What to look for when buying a Featherweight
by Christian Henry
"Is this a good price?", "How do I know if anything is wrong with the machine?", "Are some Singer Featherweights better than others?", and "What do I look for when purchasing a Singer Featherweight?" - these are all common questions we receive from those on the hunt for their first Singer Featherweight. Buying a Singer 221 or 222 can certainly be intimidating, but we do have some tips and cautions that can help you make the right decision when searching for a machine.
What is a good price?
When gauging the price of a machine or comparing prices of machines that have already sold, remember that a "good deal" is when both buyer and seller are satisfied with the price. The prices of a standard Singer Featherweight range considerably when sold in the private sector, so it may help to get an average by asking Featherweight owners what they have paid locally or by checking the completed listings category on eBay. Question number 2 on our FAQs page has more economic details on this topic.
Here are some factors that can make one Featherweight worth more than another:
Sold by a Reputable Dealer - Vintage Singer Featherweight 221 & 222 models are no longer sold alongside all the plastic machines at the local Singer dealer, but there are reputable technicians that specialize, service and sell Featherweights. Keeping that in mind, the old saying "you get what you pay for" still has meaning in this genre. If a Featherweight has been professionally serviced, cleaned, refurbished or completely restored and repainted by a bona fide Featherweight specialist, the machine will command a higher price than those sold in the private sector.
Here at the Featherweight Shop, we have an extensive refurbishing process that all of our machines go through; this and our nearly 15-year reputation in the Featherweight business gives buyers assurance that the machine will not only beautifully present itself right out of the box, but that it will stitch smoothly for years and years to come. Moreover, as professionals, we are able to offer a 2-year warranty as well as technical support and service from our staff.
Overall Cosmetic Condition - The condition of a machine has a great effect on value. Good decals, few scratches and paint nicks or chips, shiny chrome parts and a reflective painted surface make a Featherweight more desirable. The better the condition, the greater the demand. As demand increases for these higher quality Featherweights (and the vintage supply decreases) price increases as well. Therefore, an objective grading scale is important. Click here to view the Singer Featherweight grading scale.
Defining the highest standard - a grade 10: The only time a grade 10 should ever be given to a Singer Featherweight is if it was found in its original packaging, sealed, and consequently never used or touched since its manufacturing. With sewing machines being utilitarian and a household tool meant for everyday use, this leaves the next highest number slightly more attainable - a grade 9. Even still, a grade 9 machine should be scrupulously examined. All these things considered, higher graded machines will command a higher price.
Attachments and Accessories - A Featherweight with more original attachments and accessories will have more value than one with few or none. Accessories sometimes varied from year to year, but click here to see what items originally accompanied the Featherweight at time of purchase.
Singer also offered a wide variety of Fashion Aids to help beautify and further embellish home sewing. Skill levels varied, of course, and some of these attachments would have only been desirable by a professional seamstress. With only a few of these advanced attachments manufactured and sold, many of them are highly collectible today. If any of these collectible fashion aids, attachments or accessories just happen to be tucked in a machine case, this will increase the value of the machine offered as well. Click here for all the Singer Attachments that would have been compatible with the Singer Featherweight. (Some of them are extremely scarce to find and valued higher than the machine itself!)
The Case - One of the most distinguishing elements of the Featherweight sewing machine is its handy little case. Many Featherweights still have their original case, and that does add considerable value. Click here to see what the various Featherweight cases looked like and how they changed in style over the years. Some are more scarce to find than others.
How do I know if something is wrong with the machine?
Because the mechanical components of a Featherweight are metal, almost any malfunction of the machine can be fixed; however, some repairs are costly and can turn what seems to be a good deal into something well over budget. To help prevent a surprise and problem machine (and buying from a professional Featherweight specialist is out of budget range) then we recommend purchasing a Featherweight that can be test-sewn before buying. Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace allows local sellers to connect with local buyers and can be an excellent opportunity to sew on the machine before making a final purchase decision. Buyers that do their homework can also assess in person whether all the necessary parts are included.
It is common for sewing machines to be missing the vintage original bobbin case. Replica bobbin cases are less valuable than an original because they have a reputation for being poorly made and rarely function to form a proper stitch. A seller who has quickly bought a replica to make a machine complete probably has no idea that it makes a vast difference in the value of the Featherweight being operational and complete. Know and learn the part numbers, because an original bobbin case can be a costly replacement. SIMANCO 45750 = vintage original bobbin case. 45751 = Poorly made replica.
That being said, we have specially made, guaranteed high quality replica bobbin cases, but they have a different part number for easy reference (45751TFS). They are not to be confused with any other replica brands or parts.
Along with the original bobbin case, sometimes even the foot controller is missing, too. Both of these parts are imperative to operating the Featherweight, so make sure to ask about them and know their individual value if they are not present with the machine. The electrical cord on the foot controller can easily be replaced or rewired , but if the original is compromised and unsafe to even test the Featherweight then this should be a monetary factor to consider as well, taking everything else into consideration.
After confirming that a Singer Featherweight is complete, here are a few things to watch for that indicate the need for some costly repairs or replacement parts.
A Smoking Motor - Smoke coming from the motor is almost always a sign that oil has been put in the motor instead of proper grease. Oil or vaseline will cause the wiring insulation on the inside to break down due to overheating. If a motor is in this state, it will need to be rewound. Click here for more information about our motor rewinding service.
A Slow Machine - A Featherweight that runs slow does not necessarily mean that there is something wrong with the machine. Look for a belt that is too tight, a bobbin winder firmly pressed against the belt or even a Featherweight that needs a routine service of oil and lubrication. Any or all of these issues can cause it to run slow. A weak motor in need of rewinding can be the culprit of a slow machine as well, but before making that diagnosis, adjust the belt properly, and turn the handwheel by hand. If belt is adjusted well and the machine then turns very easily upon rotating the handwheel, the motor probably needs serviced and assessed for rewinding.
- Broken Hook Assembly Parts - Featherweight hook assemblies are susceptible to damage when too much force is used to release a thread jam. Vintage original hook assembly parts are in low supply and can be quite expensive. Thus, before making a Featherweight purchase, learn all about the hook assembly and check each part closely. (Click here to view all the hook assembly components.) Knowing how to spot a damaged hook assembly on a Singer Featherweight can help determine the machine's true value.
There are a few simple issues that even a novice Featherweight owner can often quickly troubleshoot and fix.
- Skipped stitches
- Bobbin thread that won't pick up with the needle
- Thread that breaks
- Thread that loops and makes a knotted mess
If a Singer Featherweight is doing any of these things, the following video tutorial will equip any potential buyer to discern the causes quickly: Troubleshooting Stitch Problems.
All Featherweights have the same stitch-forming components, but there are definitely nuances in the various years that make some more desirable than others. Click here to see the pros and cons of each Featherweight year by year. And, click here to view the various specialty Featherweights that are very collectible. The Historical Timeline can be helpful as well, marking so many of the intricate changes Singer made to the Singer Featherweight 221 and 222 over the years.
Finding a Featherweight can be an exciting and challenging adventure! Although it may seem overwhelming, this blog post can be a guide to making an informed decision, leading many quilters and sewists to a machine that will give years of sewing enjoyment.