Monday, March 31, 2014

Needleturn Applique: Fabrics Finalized (Mostly), First Stitching Attempts, and a Pointy Mystery

Applique Auditions
 Good Monday morning, everyone!  When I am hand stitching applique in public, it's common for people to say things like, "how long does that TAKE?" or "I would NEVER have the patience for that!"  If they only knew that it takes me at least as long to tweak the design and make all the fabric selections before I even pick up a needle!

Almost There...
Well, this is what my Learn Needleturn Applique project looks like at the moment.  I found a substitute for my original daffodil print dark brown fabric for the largest flower petals last week and the substitute fabric is so close to the original that I'm strongly considering using both fabrics in the quilt.  I went with a slightly lighter shade of brown Kona solid cotton for my stems and also for the larger of the two flower center circles (which you can't see right now because of the seam allowances I left on the rose buds).  I very carefully cut those rosebuds out of my Vervain drapery fabric, probably for nothing, because when I reread my Piece O'Cake directions for very small shapes, I see that I was supposed to leave at least 1" all the way around each shape and trim away the excess as I stitch it down.  [IMPORTANT: I would NOT recommend using most drapery fabrics in a quilting project, but this particular Vervain fabric is printed on a lightweight 100% cotton base with a very high thread count, similar to a batik that you would find in a quilt shop.  For my kitchen drapery panels, this fabric was lined with heavy sateen drapery lining and cotton flannel interlining to give it body.  Scalamandré and a few of the other high end fabric companies that sell through the design trade also have some gorgeous prints on fabrics suitable for quilting, but please don't try this with a drapery fabric from your local JoAnn's or Calico Corners.]  I'm not 100% decided on the rosebuds, though.  I love the idea of them, but I'm not sure I can execute them to look the way I'm envisioning.  For one thing, the rosebuds are not perfectly round, which means I won't be able to make them with my Perfect Circle templates and pre-stuff them with fused batting circles the way I did the berries on my Jingle project.  Also, the rosebuds were cut out of a fabric with an ivory background, and I'm planning to stitch them to a brown circle.  That means it's imperative that every single ivory thread around each rose bud is turned under and hidden, so if I try to stuff the rosebuds they will definitely shrink and distort.  Should I just stitch them flat?  Should I use my Perfect Circle templates with them anyway?  I may have to stitch a few test rosebuds onto scrap fabric and see how they come out.

 Then there are the stuffed berries that I added at the ends of my tulips.  I only made one sample stuffed berry to get an idea of how it would look, and I do think I like it.  I centered the tiny flower print on the berry so it sort of looks like the spot where the stem would have attached.  I'm pretty sure I like that, and I don't have to make all 12 berries for the block right now:

Test Berry, Fussy-Cut
Berry Fabric
If the rosebud idea doesn't pan out for the center of the large flower, I could always just put more of these little fussy-cut flower berries around the large flower centers as well. 

Of course, most of these fabric pieces that I traced and cut out for my "auditions" won't be used in the quilt at all.  I just cut snips of that coral and yellow polka dot fabric for the tulip centers for now, because those will be reverse appliqued from a much larger piece of fabric that will be trimmed away on the back side after stitching, and then I'm supposed to cut out the tulip afterwards, once I've already stitched the reverse applique window onto the brown fabric.  Those large stacked flower petals are going to be the same kind of situation -- I'll stitch the top piece to a square of the middle fabric, then cut out the petal shape from the middle fabric and stitch that to a square of the brown fabric, then cut the brown petal shape before I stitch the completed petal to my block background.  That way I can trim away the excess fabric from the back of each layer as I go, reducing a lot of the bulk I'll have to quilt through, but without having to trim away any of the backing fabric.

Does it sound like a waste of time and fabric to carefully cut out these shapes and then not use them?  It did to me, too, so I conducted a trial run of stitching one of the yellow petal layers to an already-cut-out coral fabric petal.  I figured that if it came out great, I'd use it in my first block, and if it DIDN'T come out great, I'd call it a Practice Petal.

First Attempt at Needle Turn Applique!
I finger-pressed just inside the chalk line of the yellow petal, and pinned it to my coral petal with Bohin applique pins placed about 1/4" inside the line, so I could swipe the seam allowance under with my needle without having to remove the pins.  Then the actual stitching was very similar to prepared applique methods, until I got to the point.

