Singer Portable Electric Sewing Machine Model 221-1
This Singer Portable Electric Sewing Machine Model 221-1, commonly known as the Featherweight, is so special that it deserves a page all to itself. Ol’ Swaphos’ mama purchased this machine new in 1954, when he was just a little whippersnapper, and he’s betting that “not 10 feet of material” went through it before his mama, never an aficionado of the domestic arts, put everything back into the case, closed it up, and that’s how it’s stayed for over 50 years!
It’s absolutely amazing to me what all comes in a 14-1/2" x 8" x 10-3/4" tall black carrying case. In addition to the sewing machine itself, there are:
- a cord,
- a foot feed with cord,
- a box containing 7 attachments plus what appear to be a metal loop screwdriver and a thick felt circle with a hole in the middle that must be a replacement pad of some sort or possibly it’s to put on the thread spindle,
- a box containing a tube of Singer Motor Lubricant,
- a packet of Singer needles, and
- a 56-page instruction booklet.
This machine’s serial number is AL172856, identifying it as being produced in Elizabethport, NJ in 1953-54. That date is backed up by the instruction booklet, whose last copyright date is 1952. You know how I love researching the history of the items we offer for sale here at Santa Fe Trading Post, and I’ve hit the jackpot with this remarkable sewing machine. Here, synthesized from a number of sources, is a brief history of the Featherweight:
The Standard Sewing Machine Company of Cleveland, OH began manufacturing sewing machines in 1884. Standard was one of the many manufacturers that sprang up shortly after the dissolution of the Sewing Machine Combination of Singer, Wheeler & Wilson, and Grover & Baker. One of Standard’s most popular machines among collectors today is the Sewhandy portable sewing machine, which was manufactured from the late 1920s through early 1930s. The Standard Company was acquired by the Osaan company around 1929, and they in turn sold out to the Singer Manufacturing Co. in the 1930s. Although the Featherweight clearly owes much to the earlier Standard Sewhandy portable, it is probably not true to say that Singer bought Standard just to get its hands on the Sewhandy design! It would be difficult to deny, however, that the Sewhandy was the inspiration for the Featherweight.
The Featherweight has the same unitary design with the “works” hidden in a deepened base, and was built to sell first and foremost as a portable. But the improvements that Singer built into the new Featherweight made it succeed where the Sewhandy had failed to rescue Standard. The new machine had aluminum base and arm components, drastically reducing the weight (the Sewhandy had a cast-iron arm), a flip-up extension table that increased the work area, and an easily-selected reverse feature. Maintenance was made easier with a single thumb screw releasing the bottom pan for lubrication (the Sewhandy had a series of screws holding a hefty wooden base).
The new design was introduced to the public in 1933 at the Chicago World’s Fair. The improved model, which followed three years later, had a re-worked bobbin case and a numbered dial which took the guesswork out of tension setting. Production of the Model 221 started in Kilbowie, Scotland in 1949. At that time, it was Singer's largest factory. The Elizabethport, NJ factory produced Singer machines from 1930-1960, including the Featherweight 221-1 model during the 1950s. And by the way, even though this sewing machine has always been known as “the Featherweight,” none of them has ever actually carried that name on the machine itself!
Whatever its official name, the Featherweight was (and still is) such a popular sewing machine that whole books have been written about it. Nancy Johnson-Srebro’s book, Featherweight 221 - The Perfect Portable And Its Stitches Across History, Expanded Third Edition, states that “The many who are fortunate enough to own a Featherweight sewing machine possess a true American treasure. Most are still whirring away in sewing rooms and seminars across the country, others are valued for their comparative rarity and enjoy ‘collector status.’ Treat them with honor and love. Without a doubt, they are symbols of the last generation of American craftsmanship!”
So here’s your very own treasure! Based on the International Sewing Machine Collectors’ Society Condition Chart (see below), I’d honestly give this machine a 10! As stated above, it’s virtually unused and has been carefully stored in its tightly shut case all these years, protected from dust and all the other normal household hazards. We attached the foot feed, plugged in the machine, turned on its light, made sure the needle wasn’t threaded, and gently pressed on the foot feed, which resulted in the motor softly whirring and the needle flying up and down. It’s like a brand new machine. Almost makes me want to take up sewing again!
As for the attachments, we’ve pictured them all, but I have no idea what they’re called. The instruction book talks about a foot hemmer, an adjustable hemmer, a multi-slotted binder, an edge stitcher, a gatherer, and a ruffler. That’s six pieces, and there are seven in the box of attachments, plus the screwdriver and the felt circle. If you’re a seamstress, you’ll know, or will easily figure out, what that extra attachment is! The book also gives complete instructions for oiling the machine, oiling the hook mechanism, and lubricating the motor.
The Singer 221-1 is still one of the most sought after sewing machines by professional sewers and collectors, and has the distinct honor of being one of the best sewing machines ever made. Singer built it to last a lifetime, but as it turns out, these machines last for several lifetimes. This one is ready and waiting to begin its new life with you.
Condition Chart created for the International Sewing Machine Collectors’ Society over 20 years ago. It was quickly picked up by enthusiasts all over the world and is now the universally accepted way of describing a machine.
10. Just like the day it left the factory. Not a scratch or mark upon it.
9. As 10 but with the small, odd scratch or wear mark evident to very close inspection.
8. Very good used condition. All paint good; all metalwork bright. What the average antique dealer would call “perfect”.
7. Good condition but rubbing of paint evident and/or some nickel plating worn.
6. As in 7 but more wear to paint and/or some light surface rust to the bright work.
5. The average, hard-used, ill-cared-for machine looking for someone to love it.
4. Poor condition, chipped enamel, rusty metalwork but acceptable for a collection if a rare machine.
3. In need of restoration but a reasonable job for a dedicated enthusiast.
2. Total restoration needed to paintwork and bright metal. It's a brave collector that takes it on.
1. Spare parts only and these would be in need of extensive restoration.
(Click on pictures for more images.) Tell a friend.
Price: $650.00 + s/h and insurance
** SOLD **