Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Putting the Featherweight In Service

Twelve years ago, I came in possession of a Featherweight machine.   It originally belonged to my mother's boyfriend who was a tailor.  At the time, I had only been quilting for two years and had always heard such good things about these machines so like most quilters I coveted one.  Not for sewing with it mind you -- I just wanted to display it!  Once I had it, I set up the quilt space display I had dreamed of.

The iron 2nd from the left is real and belonged to my great grandmother!
I made my first mini quilt for it, choosing the design and sizing the quilt so it would deliver the maximum impact when displayed on the machine bed.  I also eventually learned that you can date these machines by their serial numbers (here is one place to look that information up).  Based on its serial number, this one was made in 1952 so is one of the "Centennial Edition" machines.   It was a given that when we moved, setting up another display in my new quilt space was a priority.  At first it started like this:

However that first little quilt looked really lonely on that long expanse of wall and I realized that I had the perfect excuse to make more mini quilts and the perfect place to display them.

Back in December with a couple of projects still to finish up for the end of the year, both my main Janome and back-up Euro-Pro sewing machines went on the fritz.  At that point, I thought it might be time to actually try to use the Featherweight for sewing.  When I originally got the machine, I had no idea if it still worked and (sheepishly) admit that I didn't even try plugging it in.  Ironically, I had thought about this very same thing in April so had done some research about Featherweight maintenance and based on what everyone said had purchased David McCallum's book "The Featherweight 221 and I" which promised to get me up to speed on servicing, maintaining and even restoring Featherweights.  So when I sat down with the book and the machine.....

....almost immediately I found out that I was out of luck!  The first thing I discovered was that the belt on the machine was split!!  This meant that even if everything else worked, the main part that drives the needle was kaput!  Fortunately I was able to switch production of the projects I wanted to work on to doing them by hand.  Even so, I still (finally) plugged in the machine and found out that in fact the motor and light DID still work so decided not to let the broken belt be an impediment.  I added a plan to service the machine and get it back to running to my 2016 "To Do" list.

Once my hand work was moving along at a good clip and my Janome came back from service, I wanted to see if I could also get this machine up and running to use as the new back-up.  If I can learn how to maintain and service this completely mechanical machine myself, I won't have to stop production when my electronic machines need to go into the "hospital".

I finally sat down with the machine two weeks ago and reviewed the whole book and the machine to determine what parts and supplies I would need.  I researched where I could get the things on my list both on the web and locally.  Unfortunately none of the local places were nearby whereas two of the three best web sources I found offered free shipping.  Even for the one that didn't, the shipping cost was less than what I would have paid in carfare to travel to Manhattan or gas to drive up to Westchester which is where the two closest local sources are.  By the weekend, all the orders arrived from:

April 1930's Featherweight Specialty Shoppe (now The Singer Featherweight Shop): 

Note:  They are conducting in-person workshops on Featherweight maintenance all across the country this year.  If you're interested, information about where they will be held is here.

Nova's Featherweights and Quilting:

and NgoSew (eBay): 

 Also following the instructions on Nova's site (scroll down to her June 2015 "Tip of the Month"),  I went to the local hardware store to purchase some Kerosene to clean off the old lubricant on the gears before putting a fresh application on (this is the smallest bottle I could get which is still waaayyy more than I needed!).

With Mr. McCallum's great instructions, I worked my way through replacing the belt, cleaning and lubricating the machine's gears (there are also great videos on this at April 1930's and at Nova's at the bottom of their pages), oiling the machine and cleaning it off (soap and water).  I also had to change the feet on the bed of the machine -- the old ones were totally dried out and crusty!

I replaced the original light bulb:

....with a new bright LED one:

 Here are the two bulbs:  the old one on the left and the new one on the right.  Not only does the new bulb have a "cleaner" light but another advantage is that it is sheathed in silicone so is not hot to the touch!  I've read more than a few comments about being burned by the old lights because they (and the metal housing above them) get very hot once they've been on a while.

I bought a supply of bobbins, a 1/4" foot and a walking foot made for single hole thread plates so I'd be ready to stitch once it was up and running.  I would like to eventually buy a new bobbin case and a needleplate with seam guide markings but I think I've spent enough on this for right now!  Oh and what's a shopping expedition without a few tchatchkes!

Nova had this cute Featherweight pin that I just had to have to add to my quilt pin collection.  I had seen red or white felt spool pin pads at a number of sources and figured I would just make my own from some felt I have around here --- that is until I saw the *cutest* crochet spool pin doilies at April's and again I just couldn't resist!!  The only thing I've still got left to do is get some (would you believe it) car wax to polish her up.

I've christened her Fanny -- a fun bit of alliteration and a nod to a (deceased) aunt of mine!  So after all of that, the real question is:  Does she work?

Yes!!  Here she is on her first project with me:  sewing the binding strips (with the new 1/4" guide foot) for my High Strung +2 quilt.  Something else I didn't know about Featherweights is that while they are straight-stitch only machines, they are able to stitch in reverse!  Next she also managed just fine attaching the binding to my "High Strung +2" quilt that I finished hand quilting on Monday.  This gave me a chance to try out the walking foot. 

What I hope to use her for next is an accessories project just for her!  Many people swear by their Featherweights as a traveling machine.  My Euro-Pro machine was my traveling machine but I admit it's pretty heavy and bulky even with the Tutto bag my MIL gifted me many years ago.  One of the places where I saw McCallum's 221 book recommended was on Jeni Baker's blog In Color Order.   She did another post where she made a tote for her machine (and there's another good tutorial over at the Crafty Hipster blog too).  It just so happens I already had a bag pattern for a tote the same size and having made a tote in 2014 as a gift for our neighbors, figured I can try making one for the Featherweight too.  Looking forward through out the rest of the year to put this baby through her paces!!

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Attention Vintage Sewing Machine Fans!!
If you are a fan of antique machines, you may be interested in a new documentary on them called "Still Stitching".  It can be purchased on DVD or watched as a streaming download.  Check out the preview on YouTube here.  The DVD can be purchased here and you can tell your own vintage machine story here and possibly win prizes!


Material Girl said...

I have a few Janomes and an older Viking but would prefer to sew on a Singer 301. Vintage machines do not cost to service as you can do your own. All they require is a sip of oil and a bit of grease. They sew beautiful stitches and are portable with no surge protection needed. It's funny that they are even more reasonable to purchase - mine were probably 60 years old when I bought them. You will enjoy sewing with your featherweight. I am addicted to small quilts and my slant 301 is the perfect tool. Enjoy!

Anonymous said...

Great FW story. I found my FW at an estate sale and did similar research online as you. The resources you found are awesome and I still refer to them. At first I was intimidated by the the little FW, but no longer. They need to be fed with oil as our modern machines do not. If you ever come across a Singer 301, buy it. They are wonderful machines that sew straight, even and fast. Thanks for sharing and enjoy.

Karen said...

I so want the LED lights for my featherweight machines.