I think this petal came out pretty good for a first try, but the left side curve is not perfectly smooth.  I'm overdue for a manicure and my fingernails are long enough at the moment to annoy me when I'm hand stitching.  Also, in my zeal to achieve a nice, sharp point, I ended up making my point much more acute than what the actual pattern shape was supposed to be, as you can see when I lay the vinyl pattern overlay onto my appliqued petal unit:
My Point is Too Pointy!

How did THAT happen?!  It doesn't look BAD that my point is extra pointy, not when there is only one petal to look at.  However, I'm going to want all of my petals to be as identical as possible.  Also, I'm concerned about how this happened, because I was wearing reading glasses and working under a bright Ott light and was very carefully turning under the entire chalk line as I went around the petal.  How did my point end up extending past the chalk line, and where did the chalk line go?  Two possibilities -- either some of the chalk rubbed away as I was handling the piece, or -- more likely, I suspect -- I stretched the yellow petal along the bias edge as I was pinning and/or stitching it to the coral petal.

More thoughts about cutting out all of the shapes ahead of time: The Piece O'Cake book says that trying to applique tiny pieces of fabric off the block makes it unnecessarily difficult, and that's why they tell you to cut at least a 5" x 5" square of whatever the base applique piece is and then cut it down to the correct size and shape when you're ready to sew it down onto the next piece.  I was hoping I could get away with appliqueing my precut shapes together because these petals are pretty big to begin with.  However, I'm seeing other advantages to the Piece O'Cake method after my initial attempt.  I noticed that my coral petal edges wanted to fray a bit from handling during the stitching of the yellow petal.  Also, I noticed that the applique stitching of the smaller piece has a tendency to want to shrink the fabric you're appliqueing it to, so that waiting to trace and cut the larger piece until after the smaller piece is stitched down could enable greater accuracy.  Finally, I suspect that the coral petal's bias edges might have a tendency to want to stretch and misbehave if I cut it out ahead of time, versus stitching the yellow petal to a more stable, oversized rectangular piece of coral fabric and THEN cutting out the coral petal.  I was very conscious of these potential issues as I was stitching my practice petal, but really, for the rest of the quilt, why make things harder than they have to be?

So, I can use my leaves, my stems, my yellow petals, and the top circle at the center of my flower, but everything else needs to be recut after something else is stitched to it.

Question for those of you who have more applique experience than I do: Do you starch your applique fabrics?  My Piece O'Cake book recommended prewashing them, which I did, and indicated that a soft, prewashed fabric edge would be easier to turn under.  But now that I had that stretching/distortion at my point, I am wondering whether I could have stabilized the fabric with a light starching and still been able to turn the fabric edge under easily?

I'm linking up with the March NewFO Challenge on Cat Patches as well as Judy's Design Wall Monday over at Patchwork Times, and then I'm going to check out what everyone else is creating today.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Evolution of Applique Inspiration: Kim Diehl's Country Whig Rose Pattern

Country Whig Rose pattern by Kim Diehl from her Simple Blessings book, photo by Martingale
So, do those applique blocks look familiar to anyone?  Today I stumbled across Kim Diehl's original Country Whig Rose applique pattern, from her 2004 book Simple Blessings (which Martingale just rereleased in 2013, available here).  This is the pattern that inspired Joyce Stewart to make her Village Gardens quilt, the one I saw featured in the September 2006 Quilters Newsletter magazine:

Now that I've found Kim's original pattern, I can see how Joyce changed the pattern by adding a third layer to those large flower petals, changing the orientation of the leaves and berries on those little twig branches, and altering the proportions of the stacked circles that form the flower center.  She also chose to set her blocks on the diagonal and added those little bullseye appliques at the block intersections.  If you look carefully, you can see that Joyce's flower petals are more curved in the center rather than pointed like Kim's were, a detail that really appealed to me for the country French vibe of my inspiration fabric from Vervain.

