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Article: Singer Featherweight FAQs

Singer Featherweight FAQs

  1. Is my Singer sewing machine a Featherweight model?
  2. What is my Featherweight worth? And, do you buy Featherweights?
  3. I just got a Singer Featherweight, what should I do first?
  4. How do I clean my Featherweight?
  5. Why does my Featherweight and its case have such a strong odor?
  6. Why is my Featherweight skipping stitches, not picking up the bobbin thread, or the thread keeps breaking?
  7. Why does my Featherweight needle go up and down when I try to wind a bobbin?
  8. How come my machine won't sew - the motor turns, but the needle will not move?
  9. Why is my Featherweight jammed causing the handwheel to not turn?
  10. How do clean my Featherweight case?
  11. What years were Singer Featherweights made?


1.  Is my Singer Sewing Machine a Featherweight?

Singer Model 15
(not a Singer Featherweight)

UPDATE:  This article is very helpful when learning to distinguish a bona fide Singer Featherweight compared to other older, black Singers from the same era.

Many people wonder if their old Singer Sewing Machine that came with a carrying case and is "portable" gives it the classification of being a Featherweight.  While the old black Singers bear similar appearances with their elegant shape, sleek black paint, and smooth lines, the first evidence to consider is the name difference, that being the word "feather" in Featherweight.  The old Singers in wooden domed top cases or rectangular tweed-covered cases are quite heavy, and produced of cast iron. In fact, most old Singer Sewing Machines were made of cast steel.

A Singer Featherweight is limited to the Singer 221 or 222 model classification only and is made of cast aluminum, weighing just over 11 pounds. It also has a quick identifying feature with the sewing surface or bed extension that flips up on the left side (see photo below), allowing it to compactly fit into its case.  If a machine does not have these same Featherweight identifying features, then it's a different Singer model in another style classification. Further information on the other Singer models can be found at ISMACS.

Singer Featherweight Model 221

For further review, follow the link to this article which contains more details and model comparison of the Singer Featherweight to other vintage Singer sewing machines.

2. What is my Featherweight worth?  And do you buy Featherweights?

Original Sales Receipt for a Singer Featherweight Model 221 - Sold in 1951 for $149.50

2a.  Originally, Featherweights were priced anywhere from $125 - $150 back in the 1930s to 1950s.  (in 2024, and with inflation considered, that same dollar amount would be equivalent to about $2800!)  That said, the value is mostly subjective with any item, including Featherweights. An item or service is only worth what someone is willing and able to pay for it. It also depends on the location of the item, availability of Featherweights in a given area, and the choice of venue. Prices can be gauged from various websites - eBay, Craigslist, Kijiji, etc. and that should provide a ballpark average for the typical Featherweight, all things considered.  Check what they actually sold for, not what someone is necessarily asking. (Particular, specialty Featherweights are going to be the exception to the average price). Items will almost always be less when purchased from a private individual versus ordering from a reputable dealer; however, a reputable Featherweight dealer offers additional value to those who want something ready to sew and guaranteed.

  Do we buy machines?  Yes, we do!  Our grading system is very, very particular so that our customers can be assured that the grade it is given is the graded machine they will receive.  We have a large clientele base and because of the fastidious process we take in selecting and servicing each Singer Featherweight that goes through our shop, our customers will wait - often months at a time - to purchase a machine from us.  The Featherweight machines our customers buy from our shop are those that are loved, cherished and used to make many, many lovely quilts.  (We have several customers who are even collecting Featherweights for their granddaughters to learn to sew on!)  Just remember that we are The Singer Featherweight Shop, so like most antique shops that buy items for their store, we have to purchase things at a price that still affords us to earn a living for our family.  This is why we use eBay for our pricing gauge for the current market price of the average Singer Featherweight.  So, you can either sell it on eBay with their fee structure, and bidding process (and take a chance as to the final price), or you can sell it directly to us with no eBay fees, feedback concerns, customer service issues, etc. - plus we cover the cost of postage.  Your machine could be one of those that are passed down to the next generation as a very special memory and family heirloom!  Please contact us if this is the avenue you would prefer to take to sell your Singer Featherweight machine.

3. I just got a Singer Featherweight, what should I do first?

Do you have the instruction manual for your machine? If not, you can download a free version here or order an exact replica from our shop.

Reading through your operator's manual is what we recommend first and foremost. There is valuable information that will probably save you a lot of time and answer questions you may not realize you have yet.

