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December 2011 

Bobbin Tension

Good tension is indicated by the stitch being evenly ‘locked’ in the middle of the fabric you are sewing.  That is why these machines were called ‘lock stitch’ machines (as opposed to chain stitch machines that were prevalent at the time these machines were introduced).  To test tension, I sew on a scrap of fabric with a different color in the top and in the bobbin.  You should see a tiny dot of the other color on each side.  Run your finger nail along the stitch line.  You should feel no knots on either side.  The knots should be ‘locked’ in the center.  Knots on the bottom (top thread showing on the bottom) indicate a problem with the top tension.  Knots on the top (bobbin thread showing on the top) indicate a problem with the bottom tension.

There are two tiny screws on the side of the bobbin case.  When you are holding the bobbin case with the bobbin down the screw on the left is the screw that holds the tension spring on.  The screw on the right is the adjusting screw for bobbin tension.   Remember ‘lefty loosey’, ‘righty tighty’.   Test the bobbin tension by threading the bobbin case (see October 2010 Tip of the Month), holding the case up by the thread and bouncing the bobbin case slightly.  About 1” – 2” of thread should unwind.  Less indicates the bobbin tension is too tight.  More indicates the bobbin tension is too loose.  When turning the adjusting screw for the bobbin case, only turn it about an eighth of a turn at a time.  I think of the face of a clock and turn it about 7 ½ minutes in the appropriate direction.

Sometimes the spring on the bobbin case can become damaged.  These are replaceable, but by now you know that I prefer to prevent damage.  You can prevent putting undue stress on the spring if you will clip the thread close to the bobbin case before you remove the bobbin instead of pulling the thread out backwards through the spring.

Bobbin tension can be affected by an improperly wound bobbin, especially a bobbin that is ‘over-wound’ with too much thread.  This will keep the bobbin from turning freely in the bobbin case.   Also, a bobbin that has a thread on the outside of the bobbin (happens when you begin to wind the bobbin) will not turn freely in the bobbin case.

Occasionally the bobbin tension will be botched because of thread, lint, dirt, rust or other debris being built up or caught behind the tension spring.  Typically the spring will need to be removed to clean this out.  The screws are NOT the same.  The bottom side of the tension screw can be determined because it has a + machined in it.  Remove the adjusting screw first and replace it last.

I do sell replacement bobbin cases and parts for bobbin cases.  Unfortunately, they are expensive as are all new bobbin cases.  (Click here to order a new bobbin case.)  Prices for most of my items (including the bobbin case) are below the suggested retail price.  My goal is to help you keep these machines sewing for many years.

Happy Stitching! 

And a very Happy Holiday Season to you and yours!

Click here to order Nova’s Featherweight Maintenance Card. 
Click here to order Nova’s Sew Straight Guide.
  They would make great gifts for all your Featherweight friends and bee members.

November 2011

Smelly Case

I promised pictures mid-month last month, but I was away traveling and teaching.  So, it didn’t happen until now.  These show the interior of an unlubricated Singer Featherweight 221 motor.  Look at the extreme amount of soot built up.  What a mess!  This motor was nearly done from years of not being maintained.  I was able to clean this motor up, replace the motor brushes that were in essence welded to the shafts by soot, and this machine is sewing great.  Keep those motor wells full of lubricant!  (Click here to order lubricant.)  Damage prevention is always better than a ‘cure’.  Continue reading for this month’s Tip.

There are lots of complaints and a vast multitude of rumors about smelly Singer 221 Featherweight cases.  What causes a smelly case, and what can be done about it? 

The smells inside an original Featherweight case can come from a variety of sources.  The original cases were made by Singer in their plants in South Bend, Indiana and in Canada (for the most part – there seem to always be exceptions).  The cases are made of oak slats with tongue and grooved corners and covered with a black material that Singer called ‘leatherette’.  The oak tongue and groove construction is the reason the cases have survived so well and done such a great job of protecting the machines.  They were quality built.  The lining material on the inside of the case typically had a vinyl type surface that does not breathe well. Additionally, the glue this lining was secured with was an animal based product (most glues from this time period were animal based).  So, sometimes the odor inside a Featherweight case is caused by moisture getting behind the lining and causing mildew and a ‘dead animal’ smell due to the glue.  But, if moisture penetrated the lining, there is probably other damage to the case besides just an odor.