Now in my version, inspired by Joyce's quilt, I've swapped the hearts out for vintage style tulips, added some berries, and am changing up the flower centers as well, adding berries or seeds or whatever in an outer ring:
My Version: No Hearts for Rebecca!
I'm thinking of setting my blocks straight like Kim's, but with alternate "blank" blocks for some special quilting.  What do you think?  Both Kim's and Joyce's quilts have a deliberate American country folksy appeal.  I'm going for more of an antique quilt style, like this gorgeous Whig Rose quilt that I found on Pinterest today:

Whig Rose variation by Lavinda Rudicil Rubottom, circa 1865

Kim's pattern was of course originally inspired by the many surviving 19th century Whig Rose applique quilts, of which Lavinda's quilt is just one variation. 

Of course, if I REALLY wanted my quilt to look like an antique, I would have used a solid white background fabric and a solid emerald green instead of insisting on combining as many print fabrics as I could possibly get away with.  Ah, well -- I seem to have an aversion to plain white fabric.  I'll have to work on that.  Anyway, I thought it was neat to see how this design evolved from Kim's original concept to inspire other quiltmakers, especially since I had only seen Joyce's quilt when I started designing my own version. 

Coincidentally, I discovered that another quilt blogger is currently using Kim Diehl's Country Whig Rose pattern in one of her current projects.  Click here to see how Karen of Quilts... etc. is using this applique pattern as an alternate block with red and black 9-Patch blocks.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Design Wall Monday on Wednesday

Behold, Constructive Chaos!
So on March 10th I posted here and told you about a new applique project I'm cooking up.  Recall that this project originated as a small applique sample for practicing new (to me, anyway) needleturn applique methods.  I didn't like any of the cute projects in my book so I dug through back issues of Quilter's Newsletter magazine and found one applique pattern that I mostly liked except for the hearts, which I swapped out for the stylized tulips on a historical reproduction quilt from another issue.  That was nearly two weeks ago.

I photocopied and laminated my templates as per the Piece O'Cake book instructions, and that went fine except that next time I think I'll photocopy them onto a heavier weight paper to make them a smidge sturdier for tracing around.  I then traced my full-size pattern onto midweight upholstery vinyl with an ultra fine point Sharpie permanent marker, also as per the POC instructions.  But at that point, I decided that I really didn't like the bullseye effect of three stacked circles for the center of my big flower.  After playing around with it a bit more, I decided to make the largest and smallest circle, but not the middle one.  I'll put a ring of little berries or seeds or whatever around the center circle instead.  While I was at it, I added some more little berries at the ends of my tulips, because Bernie likes the little berries.  He has finally started painting my bedroom this week, so he deserves some berries!

Applique Pattern, Revised Yet Again

That's what my pattern looks like now.  I'm happy with it.  The block will finish at 16" x 16" so those stacked petals are pretty big.  I'll be stitching the stems first, then the large stacked petals, so I'll be starting out with gentle curves and not-too-severe inside and outside points.  Then I'll reverse applique the tulip centers before stitching down the tulips and leaves.  As for the circles, large and small, I'll probably still use my heat resistant Perfect Circles and More Perfect Circles templates and starch and press them, because I really like how nicely the circles turn out that way.  We'll see.

Fabric Auditions in Progress
Now what has really been bogging me down is the fabric selections.  I decided to piece my block background from print fabrics, and I'm using my kitchen drapery fabric (Monado in Havana colorway from Vervain) as a color and style inspiration.  I like the mood of it.  But I've been tracing templates and cutting little pieces out of all different fabrics, arranging them on my block background, scowling at the result, and then cutting new pieces out of different fabrics.  I thought that some solid fabrics might be better, so I ordered a few shades of Kona solids online... waited for them to arrive in the mail... cut them out... and rejected them!  Then when I finally settled on my favorite combination of fabrics for the large flower petals, I realized that the only chocolate brown in my stash that could work for the bottom petal was one that I bought several years ago in a fat quarter pack.  So I only had enough to do ONE block.  What's that, you say?  You thought I was just making a little sample block to learn a new technique?  No, now that I've invested so much time just with the pattern and the fabric selections, it will have to be more than one block, at least enough for a throw sized quilt that I can drape elegantly over the arm of the sofa in the family room.  My kids will throw it on the floor -- which is why it's called a throw.

New Fabric Left, Stash Fabric Right
This time I called in reinforcements, and Anders and I went to the Bernina quilt shop in Lowell, NC, Sew Much Fun.  We found the closest substitute possible for my brown print. 