Next, we recommend you clean the machine (if needed), then oil and lubricate it properly as directed in your manual or the step-by-step guide in the Singer Featherweight Maintenance Handbook. In addition, start with a fresh, new Schmetz needle, making sure you insert it correctly into the shaft.

Then thread the machine following each step and if you need an additional reference for this process, we also provide a photo tutorial for proper threading in our "Getting To Know Your Featherweight" series.

Wind a bobbin using the same thread you are using for your top thread and sew a stitch sample using two layers of fabric. It is recommended to use the same type of fabric you would normally use for sewing on your machine - quilter's cottons are ideal for your initial test. If your machine requires additional servicing, then again, the Singer Featherweight Maintenance Handbook offers additional technical details. A lot of times, however, it can be something quite simple that needs fixing, so be sure to check out our Featherweight Schoolhouse. 


4. How do I clean my Singer Featherweight?

Clean & Polish your Featherweight using a high-quality product like Sew-Retro Clean & Shine.

Do not use household cleaners or soap and water to clean your machine. Many of these contain alcohol, or degreasers or even citrus that will harm the clearcoat of your Featherweight machine.

For adhesives or stubborn grime and dirt, we recommend using Kerosene (a light petroleum distillate) because of its prevalent availability and ease of use, and it will not harm your machine's surface.
You can also use Ronsonol lighter fluid (also a light petroleum distillate) because it can often be found in smaller, more manageable bottles at almost any hardware store. Kerosene can sometimes be found in smaller containers in the camping section of most Wal-Mart stores.

We carry empty oil bottles with a long directed spout that many of our customers fill with Kerosene to not only reach and clean in tight places but to have more control over how much is dripped out.  For further cleaning and polishing instruction, below is our video tutorial.



5. Why does my Featherweight and its case have such a strong odor?

The first thing to check is the felt drip pad underneath the machine. Unscrew the large nut on the bottom tray and if the felt drip pad is saturated with oil like the one shown above then it not only needs a new one, but it could be holding some of the musty odor being emitted by the case. This may not alleviate the pungent odor entirely (especially if your case has been exposed to moist climates), however, this is a good time to change the felt as part of the beginning maintenance. We carry sticky-back Featherweight 221 & 222K felt drip pads here.

Now let's talk about that odoriferous case. We're not talking about an old-fashioned antique smell common with old things, but something much more putrid and intolerable. Basements, damp garages or storage sheds can become a petri dish for Featherweight case mold, allowing the mold spores to multiply out of sight in the glue under the Tolex lining. The glue is a natural horse glue and prone to bacteria which causes an odor that is so strong it can permeate an entire room - it is really, really strong! If you live in drier climates or if your case has been stored in climate controlled rooms where you would be most comfortable then this is not usually an issue at all. Hall closets and sewing or guest rooms are good places to keep your machine if you need to keep it tucked away.

So, how do you rid your case of that awful smell? Well, there are lots of suggestions and opinions on the world wide web -- anywhere from lavender sachets, charcoal, baking soda, dryer sheets or soap shavings. Most of these will just mask the problem and not eliminate the issue altogether. There is a fantastic home remedy that pretty much cures it but it takes some time and some old-fashioned ingenuity. Dave McCallum discovered this process and we have used it many times with great success -- and all without the odor returning. However, it is a home remedy, so proceed at your own risk.

Click Here For a Printout of the Process

If the above process seems too involved and you want to opt for an easier alternative, then the next best thing is to use the all-natural case deodorizer found in our Shop.  We recommend this deodorizer for cases with mild to moderate odor issues.  (For extreme case odors, then the above linked process is the only thing we have found to adequately rid the case of mildew and odor. Surprisingly, sitting in the hot sun, hot car, activated charcoal, wadded newspaper, dial soap, etc. are still not adequate enough - because, yes, after nearly 20 years, we've tried everything.)

Carmon is a former mortician and this product eliminates odors like nothing he has ever found - works very well for a lot of mildew-smelling cases. It is a highly concentrated spray and only takes a squirt or two in the Featherweight case. You can close the lid and repeat as needed. This spray can be used for other areas of your home as well. It neutralizes and kills odors from pets, cooking - even odors post-mortem...... and now mildew-smelling Featherweight cases!

6.  Why is my Featherweight skipping stitches and/or not picking up the bobbin thread, or the thread keeps breaking?

Skipped stitches and bobbin thread that won't pick up are most commonly caused by the needle incorrectly inserted or the machine threaded improperly. If you changed your needle lately (or even if you haven't), then you might need to check to make sure it is inserted properly into the shaft. The flat side of the needle faces left on a Featherweight. If it faces towards the back (like most modern machines) or towards the right, then the top thread will not pick up the bobbin thread properly. This prevents a stitch from forming.

