sure when the machine was actually manufactured then. She got it as a graduation present remember? Anyway, let me know how it all goes oiling the machine up, etc. I should probably do the same thing to mine before I embark on twirly whirly skirts and dresses for Princess Petunia.
Of course, I must admit, your new sew baby is much prettier than my brown one... I am a wee bit jealous.

Jocelyn said...

I have to say AMEN to that! These machines are built to last and to run and run and run. No computer chips or plastic parts. Enjoy your new baby!

Unknown said...

That horrible smell is from the glue used to adhere the black coating on the wood case. My featherweight is from 1934. I think they used glue made from horse hooves back in those days. Seems I read that somewhere about the smell. I wouldn't call it fabric, and it's not vinyl, but on mine, it was a thin, tightly woven unknown content is what I call it If it was vinyl, I've never seen any that thin. I stripped it off from the inside and outside of the case. I poured hot soapy water over it, and then water with bleach. Let it sit outside in the sun for days. I hand scraped the wood and then sanded it smooth. I haven't done anything more with it. But, I want to put some wood stain on it, and see how it looks before I put a poly coat finish. My machine runs perfectly, and has nice decals even now.

Rebecca Grace said...

Janice, YES you need to oil that machine -- as infrequently as you use it, you should probably oil it each time you start a project. It's easy; look in the manual. If you need oil, you can get some from a JoAnn's or from any sewing machine dealer. And that White is better for what you want to do than a Featherweight. You'll want a zigzag for knits and elastic when you're sewing for kids, not a straight stitch only machine like my FW.

I don't think you need a new machine, but you might want to have someone go over the White for you, just a maintenance and check for worn parts like feed dogs, belts, etc, since I doubt this has been done ever. Your sewing machine turns 50 this year! :-). Also you can probably get a couple of accessory feet for that machine pretty inexpensively to make your projects easier and give better results, like a ruffler or gathering foot. All of this would cost much less than an inexpensive and poorly built new machine, and then your machine would be good to go for the next 50 years. A well made mechanical sewing machine will pretty much last forever if you take good care of it.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations! I was the extremely lucky recipient of a 1953 Featherweight that my brother bought and tuned up for me. Isn't he a wonderful brother! I call that one Baby, because he also gave me a Singer 301 (slant needle) set in a 1917 oak treadle cabinet, that I use for all my piecing. I find they both need regular oiling and the cotton lint builds up quite quickly under the needle plate. I use an after market quarter inch clear plastic foot that works perfectly. Enjoy your new Baby!

Lane said...

Yay! She is lovely! A little spit polish and she'll look good as new. If you're happy with the price you paid, don't let anybody tell you whether it was too much or too little. Lane

Rebecca Grace said...

Ew... like when Old Major got sent to the Glue Factory in the book Animal Farm? :-(

I don't plan to use the case for anything, just want to keep it in a safe place since it's original to the machine and good to have for resale some day. I don't want to remove the lining (Singer called it "Leatherette") because that would negatively impact whatever value the case has as an original accessory to the machine. According to my research, FW owners have had good results scrubbing the insides of the stinky cases with disinfectant, then putting the case in a hot car trunk/hot attic/outside on the deck on a hot summer day, the idea being that any moisture is dried out and the UV/heat kills mold spores that may be behind the lining. Other sources state that most of the case smell comes from the machine that was stored in it, because of the wool felt drip pan liner at the bottom of the machine that is full of rancid oil, decaying animal proteins and mold or mildew. That source says that you don't notice the machine stink as much because it dissipates in the open air when the machine is out for use.

I plan to try all of these ideas: Clean inside of case with disinfectant, dry outside on a hot, sunny day, bake it in a black car trunk on a really hot day, and clean up the machine and replace the felt pad (although I am not going to keep my Featherweight in the case). I also got one of those "Odor Genie" things that I'll put in the case when I'm done with all of that and close it up for long-term storage. The Odor Genie is a plastic tub of white stuff that absorbs odors and has an air freshener/perfume in it, about the size of a little tub of margarine. It's meant for stinky cars, and you cut a hole in the lid and put it under the driver's seat or wherever. I had good luck with it in a car once when we accidentally left a baby bottle full of milk in my car in the long-term parking lot at the airport for two weeks (gag!) so I thought it might help with the Stinko Case. Anyway, that's my plan!