But now I'm thinking I might want to do just one block using the original fabric, and use the new fabric for all the other blocks.  Sometimes in a vintage or antique quilt you'll notice that the quiltmaker ran out of a fabric and "made do" by substituting something similar.  Sometimes quiltmakers would deliberately set one block upside down, an intentional mistake symbolizing that no one is perfect.  Anyway, I cut four perfect petals and one little tulip out of my brown daffodil print fabric so far, and I'd rather not throw them in the scrap bin if I can make them work in my quilt.  So, we'll see.

I still have only the vaguest idea which fabrics I'm going to use for the circles and seed/berries in the center of my flower.  After I recut the rest of my leaves from the darker green print fabric, the flower centers will be the last item on the agenda. 

I'm linking up to Judy's Design Wall Monday post because the linky is still open, and I can.  I'm also linking up to Esther's Works In Progress Wednesday, since it IS Wednesday, after all. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Sewing Machine Review: The Iconic Singer Model 221 Featherweight

"Bette," my 1935 Singer Model 221 Featherweight
Since my sewing machine review post on my Bernina 750 QE has been so popular, I thought I'd do a similar post for my Singer Model 221 Featherweight sewing machines.  This also gave me an excuse to do a Glamour Shots photo shoot with both machines, which was fun in and of itself.  ;-)  I own two Featherweights, the 1935 issue pictured above and another one made in 1951 pictured below.  They are the perfect complement to my high-end, high-tech behemoth of a Bernina.  Although I have only had the Featherweights for about a year, they are the first purely mechanical sewing machines I’ve ever used – no computers or electronics – and I was surprised by how quickly I bonded with them despite being spoiled by all the bells and whistles of my modern computerized machine.

"Judy," my 1951 Singer Model 221 Featherweight
·         Machine Description: One of the most popular sewing machines ever made, the Featherweight was introduced at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair and was sold until about 1964.  Therefore, this review is for a USED, VINTAGE sewing machine (not the Alphasew Featherweight Reproduction, which is priced higher than many genuine vintage Featherweights but is not even in the same league when it comes to craftsmanship or quality).   Please note that I'm going to give you a BRIEF overview of the machine, hitting on some of the major design changes over time, but skipping over others.  For a more complete history of all Featherweight models and feature changes, I recommend Nancy Johnson-Srebro's book, Featherweight 221 - The Perfect Portable

 The first thing to know when you’re shopping for this machine is that the Singer Featherweight sewing machine does not actually SAY “Featherweight” anywhere on the machine.  It may say Model 221 (earliest U.S. made machines), 221-1, 221K, 221J (light bisque/beige machines made in Britain) or, if it’s the rarer free-arm version, Model 222K.  Some Singer Featherweights do not even have a model number anywhere on the machine, so it's important to know what you're looking for. 

Originally, the Singer Featherweight came only in glossy black with gold decals, an ornate “Egyptian” scrolled face plate and a chromed balance wheel. 
1935 Singer Model 221 Featherweight with My Kiddo in the Background
The very earliest machines (like the 1935 issue shown in most of my photos for this review) had no markings on the stitch plate for seam allowances and did not have any numbers on the tension dial, but when these features were introduced they were quite popular and were often retrofitted at the owners' request.  The graduated stitch plate markings (introduced in 1956) facilitate sewing with a consistent seam width, and the numbered tension dial (which began to appear in 1935) makes it easier to switch back and forth between different types of projects, since you can make a note of the tension setting before you alter it and then just set it back to the same number when you are done.  Without a numbered tension dial, you would have to adjust tension through trial and error any time you make changes.  Since I only use my 1935 Featherweight for piecing with quilting weight cotton and Aurifil cotton thread, I rarely need to adjust the tension setting at all so it’s a non-issue for me.  I also prefer to use the adjustable cloth guide attachment (pictured below) to maintain an accurate seam allowance because the glare on a chromed stitch plate makes it difficult for me to see markings engraved on a stitch plate. 

There are not nearly as many early Featherweights like mine out there without the numbered tension dial and graduated stitch plate – I only mention this so you can look for these features if they are important to you.
1951 Featherweight Model 221K with Numbered Tension Dial
Singer’s factories were converted for war production during World War II, and around that time or soon afterwards Singer stopped using chromed nickel plating on the balance wheel due to scarcity of those metals and the need to control costs.  In the late ‘40s or early ‘50s, Singer switched from the ornate Egyptian scrolled face plate style to a more modern, striated face plate, and the gold decals on the machine bed were updated at about that time as well. 

