Restoration of a Vintage 1956 Singer Model 221 “Featherweight”

This project is the detailed restoration of a Singer Model 221 “Featherweight” sewing machine. Before we begin, this machine deserves a little background history. To start with, the Singer model 221 Featherweight is in a class by itself. It is 1/2 the size of a full size domestic sewing machine, and it is a marvel of design. It uses a bobbin that is unique to itself and to its 3/4 size cousin, the Singer model 301 in the Singer line up. The machine uses an external motor and belt to run the sewing drive mechanism thru two sets of heat treated steel gears. This allows the machine to utilize a full rotary hook mechanism. The gears are tooth matched, and the drive train is balanced for smooth running. With all of these features, the Featherweight is truly a lightweight when it comes to weight. It’s aluminum construction and fold up bed weigh in at only 11 pounds. A low shank machine, the Featherweight utilizes a full complement of Singer attachments common to it’s full size siblings.

The featherweight arrived on the scene in 1933 when Singer commissioned the first batch of 10,000 model 221 sewing machines. Singer marketed the model 221 as the Singer Featherweight and introduced it during the 1933 Worlds Fair. Singer manufactured a free arm model in 1954 designated as the model 222 and produced this model until 1964. The model 221 was manufactured until 1969 and it is estimated that Singer produced 3.5 million Featherweight machines during the model’s lifetime.

Interestingly enough, the “Featherweight” name and style didn’t start with Singer. The first “Featherweight” sewing machine had its beginnings in 1928, when the Standard Sewing Machine Company marketed the first “Featherweight Sewing Machine”… not Singer.  The Standard Sewing Machine Company abandoned the name “Featherweight” in favor of the name “Sewhandy”. They did however, produce a small number of Sewhandy sewing machines with the Featherweight name.

Despite being out of production for many decades, Featherweights are sought after and used by quilters. It may look like a toy, but it is not. Despite it’s diminutive size and light weight, the Featherweight is a heavyweight in the Singer lineup of iconic sewing machines.

I chose this machine for restoration because of it’s cosmetic condition, and here’s why… Featherweight’s are not rare, and many can be found in good condition if you look for them. However, it is far less common to find one in excellent condition. Even then, cosmetic condition is just that… cosmetic. This machine still has 63 years of oil varnish in the internal mechanisms and the service history is unknown. This varnish coating affects the smoothness that the machine is capable of… but that is not apparent until the “before” is compared to the “after”. The restoration will be very detailed, no shortcuts will be taken, and every effort will be made to finish the project with a Featherweight with an original finish that is as close to new, both cosmetically as well as mechanically as it can possibly be.

Serial number AM404557, born on February 27, 1956, this machine is the perfect candidate for restoration. The shellac coating is in excellent condition with full coverage over the body of the machine. This allows the maximum level of cleaning without the concern of damaging the decals. The decals are in excellent condition, and the original black japan finish shows only the slightest wear from use. The machine will undergo a detailed disassembly, cleaning, and all of these parts will be restored to “as new” condition. Likewise, the motor and tension assembly will be completely disassembled and reconditioned. The body of the machine will be deep cleaned and glaze polished to the highest degree until the full potential of the cosmetic condition is achieved. This detailed mechanical restoration, coupled with a detailed cosmetic restoration, on a machine that is already in excellent condition, will make this Featherweight stand out from a crowded field.

Here is the machine in the “before” condition…

The first step in any restoration is to clean the dust and loose dirt off of the body of the machine, and begin taking everything attached to the body of the machine. This includes all of the plates, the tension assembly, the bobbin case, the needle clamp, the presser foot, the motor, the bobbin winder mechanisms, the motor, the wiring block, and the balance wheel. This will make it much easier to clean the body of the machine.

As expected, the feed dogs were full of lint… rule number 1… oil your machine regularly, rule number 2… clean the feed dogs occasionally.

The next step is to remove all of the mechanical assemblies in the sewing head and under the bed. This is where all of the parts and pieces responsible for forming a stitch hide conveniently out of sight sewing stitch by stitch without complaint, despite being neglected over the years. The light shroud and wiring is also removed to allow for restoration and cleaning behind it.