However, my experience has shown me that most of the time the case is blamed for the foul smell, but the machine is really the culprit.  There is a felt pad in the bottom of the machine in the drip pan (called a drip pan pad).  This pad is designed to absorb and collect excess oil and grease from the maintenance of the machine.  The felt was typically made from wool (here is your animal product).  So, the pads have collected 50+ years of old machine oil and grease plus moisture from the atmosphere, etc.  The machine doesn’t smell when it is out of the case because it is in an open room with lots of fresh air, but you shut it up in the case and those odors are absorbed into the case and they stagnate, etc.  When you open up the case, the smell can nearly knock you down.

So, how do you get rid of the odor?  There are lots of wild solutions out there.  I tend to be pretty practical and simplistic.  Get rid of the dirty drip pan pad, and air out the case!  Replace the drip pan pad with a new one (click here to order), clean the pan before putting the new one in (I use kerosene to remove the old oil and grease).  Then install the new pad with a few dots of rubber cement.  Clean the inside of the case with a warm soapy rag.  Rinse with a damp cloth and dry.  Set the open case in the sunshine in a safe place where it won’t get hit and knocked over (leading cause of broken latches).  Place in the sunshine several days (newspapers stuffed inside at night [case still open] seem to speed up the process).  A chemist in one of my recent classes explained that the sunshine will actually kill the odors -- that is out of my field - I just know it works.  You might be left with a faint ‘old machine’ smell when you open the case, but the odors that take your breath away should be gone.  The ‘old machine’ smell is part of a Featherweight’s charm.  After all, they are an old, exceptionally well made machine.

October 2011

Foot Controller

I have had a couple of customers who decided to work on their foot controllers themselves (or their husbands did….) with quite harmful results.  When you open the foot controller (remove the cover) you expose the electrical connection between the wiring and the foot controller.  In other words, there are bare wires in there that can shock or electrocute!

As I discussed several months ago, please leave things alone if you do not know what you are doing!  Your safety is the most important thing.  Your Featherweight can’t sew without you there to run it.

I have also had a few inquiries about foot controllers getting hot when just sitting.  There are a couple of things that could be wrong, bad wiring, out of adjustment, etc.  It is always best to unplug any sewing machine when done using it.  An easy way to do this -- in my studio I have my table top Ottlite, sewing machine, and travel iron plugged into a surge protector that sits on the table at my sewing station (no bending over or crawling under the table!).  When I am done sewing, I turn off the switch on the surge protector.  That way I am certain that everything is off and safe.  I don’t have to worry about leaving my iron on, etc.  I can quickly look and see if my Ott light is off or on to know if I have remembered to turn everything off. 

The most important thing to remember about caring for your foot controller is to treat it like a china tea cup.   There are fragile parts inside that are not replaceable.  Don’t flop it onto the floor or kick it into position!  Store it in the tray or in the cleat in the lid of the case.

I am running a special this month on replacement foot controllers if you prefer the newer style, or have concerns about yours. (Click here for the electronic foot controller.)  If the wiring to your foot controller is bad, I would be happy to help you replace it.

Happy Stitching!

PS  If you enjoy the Featherweight Tip of the Month - please 'Like' this page above left on Facebook! 
Also I have a machine that has just come into the shop that beautifully illustrates all we have talked about with regard to maintaining your Featherweight motor.  I will be posting photos of this motor soon - so check back!  It is amazing.

September 2011

Oil / Lubricant

Over the past several months I have had a variety of questions regarding oil, lubricant, whether or not you really need to lubricate the motor, etc.   So, I am changing out what I was going to talk about this month for the Tip.

Oil – different from lubricant – Oil is a flowing substance (liquid).  Your Singer Featherweight REQUIRES oiling to keep it running optimally.  ANY good quality sewing machine oil is fine.  However, you do not want to use 3 in 1 oil or any other oil due to a difference in viscosity (thickness).  These will cause your Featherweight to ‘gum up’.  They are simply too thick.

