Almost 80 years ago, in 1933, Isaac Singer first introduced the Featherweight model 221 sewing machine at the Chicago World’s Fair. Today, almost 50 years after the last featherweight was produced in 1960, in the modern age of sewing machines with computer controlled stitching, the featherweight is still a highly sought after sewing machine. In fact, some model 221 Featherweights are still in the hands of their original owners. Here are three reasons why you should find, and buy one.
1. Simplicity. The model 221 was designed to do one thing, and do it well, and that was to sew a straight stitch. The stitching mechanism combines the original rotary hook and four motion feeds, both originally patented in the 1850s by Allen Wilson. Similar to not being able to build a better mousetrap, these two mechanisms are still found in today’s modern sewing machines, but without all the electronics. The original mechanism is a simple interaction of finely machined parts which operate with the consistency of a fine Swiss watch. Barring physical damage of the mechanism, the parts will only wear with time but regular maintenance (oiling and cleaning) will keep the mechanism running as smoothly as the day it was originally purchased.
2. Durability. In 1933, Singer designed the Featherweight 221 to be the only sewing machine a housewife needed to buy. The smooth stitching mechanism was complimented by a stiff, all metal frame and a small, but powerful, motor. The metal (aluminum) frame greatly reduced the vibration of the machine during operation, which permitted the stitching mechanism to run very smoothly. This enabled the 221 to stitch any fabric without putting excessive strain on the motor. When first introduced, the model 221 was described as being able to do the work of an industrial sewing machine. So by limiting the strain on the motor with a rigid frame, Singer was able to extend the overall life of the machine. Again, proper maintenance is critical in further limiting the friction of the moving parts, which is another component of the featherweight’s durability, it is so easy to maintain.
3. Weight. It’s called a featherweight for a reason. Singer realized that sewing machines take up space, especially when they are too heavy to move and are usually accompanied by a sewing table. Weighing in at ~11 ½ lbs (thanks to its aluminum frame, and simplified design) the featherweight was the first truly portable sewing machine. When placed in its carrying case, the Featherweight 221 could easily be stored out of sight in a closet. Today, the lightweight is still beneficial to those sewers and quilters who travel to classes and demonstrations where it is necessary to bring your own machine. Sure you can roll in your fully electronic Bernina on a hand truck, or simply carry your Featherweight without so much as breaking a sweat.
Approximately 2.5 million 221 featherweights were produced from 1933 to 1960, and because of its simplicity, durability and light weight it still a highly sought after, and well respected, sewing machine.