Early Egyptian Scroll Face Plate Left, Later Striated Face Plate on Right
Singer sold a bazillion Featherweights in the 1950s, and machines from this decade are going to be the easiest ones to find in good condition and at reasonable prices.
Around 1960-1962, the Singer Featherweight given another modern “facelift” and was offered in Tan/Beige as well as in Black, and later, between about 1964-1970, a funky White was introduced that has just a hint of green to it.  These machines had a painted rather than chromed face plate and no decals on the machine bed, giving them a very different look, but they sew just as beautifully as the black ones.  White and tan/beige Featherweights go for slightly higher prices because not as many of them were made and sold. 

1964 Singer Featherweight 221, photo by April 1930s
When you see Featherweights that are bright red, orange, or metallic purple, just be aware that these are not original factory paint jobs.  Repainting Featherweights in fanciful colors with car paint is a hot trend in some circles.  Some Featherweight enthusiasts are scandalized by this practice, and it would indeed be foolish to repaint a rare or valuable Featherweight that was in good condition.  However, if it gives new life to a machine that had a severely damaged finish and enables someone else to love it and use it again, I’m all for it!  Just be aware that, when you’re buying a professionally restored and repainted Featherweight, you’re paying a premium for the extensive labor involved in completely disassembling the machine, stripping the old finish, repainting, and reassembling the machine.  If you really want a one-of-a-kind Featherweight like this “Ladybug” machine from Roxanne’s A Wish and a Dream, expect to pay upwards of $1,000 for the novelty:

"Ladybug" Custom Paint Job by Roxanne's A Wish and a Dream
Now that I’ve given you some background info to whet your appetite, let’s get to the nitty-gritty!

·         Machine Dimensions: The Singer Model 221 “Featherweight” measures a diminutive 15” wide by 7” deep by 10” tall.  She weighs only 11 pounds 4 ounces, and has a throat depth of 5”.  The little extension table on the left side of the machine folds up for compact storage or transport.  This makes the machine ideal for taking to classes, as well as for those with limited space for their sewing paraphernalia. 
5" Throat Space on the Singer Featherweight 221
·         Included Presser Feet:  Because you’re buying this machine used, the number of included feet and accessories will vary quite a bit and should factor into the price you pay for your machine.  By the way, there’s no need to panic if your Featherweight doesn’t come with an owner’s manual.  The owner’s manual and service manual are both available online as free PDF files on the Singer web site that you can either print out or download to your favorite electronic reading device:   

Illustration of Original Standard Accessories in Carrying Case
When the Featherweights were sold as new machines, they did come with an assortment of basic accessories such as the cloth guide, Adjustable Hemmer foot, Binder, Narrow Rolled Hemmer, Edge Stitcher, Ruffler, Shirrer, Tucker, and perhaps a Cording/Zipper foot (only standard with the white machines), as well as a little oil can and a couple of little screwdriver tools.  Different accessories came standard with the machines in different years, and of course, just as when you purchase a used modern sewing machine, sellers will often include non-standard accessories that they purchased separately.  For that reason, additional vintage Singer accessories for these machines such as buttonhole attachments may be included with your vintage Featherweight as well, and may justify a higher price point.  Vintage Singer presser feet and attachments were very well made and produce excellent results, but if you’re primarily a quilter you won’t use many of them.
The one vintage Singer accessory that I use all the time on my Featherweights, and you can see it attached to my machines in the photos, is the Cloth Guide that screws very securely right into the bed of the machine.  I love this accessory because I can adjust its position in minute increments to achieve a perfect ¼” or scant ¼”, or even wider for hems, and it doesn’t loosen or move from the vibration of running the sewing machine.  If your machine doesn’t come with one of these, they are easy enough to find separately. 
Perfect 1/4" Seam with Vintage Singer Cloth Guide
Keep in mind that the Featherweights in good cosmetic and working condition, with all of their accessories, original manuals, original case, etc. are going to be the ones that command the highest prices.   If you’re buying a machine for sewing and not for collecting, you can save money by finding one that doesn’t come with a lot of extras that you don’t need and won’t be using anyway.
·         Bobbin type: The Singer 221 “Featherweight” sewing machine has an all metal bobbin and bobbin case that is vertically mounted on the left SIDE of the sewing machine (not in the front, where you find the bobbin on most modern machines). 
Side Mounted Vertical Bobbin Case
When you are shopping for your Featherweight, you do want to look for one that has the ORIGINAL bobbin case with it, stamped SIMANCO (Singer Manufacturing Company) if possible.  There are reproduction bobbin cases available, but they do not work well in all of the machines and you’ll get the best stitch quality in most cases with an original vintage bobbin case made for your machine.  You can occasionally find a vintage Featherweight bobbin case for sale on eBay, but they can run as much as $50-70 or more – so if you’re considering purchasing a machine that doesn’t have an original bobbin case, you should factor that into your negotiations.