Lubricant – different than oil – Lubricant is a NON-flowing grease that was and is specifically designed (see Nova's Motor Lubricant) to be used on your Singer Featherweight or other vintage Singer machine.  Your Featherweight REQUIRES lubricant on its gears and in its motor.

There is much incorrect information on the Internet about lubricating a Singer Featherweight motor.  You can read that Vaseline is just fine.  Absolutely untrue!  Vaseline is a sure disaster for your Singer Featherweight motor.  I have cleaned a number of motors that had Vaseline inserted into the grease tubes.  Using Vaseline will damage the motor on your Featherweight.  It melts and completely coats the interior of the motor.  There is also a blog out there that says the original Singer lubricant was nothing but black axle grease!  Absolutely untrue!  (Have these people ever even looked at a tube of original lubricant?)

I have also had questions about whether or not you really need to lubricate the Singer 221 motor.  I have been directed to blogs where ‘official’ Singer people are quoted as saying that originally Singer said the motors needed lubrication, but we now know that they do not and that you should never lubricate a motor.  I have no idea who these people are or what their motivation is, but I can tell you that the motors that I have serviced (cleaned) because they quit working were being run dry (NO lubricant).  I have NEVER had to service a motor that quit that was being well lubricated.  The conclusion from everything I have seen is that if you want to replace an original motor on a Singer 221 - stop lubricating it. 

OK, why don’t new sewing machine motors have to be lubricated?  Good question!  New motors have the advantage of some advanced technology.  They have oil impermeated bearings (think of a sponge type action) in their sealed motors and new metal alloys in their compositions.

What about white lithium?  White lithium began to be used after Singer started manufacturing plastic gears.  The original Singer lubricant was a petroleum based product that would cause deterioration of the plastic gears.  It was easier to just have one type of lubricant on the workbench, so lots of repair people simply started using white lithium on older machines with metal gears.  I, personally, do not care for white lithium on a Featherweight's gears and it will do NOTHING except sit on top of the wicks in the grease tubes on the motor.  Saying it another way: white lithium will NOT lubricate a Singer Featherweight motor.

Should you use the original tube of grease that came with your Singer 221 when it was new?   I would not use it now.  The tube is made of lead which tends to crack when squeezed.  I would simply set it aside as an original keepsake.

If you need more information about where to oil and lubricate your Singer 221, click here to order Nova’s Featherweight Maintenance Card.  It has full color photographs to show you just how to maintain your machine.

I hope this additional information helps to clarify information about oil, lubricant and your Singer 221.

August 2011

Aluminum / Copper Wiring

This month I would like to talk to you about a safety issue with regard to your Singer Featherweig
ht 221.  For a time when the Singer Featherweight was being manufactured, Singer put aluminum wiring in the cord set and also (on some machines) in the wiring to the light.  Aluminum wiring was a ‘new’ innovation.  I am not absolutely certain when aluminum wiring began to be used or ceased to be used, but the general time frame was late 1940’s and early 1950’s.  As we now know, aluminum wiring does not hold up well, and is a hazard.  

Replacing the wiring for the cord set on the foot controller is a simple repair.  Replacing the light fixture and its wiring is much more complicated.  So far, I have not seen the deterioration on the light fixture wiring that is so obvious on the cord set.

The safe solution is to replace damaged or aluminum cord set wiring and always unplug your Featherweight when you are not using it.  The photo shows you how to tell if your cord set has aluminum wiring.  Aluminum wiring is a smooth wire.  Copper wiring has a groove between the wires.  In the photo the wire on the top is aluminum, on the bottom is copper.

Please contact me if your cord set has aluminum wiring.  Replacing it is a fast, easy, and relatively inexpensive repair.  And remember to unplug your machine!  You will save a little on your electric bill too!  Cords left plugged in ‘leak’ electricity.

Happy Stitching!

July 2011

Cleaning or Replacing your Featherweight Motor

We are going to talk about the motor on your Singer Featherweight one more time since it is so important to your little machine.  Should you replace a motor that is hesitating when you push on the foot controller?   Or, what if the motor quits completely?  How do you know if it is a motor problem, or the foot controller?  If you push on the foot controller and nothing happens – carefully touch the motor belt.  If the motor starts up when you touch or nudge the belt, it is a motor problem.

