Product Type: Singer irons & sewing machines
Newest Review: ... is on the main body of the machine, located on its pillar, just above the Singer badge. The stitch length switch is located above thi... more
Newer is Not Better
Singer Featherweight 222K
Member Name: shroud
Singer Featherweight 222K
Date: 21/05/07, updated on 21/05/07 (4108 review reads)
Advantages: elegant in design, extremely lightweight and durable, extremely simple operation, quiet
Disadvantages: in high demand and no longer in active production
In the world of sewing, vintage Singers machines are often looked upon as something pretty to look at. With the black body and sleek lines and usually ornamented with lovely ornate gold designs, even the electric versions are seen as antiquated due to the straight stitch only capability often misunderstood to be these machines limitations. Enthusiasts who actually still use these machines are happy to disabuse you of this notion however.
Attaching where the foot goes, under the needle, Singer manufactured attachments that do all the functions of a more modern, computerised machine. Incredibly easy to use and small, these attachments fell out of favour with the machines they were designed for use with, merely because of advertising and the drop in the number of households actually sewing. Many of the machines themselves fell out of favour because of their weight. Being made of cast iron, even the so called portable sizes that came in a carry case weighed well over 20 pounds in weight.
In 1933, Singer came up with the idea to make a small and lightweight portable that was also very sturdy. Made of heavy duty aluminium, it weighed a mere 11 pounds including its case. In looks, it appeared to be slightly larger than a toy machine, and had the same black enamel with gold detailing of its predecessors. The machine also featured a switch to vary the stitch length, as well as a switch to reverse. The attachments for zigzagging, monogramming, ruffling, etc already in existence also fit, as they were designed for universal fit with all lockstitch machines. It came in a leatherette covered case and a folding sewing/card/informal dining table was also available to purchase with it. What it did not have was a free arm, and in the 1956, Singer introduced a free arm version, the 222K, which was exclusively made in Britain. They were manufactured until 1963, when fancier programmed plastic sewing machines established themselves as market leaders. Despite languishing in attics and dark corners for several decades after this occurrence, the 221, and especially the 222K became the champagne toast of the quilting and home sewing world when a revival of these arts as hobbies re emerged in the 1990's.
As previously mentioned, these are lightweight, come with a carry case, made in Britain at Kilbowie in Scotland (so the current is UK standard, meaning that specialists must rewire the motors for North America), and free arm. Being free arm means that the bed of the machine is removable; revealing an arm around which sleeves and leg openings and whatnot can fit around. This makes the task of making these much easier as the fabric of the openings are not touching, greatly reducing the chance of swing the opening closed by mistake. The reverse switch is on the main body of the machine, located on its pillar, just above the Singer badge. The stitch length switch is located above this, and over the work area, the body also has a removable light fitting. The light fitting takes a standard sized sewing machine bulb still in use today.
Over the more modern machines, one of its distinct advantages is its durability. Unlike most machines made from the end of its production runs onwards, the innards of the machine are made of solid metal and not plastic. This is because while plastic was available, the wear and subsequent breakage of plastic teeth was undesirable. Sadly, Singer was to succumb to market forces, and in the 1970's, newer Singers also began using the plastic cogs. The sturdiness of the body, being aluminium rather than plastic, is a second distinct advantage. Portables often get dropped whilst carrying, and this usually results in damage to the machines that render it unusable. In a Featherweight, this results in a dent that while it is a cosmetic imperfection, it does not render the machine unusable due to body damage.
The simplicity of the design also makes this a gem for quilters, as well as budding home seamstresses. Learning to sew on a Featherweight is incredibly easy, as nearly anything can be made with just the simple straight stitch, and flipping the reverse button at the end of a seam ensures that the seam will not unravel, regardless of how unevenly the fabric was fed. Its smoothly quiet operation means that sewing in the home can be undertaken without loud disruption to the household, so plenty of practice can be had as well without having to wait for a special set aside time. The ease of use, availability and inexpensiveness of the buttonholing, zig zagger, and other attachments means that as more complex tasks are mastered, the machine continues to be of valuable use. The lightness of weight also makes it a popular choice to be taken to quilting classes and sewing bees which are seeing a social revival amongst ladies' groups.
The machine is also incredibly easy to look after. The light bulb occasionally will need replacing, fluff cleaned from under the needle bed occasionally, the motor dusted with a vacuum cleaner every once in a while, and a drop of sewing machine oil on rare occasion will be required. Other than that, they are faiirly maintenance free. In the unlikely event that the motor should burn out, a new motor is possible for less than the cost of another machine. I got my own machine cheap as someone had dropped it and bent the reverse switch causing cosmetic damage to the plate surrounding it. A new switch and cosmetically perfect plate were easily and cheaply sourced, and fitted with ease by ourselves. Manuals and parts lsits are also easily downloaded from the internet.
~~~Where to Buy~~~
As these were only manufactured until 1963, there are only a limited number of places to buy these. You can scout out EBay, boot sales, antique shops, and even leave a written request at your local Singer shop as people frequently bring in vintage machines wanting a service and valuation with a view to sell. If you want one that has been professionally serviced, and comes with a guarantee, you can also visit the website of British expert Graham Forsdyke, at http://www.singer-featherweight.com/, and while he does rewire these for the lucrative US market primarily, he is happy to sell the UK spec by request and also offers free advice on a Yahoo group for Featherweight devotees. Do be warned that as these are now viewed as not only collectible, but in high demand by quilters and sewing enthusiasts worldwide, these machines are by no means cheap. A machine in reasonable, but not mint, working condition with its case and no manual, will easily run to over £100. A serviced, fully restored machines, will run upwards of £400. If being sent by courier or post, and properly packaged, postage will cost at least £20, so beware low postage costs, and verify how they intend to package it up. Proper packing instructions for sending a sewing machine can be found here: http://www.sew2go.com/packingseries.htm
When my daughter was born, I took up sewing again so I could make her some outfits and bonnets that I liked as much I saw in the stores were not to our tastes, and fabric can be obtained quite cheaply. I started out with a £10 third hand New Home machine from the 70's. It was a good machine, but when I began to do a lot more sewing after the arrival of our son, and I took up quilting, I began to sigh over a better machine. The 70's machine was adequate, but the stitches often were not as tight or neata s they could be, and the thread often would break after washing. The stitch quality was not due to my sewing skills, but rather the related to wear on parts within the machine, due to the plastic cogs being worn. It was also a noisy machine, meaning I could not sew while my husband watched television. Casting my eyes about, the new machines had the stitch quality I wanted, but more features than I needed, and quite frankly, even to an experienced person such as me, they looked a bit daunting with novel sized manuals. Remembering the Singer 66 my grandmother had had and the still high quality of the stitches it revealed when she had made my clothes, I commiserated to my husband it was a shame that the newer machines were not built as well. For my troubles, I was rewarded first with a working 66 in a drawing room cabinet, and secondly by a 222K as it became obvious a free arm would be a real boon to me with the tiny clothes I was making. I was also given a copy of Mary Pickenís Singer Sewing, that details instructions of how to actually sew using these type of machines and making use of the attachments (about £5 including postage on EBay).
I have found all the attachments quite cheaply via EBay for mere pounds, and have gone on to whiz up curtains, frocks, waistcoats, capes, quilts, cushions, and more on my 222K. Priced competitively to a modern machine, this classic machine in my opinion outshines them with its beauty, ease of use, durability, lightweightness, lack of operating noise, and its serene aura of history. When I sit down at my Featherweight, I feel at one with the women who stretch back in time behind me, lovingly sewing away.
Summary: Easy to use vintage free arm machine enjoying a worldwide surge of popularity
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