The other issue could be that the thread is going through the needle from the wrong direction - it needs to be threaded from right to left as shown in the photo below.


Lastly, if the machine has had its throat plate removed at all, then you will want to check to make sure that the positioning finger on the bobbin case base is properly positioned. A2 needs to be set in B2 as shown in the illustration below.  This can cause a nest of threads on the bottom fabric or cause the thread to keep snapping.

How and Where to Oil the Singer Featherweight 221 Sewing Machine

How and Where to Oil the Singer Featherweight 221 Sewing Machine


7.  Why does my needle go up and down when I try to wind a bobbin?


To wind a bobbin you need to loosen the stop-back motion knob on the end of the handwheel. This is supposed to prevent the needle from bobbing up and down while the bobbin is being wound. Sometimes, however, no matter how much you loosen the stop-back motion knob, the needle will still move up and down as you wind a bobbin. Most of the time this is remedied quite easily and is usually just a result of someone having had the handwheel apart at some point in time and not reassembling it correctly.

To fix it you will need to loosen the teeny tiny set screw on the stop-back motion knob and remove the knob altogether. There is a handwheel washer on the shaft with two small square tabs on the inner circle of the washer. These tabs need to be facing out towards the knob.  Also, the small set screw needs to be set between two of the three outer ears on the outside of the washer. When the knob is loosened (to wind a bobbin) the set screw is supposed to hit one of these ears keeping the knob from coming all the way off. If the knob will not loosen because the set screw is too close to one of the ears, then the washer needs removed and turned 180 degrees. If this does not solve your problem, there may be old lubricant or residue on the shaft inside the handwheel. Steel wool can be used to clean it out. Follow it up with one drop of sewing machine oil to the shaft. Replace your stop-back motion knob and tighten the set screw.

Here's a video tutorial as well - explaining this whole process:


8.  How come my machine won't sew - the motor turns, but the needle will not move?

The answer to this question can be one of several options (we cover the three common ones) -- the first is so simple you'll chuckle at yourself for how easy it is to fix. The second is easy as well, but the third will involve a bit more time and patience on your part.

  • If the machine was last used to wind a bobbin, then most likely the stop-back motion knob was not re-tightened after the bobbin was finished. Tighten it up again and your machine should sew just fine.


  • Another possibility is that the belt may be too loose. If the handwheel turns manually but not with the motor, your belt may need to be tightened - just not too tight! This is an easy fix. The following video will show you how to do this:

  • Finally, you could have thread caught behind the bobbin case base. If your handwheel will not turn and the machine is jammed then the following video tutorial will show you what to check for. It's amazing how such a tiny piece of thread can seize a Featherweight completely.


9.  Why is my Featherweight jammed causing the handwheel to not turn?

Most likely, you have thread caught behind the bobbin case base. If your handwheel will not turn and the machine is jammed then the following video tutorial will show you what to check for. It's amazing how such a tiny piece of thread can seize a Featherweight completely.


10.  How do I clean my Featherweight Case?


  1. Use Elmer's Wood Glue to secure any loose fabric on the case and let dry.

  2. Find the largest, jumbo size (really stinky!) Black Sharpie Marker and mark over any spots or scuffs, or do it to the whole case if you want to take the time (and breathe the fumes).

  3. Next, apply Kiwi Edge Ink or Scuff Cover (this is the black shoe polish that is liquid with a spongy top for application) over the whole case.

  4. When the case is completely dry apply black Kiwi Paste Shoe Polish (the kind in the little round tin). Apply it with a bristle brush, let dry, and wipe with a cloth or paper towel.

  5. Buff the case with a shoe-buffing brush and wipe down with a soft rag. Be sure to wipe it down well so that your case won't leave any black marks on that new quilt you pieced together.

  6. If you need a new case handle, we carry replacement leather handles in our Featherweight Shop.


Your case will look like new!

11.  What years were Singer Featherweights made?

Good question!  The first Featherweight (a black one) was produced in October of 1933.  The last Featherweight, which would have been a White Featherweight, was produced in the late 1960s -- about 1968 to 1969.  Unfortunately, the records for those later year productions are a bit obscure, but we can correlate serial numbers to approximate time periods (click here for the dating charts).  The Singer Featherweight Schoolhouse has a wonderful Historical resource for more fun facts and information.  Click here for the Singer Featherweight Historical Timeline.