·         Computerized Functions: None!  There are no computer boards or print drivers to short out and need replacing on this machine, no touch screens to go bad, no buttons to stop working, and no programming sequences for you to master.  Step on the pedal to sew.  Take your foot off the pedal to stop.  Flip a lever on the front of the machine to go backwards, like throwing your car into reverse.  Turn a screw on that lever and reposition it to make your stitches longer or shorter, then never touch the screw again and always get stitches exactly the length you prefer, even after turning off the machine.  If you can operate an alarm clock or an automatic drip coffeemaker, this machine will be a piece of cake. 
·         Needles: Use new Schmetz needles in your Featherweight for best results.  Note that the needle must be inserted SIDEWAYS on a Featherweight, with the flat side to the LEFT, and you must thread the needle from right to left in order for the machine to sew properly.  Sometimes you will find a Featherweight offered for sale “needing repair,” and it turns out the only problem is that the needle is inserted incorrectly or it’s threaded backwards, so check for this when you test-sew a machine you’re considering purchasing.  I like to use a size 75 Schmetz Quilting needle for piecing, or a 70 Microtex if I’m using a finer thread like Aurifil Mako 50/2.
Needle Goes Sideways, Flat Side to Left, and Thread from Right to Left
·         Basic Setup and Ease of Operation: This is an extremely easy, user-friendly sewing machine.  This makes it a great machine for teaching children to sew.
Perfect Machine For Beginners and Children
The Featherweight produces a beautiful, reliable straight stitch that is superior to the straight stitch on many of the most expensive modern machines, and the only way you can mess it up is if you put the needle in backwards (in which case you get perfect stitching again as soon as you fix the needle) or drop it down the stairs (in which case you need to find another one).  There is zero learning curve with this machine, and it’s absolutely ideal for precision patchwork piecing – that’s why so many hard-core quilters own and cherish Featherweights even if they also own and enjoy high-end computerized sewing machines. 
If you are just starting out sewing, or wanting to make your first quilt, the Featherweight will shorten your learning curve dramatically, eliminate the various difficulties that come into play on multipurpose modern sewing machines, AND leave plenty of money in your pocket for fabric, rotary cutting tools, and all the other gadgets on your shopping list as a new quilter.
·         Included Stitches: The beauty of the Featherweight is that it is a straight stitch ONLY machine – but that straight stitch is absolute perfection. 
Straight Stitch Perfection!
The Featherweight sews forwards and backwards, but cannot make any sideways motion stitches.  When zigzag sewing machines were first introduced, the side-to-side needle motion of the new machines required design changes that compromised the quality of the straight stitch slightly – a wider hole in the stitch plate as well as relocating the bobbin from the side of the machine, where it rotated in the same direction as the seam being sewn, to the front of the machine, where the bobbin rotates perpendicularly to the seam line.  Each straight stitch of a machine “lock stitch” is formed by a twisting of the needle and bobbin thread between stitches to “lock” the two threads together between the fabric layers.  On the Featherweight, that twist-tug action is exerted in the same direction as the seamline, keeping your stitches nice and straight.  I found this fantastic animation of how a sewing machine forms a lock stitch, and the needle, presser foot, and bobbin are oriented exactly like they are on a Featherweight machine in this video:
On most modern machines, the needle and the bobbin case are both turned at 90 degree angles to the presser foot and the seamline.  Consequently, the threads are tugged SIDEWAYS where the needle and bobbin threads "lock" together between each stitch, which can create an ever-so-slight slant to the "straight" stitches no matter how perfectly balanced your tension may be. 