Note… the gear shafts and gears will not be removed. This is not because they can’t be removed, it’s because they should not be removed under any circumstance! The gears are tooth matched in sets to mesh perfectly with each other. The gear shaft is counter balanced. The gear mesh tolerances are critical and cannot be “reset” after they are disturbed. The tools to do so may exist in someone’s attic, basement, or even in the tool box of someone whose Father or Grandfather worked in a Singer factory. But not by me. The Singer Model 221 Adjuster’s Manual specifically mentions that any removal or replacement of the gears requires a trip back to the Singer Factory… and thats not an option. The connecting rod and the stitch regulating lever is removed.

Here, the parts are laid out for cleaning…

The next few pictures reveal the oil varnish coating the outside and inside of the parts…

The oil varnish shows up as a coffee colored film on the parts, and removal of this film will return the silky smooth feel of the machine lost ever so slowly in it’s lifetime.

After cleaning, the varnish is gone, but there is more parts preparation before they are ready for reassembly. All parts that rotate inside of another part, rub against another part, or otherwise is in contact with another part will be wire brushed to return them to “as new” condition… The next few pictures show this.

Even though they have been cleaned and wire brushed, the presser bar and the needle bar are prepped further by polishing them to a glass smooth finish. The next pictures are before and after polishing. Hard to see… but the difference is there.

After all of the parts are cleaned and prepped, they are set aside for reassembly. Next, our attention is turned to cleaning the gears in place. This is done with a bristle brush, dental picks, and tooth picks.

Same for the gear set under the sewing bed…

Disassembled, now the body is ready for cleaning…

The body of the machine is deep cleaned using GoJo and cotton balls… a lot of cotton balls. These were used just to clean the bed of the machine. A similar amount is used for the sewing arm and pillar.

After cleaning, the machine looks much better…

The body is ready for glaze polishing, but this step wait until after the mechanical parts are complete and reassembled.

The next step is to rewire the light assembly. the old wires are removed from the fixture and new wire is soldered to the light bulb contact pins. heat shrink tubing is placed over the wire where it resides inside of the machines pillar…

After the light is rewired, our attention is turned to the motor. It is disassembled, cleaned, the armature is polished, and the brushes are reconditioned…

Note the condition of the motor grease wicks. I originally planned to replace these wicks because they are typically hard and packed with old broken down grease. The condition of these wicks was a surprise and an exception. They are in surprisingly good condition and still retain their light buff “wool” color. After evaluating the original wicks, I determined that they are better than the replacement wick available today and there is no doubt the lubricating characteristics of the material is appropriate for this motor. However, they will be turned unused end up to allow the virgin wick to contact and lubricate the armature.

This decided, the original wicks are reconditioned… this is done by placing them in the motor lubricating grease and heating it to a liquid state. The grease Singer used for their motor wicks was formulated to melt at about 115 degrees fahrenheit. In practice, the grease melts by the heat generated by the motor, then it travels as a liquid thru the wick to the armature bearing shafts. Reconditioning the wicks in liquefied grease allows the wicks to absorb the grease and “charges” them with lubricant before reassembly. The grease cups themselves are filled after assembly.

Next, new wires are soldered to the motor field coil wires… solder tube connectors are used for a smooth solder joint…

Heat shrink tubing insulates the solder joint. Then the armature is polished…

The brushes are reconditioned by squaring the ends. Although the brushes are worn to a curve that matches the armature from use and are perfectly acceptable, now is the opportunity to recondition them. The curved ends are ground to a flat surface, and this flat surface minimize the contact area and slows the wear on the brushes over time.

After reassembly, the motor is bench tested and run in to ensure proper operation.

The final step in the restoration before reassembly and polishing is to disassemble the top tension mechanism and clean the original Simanco bobbin case. Here the parts have been disassembled and cleaned…

The surface finish on the tension discs is critical. For a consistent tension, the discs must be clean and smooth as glass. Here the tension discs are polished with jeweler’s rouge…

Smooth as Glass

The bobbin case thread path is the second, but not the least important part of achieving a balanced stitch. The bobbin thread passes between the bobbin case and a tension leaf spring, and this area must be cleaned and polished too. Like the top tension discs, the surface must be smooth to allow the thread to pass under the spring without drag. You can see the film of “debris” on the bobbin case under the spring. This is why this step is so important.

Finally, it is time to reassemble the machine…

Top Assembly
Bottom Assembly

Now the machine feed dog mechanism is adjusted, the body of the machine is glaze polished, and the needle bar cover and the needle plate are buff polished to a high shine, and all of the little bits and pieces are reassembled on the machine

This completes the machines restoration. The cosmetic condition turned out no less than I expected. The machines original finish shines through beautifully. The body of the machine is deep black with a deep shine. The decals are brighter, have sharp edge definition, and are in excellent condition. It is a beautiful Featherweight by any standard. But looks are only half of the outcome of this machines restoration. The final adjustments are made by sewing and as expected, the performance of the machine is impressive. The machine runs with not much more than a whisper. The stitches are balanced, straight, and true at all stitch lengths, and the quiet smoothness of the machine when sewing is a joy to behold. The difference in performance between where we started and where we are now is like night and day.

But, we are not quite finished yet. The next step is to address the Singer “button” foot controller and the main plug wiring. No less important to a vintage Singer Featherweight of this caliber is keeping the vintage true to everything that touches it… and this includes the wiring.

The wire on this machine is supple and in good condition. While it is easy enough to replace the cord set, the plugs that Singer used are of great quality and have a vintage “feel” replacement cord sets simply can’t match. For this reason, besides simply disassembling and adjusting the controller, the cord plugs are also disassembled, cleaned. The white plug on our cord set is not vintage. This is remedied by salvaging a vintage plug from another vintage cord set and re-soldering the plug terminals to our cord set. The disassembled parts are laid out after cleaning…

The donor plug disassembled…

Plug terminals soldered on cord set…

Cord set reassembled and ready to attach to controller…

Finally, the button controller is checked for proper adjustment and reassembled…

With this work done, the controller and cord set are reconditioned and are vintage quality… Now the restoration is truly complete.

Here is the machine in the “before” condition…

Before…

After…

While I know that there are folks out there that restore and/or recondition featherweights, 301’s, 201’s etc… I have not seen any that compare to the level of detail taken in this restoration, and the result is a Singer Model 221 Featherweight that is as close to new in looks and performance as any machine you are likely to find.

If you would like to see this machine listed for sale, or any of the other restored fine quality sewing machines in our inventory, please visit our Etsy shop at:

www.etsy.com/shop/pungoliving

Tell me what you think!

Published by pungoliving

First and foremost, I decided to share some of my experiences with vintage all metal sewing machines. It is a natural progression of my life experience exercising my hands and my mind. My background is a simple story... graduating High school, I wanted a trade. I landed an apprenticeship at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in welding. 5 years later after earning certification and working in many different environments, I decided to enroll in College and earn an Engineering. At the same time, I married a wonderful girl and started a new life. Graduating College with a degree in Structural Engineering, I began a 35 year career in the Federal Government. Along the way, we were blessed with 3 beautiful children. Earning a Masters degree in Engineering and registration as a Professional Engineer I worked for the benefit of my family and my Country. Over the years, I have pursued many different hobbies... woodworking, car mechanics, astronomy, and taking apart and putting together all sorts of things. Pretty much anything I could put my mind and my hands into. So now, many years later, I am retired and finally able to wile away my days at home with the love of my life. Her interests have always been in sync with mine, but spending so much free time with her, I realized how broad her talents are! One interest she is particularly fond of is sewing. It didn't take me long to put 2+2 together and realize that I could do something with this. So, acquiring, adjusting, servicing, and restoring sewing machines was a win-win. I have a hobby that is detailed, involves tinkering with precision engineered high quality manufactured machines, while she has an opportunity to sew on various different makes and models of sewing machines. While there are many that have information on line, and what I have to say more than likely has already been said, I wanted to contribute to that conversation and learning gleaned from my experience and research.

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