Small Needle Hole and Narrow Feed Dogs
Triangle Points Love Narrow Feed Dogs!
The feed dogs on modern sewing machines are also spaced farther apart to accommodate the 5.5 mm or 9 mm stitches.  When you’re sewing ¼” patchwork seams for quilts on a modern sewing machine, your fabric is only in contact with the left feed dog at times, which makes it more difficult to feed the fabric through the machine perfectly straight, especially at the beginning and end of seams, and when dealing with little triangle points.  The wider needle hole in the stitch plate of a zigzag sewing machine also has a habit of “eating” your triangle points, pulling them down into the bobbin area.

·         Can you Drop the Feed Dogs?  No, you cannot lower the feed dogs on most Featherweight sewing machines for free-motion quilting.  (The feed dogs CAN be lowered on the convertible free arm Model 222 Featherweight, but those machines are very rare, difficult to find, and typically sell for three times what you’d pay for a Model 221). There is a small vintage Singer accessory called a Darning and Embroidery Plate that some quilters use to cover the feed dogs on a Featherweight 221 for free motion quilting work.  The one in the photo below is an original vintage part that is extremely rare, but the Singer Featherweight shop sells a replica for $12 and that will work just as well:
Featherweight Vintage Darning and Embroidery Plate, Photo by April 1930s
There are other vintage and modern reproduction parts out there at lower price points that can be used to cover the feed dogs in a similar manner, and I recently read on the Featherweights Yahoo forum of some workarounds for doing free-motion work on a 221 without a darning plate, such as setting the stitch length to zero to render the feed dogs inoperable.  However, with only 5” of throat space to the right of the needle, the Featherweight really does not have enough room for quilting anything other than small projects, IMO.  I personally do not use my Featherweights for machine quilting because I have another, larger machine that is much better suited to quilting (my Bernina 750 QE). 
·         Automatic or Manual Thread Cutting: When you read the Featherweight owner’s manual, they refer to a “thread cutter” at the back of the needle bar.  This is merely a metal loop that is about as sharp as a butter knife, and you’re supposed to pull your threads straight down over this thing hard enough to snap them.  I cut all of my threads with a little scissor or thread snip when I’m sewing on a Featherweight.
·         Is There a Start/Stop Button? Not only does the Featherweight not have a start/stop button, it does not have an on/off switch, either!  That switch on the bed of the machine only turns the light on and off.  If a Featherweight is plugged in, it is turned on.  That’s why I always leave the light switch in the on position, so if I see light, I know I forgot to unplug the machine. 
·         Pros:
1.    Affordable machine for those on a budget, either as a first/only machine or as a backup for traveling
2.    Stitch quality and reliability are equal to or superior to the most expensive luxury machines made today
3.    This machine has adjustable presser foot pressure so you can adjust it to feed your fabric evenly whether you’re sewing with sheer chiffon or heavy denim.  Shockingly, many manufacturers’ smaller, entry-level models built today do not have this basic feature that has been around for over a hundred years.  It’s not on the Bernina Activa 215 or on any of the 3 Series machines, either, but it came standard on every Singer Model 221 and 222 Featherweight from 1933 on!
Adjustable Presser Foot Pressure on the Singer Featherweights
4.    Very easy to use and maintain, seldom needs repairs.  If you're even moderately mechanically inclined, you can learn to service and maintain this machine on your own.  Even if you prefer to pay a sewing machine technician for service, it's unlikely that anything will ever go wrong that will cost very much to fix.  Most parts for the Featherweights are available either vintage or reproduction at reasonable prices.
5.    This is a solid, well-made machine, built to outlast you AND the lucky person who gets it after you.  They don’t make ‘em like they used to because it would be so expensive to produce a machine like this today that no one could afford to buy one, seriously.  The machines and their vintage accessories (still readily available on eBay and from online Featherweight parts dealers) just work so beautifully for what they were intended to do
6.    All metal construction, with no plastic parts
7.    Unbelievably stinking cute, vintage chic machine that will be the belle of the ball wherever she goes
8.    Extremely lightweight and portable, easy to tuck away and store when not in use
9.    Time traveling!  It is so cool to be sewing on a machine that was built and sold during the Great Depression.  I wonder how many hands my machine has passed through, how many quilts, dresses, wedding gowns, baby bonnets she has sewn.  That sense of history is part of what makes sewing on a Featherweight such a special experience.
·         Cons:
1.    No zigzag stitch.  If you’re mainly a quilter, this is not a big deal.  You can also sew home dec items, crafty items, and clothing made from woven fabrics beautifully on this machine.  However, if you want to sew with knits, you really need a zigzag stitch and this may not be the machine for you.
2.    Small throat space, can’t drop feed dogs (unless it’s a rare Model 222).  This is a great machine for piecing quilt tops, but it is not ideal for machine quilting them. 
3.    The built-in lighting on these machines is pretty weak.  I replaced the incandescent bulbs on my Featherweights with LED bulbs, and although I prefer the safety of a cooler-running LED bulb over incandescent and the whiter light is easier on my eyes, it’s really not all that much brighter.  I always use supplemental task lighting when I’m sewing on my Featherweights.
4.    No power switch.  You have to remember to unplug your Featherweight when you walk away from it
·         Where Can I Find a Featherweight and How Much Will it Cost?  Singer manufactured over two million of these machines from 1933 through 1964, and there are still plenty of them out there even though there are a lot of folks looking for them.  I have heard legends of collectors who stumbled across a Singer 221 at a yard sale for $50 “back in the day,” but that’s pretty unlikely nowadays.  There are always several Singer Featherweights listed on eBay or Craigslist, and you might get lucky and spot one at a second-hand store.  Just keep in mind that any machine that has been sitting unused for a long time is going to need to be cleaned, lubricated, adjusted, and have its electrical wiring inspected for safety before you can sew with it successfully, which could run you $50-100 depending on the going rates in your area.  For that reason, I recommend purchasing your Featherweight from another quilter or from a dealer/collector who will service the machine, even if the initial price point is higher.  The Model 221 Featherweights that have sold on eBay recently have gone for anywhere from $260 on the low end up to $405.  If you buy a machine on eBay for $300, then spend $50 to have it shipped with insurance and another $95 for a tech to clean and adjust it for you, you really spent $450 on that machine.
The price of a Singer Featherweight is going to vary depending on the condition of the paint and the extent to which the gold decals have worn away, whether the machine is in working condition with all of its parts, whether it comes with an original case, accessories, etc.  If it’s a Model 222/222K Featherweight (the convertible free arm machine with feed dogs that can be lowered) – expect to pay $900 to $1,400 or more. That’s because this model was only made from 1954-1961 and there just aren’t that many of them out there.   Furthermore, not all of the parts are interchangeable between the more common 221 machines and the 222, and if you ever need to find parts specific to the 222 model you’re likely to have a terrible time finding them and then have to pay through the nose.  That’s an important consideration if you’re buying the machine for actual sewing and not just as a collector’s item.
Singer Model 222/222K Convertible Free Arm Featherweight, Photo by April 1930s
There are a number of very reputable, knowledgeable folks who deal exclusively in Featherweights out there, who can sell you a beautiful machine that is already serviced, running perfectly and ready to sew, and who even offer guarantees on these used machines.  You can expect to pay between $500-$700 for machines from these sources; here are just a few that I consider reputable:
·         British Featherweight connoisseur Graham Forsdyke and April Henry of April 1930s have merged their websites.  The combined site is a fabulous resource for Featherweight information, sometimes has machines available for purchase, and always carries a wide assortment of vintage and reproduction parts and accessories:
·         Larry and Carol Meeker:
·         Additional Online Featherweight Resources:
To find out how old a particular Featherweight is from the serial number on the bottom of the machine:
For fabulous video tutorials on how to thread your Featherweight, how to change needles, and how to wind a bobbin:
For parts, repairs and maintenance information, check out Dave McCallum's Featherweight Rx web site and blog:

There is also a Yahoo forum for Featherweight collectors and enthusiasts, where occasionally machines are offered for sale, but where you can also get help with any questions or trouble shooting:

UPDATED 7/19/2016: I'm linking up with Val's Archive's Linky with a Featherweight theme today.  Be sure to visit her post there to find even more Featherweight inspiration!

Val's Quilting Studio

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