There is a very nice replacement motor on the market.  It looks authentic and has a very good track record.  However, before replacing the motor, I would encourage you to have it CLEANED.

The motor on the Singer 221 is an excellent little motor.  Again, as I said back in May, the issue is not quality or age but poor maintenance.  If the motor has been run without lubricant or with improper lubricant, soot (and / or improper lubricant) will build up in the motor and eventually cause it to stop running.  The soot can be cleaned out of the inside of the motor, and most of the time the motor can be saved. 

I prefer to leave a Featherweight as original as possible for as long as possible.  Cleaning the motor has saved many a motor for my customers.

So, don’t be too quick to replace the 221 motor.  Contact me about cleaning your Featherweight motor if it is hesitating when you push the foot controller, or if it has quit running all together.

June 2011

Carbon Motor Brushes

This month’s tip also deals with servicing the motor on your Featherweight.  You should check the brushes on your Featherweight motor annually.  Check the motor brush by removing the large screw on the top of the motor.  This is the motor brush cap.  Be gentle when unscrewing this.  The cap is made of Bakelite and the top breaks off relatively easily.  Remove the motor brush by gently pulling on the spring that should be attached to the brush.  The brush is actually a rectangular block of carbon which ‘brushes’ against the commutator on the motor.  Worn motor brushes need to be replaced.  The photo illustrates the difference in size between a new motor brush and a worn one.  To be on the safe side, I recommend replacing the motor brush when it is about ¼” long (not including the small nub where the spring attaches).  There are two motor brushes – one accessed from the top and one from the bottom.  They wear at the same rate and should be replaced as a pair.  I only recommend checking the one on the top because the one on the bottom is more difficult to access (since they wear at the same rate, they should be the same length).

After checking the length of the brush, replace it into the motor matching the arc on the bottom of the brush to the direction of the spin of the motor.  It is VERY important that the spring is in place on top of the brush.  Replace the cap and finger tighten (no screwdriver necessary).

Often, due to a lack of maintenance or improper maintenance (putting something in the motor that should not be), there will be soot on the carbon brush or the carbon brush will be stuck and cannot be removed to be checked.  Again, prevention of problems is always the preferred route.

Motor brushes have very long lives and do not need to be replaced often, but it is critical that they are replaced when necessary.

I cover this (and all aspects of maintenance) in great detail in my Singer Featherweight Maintenance Workshop.  I will be teaching this class twice at the Houston International Quilt Festival in November.  Also, I travel and teach this class.  Contact me to schedule a workshop for your guild or group.

April 2011

Bobbin Winder Arm Position

I quite often have Featherweights come in for repair that have broken bobbin winder arms.  The arms are made of cast aluminum as is the rest of the Featherweight body.  They break quite easily when hit.  Currently (April 2011), they are a replaceable part.  However, prevention is always the better option.  Damage can be prevented by not putting the winder arm up in a saluting position.  The correct position for the arm when it is not winding a bobbin is just above the motor belt, so it is not making contact with the motor belt.  This information is covered on Nova’s Featherweight Basics Card, along with lots of other everyday useful information.

Happy Stitching!

March 2011


One of the neat things about my web site is its analytical tools.  They give me the advantage of being able to see what people are searching for on my site; and, therefore the opportunity to address their needs.

This month I had three instances of people inquiring, “Do Featherweights require a special needle?”   The answer is, “No, Featherweights do not require a special needle”.  My personal preference is Schmetz sewing machine needles.  I typically piece quilts with a Schmetz Universal size 80.  This is also the new needle I insert into a machine after I have finished servicing it.   They are high-quality European made sewing machine needles that are readily available.  Click here to order.

All sewing machine needles (hand needles, too!) should be replaced after 8 – 10 hours of use (or if damaged in any way).  Paper piecing is typically harder on sewing machine needles.  Watch for signs of dullness (needle damaging fabric) and replace more often if necessary.

The all important thing about the Featherweight is that you insert that needle correctly!  Refer back to the April 2010 Tip of the Month for full information.

Happy Stitching!


February 2011

Broken Electrical Receptacle

One of the most common problems I see in my repair shop is a broken electrical receptacle on the machine bed (where the foot controller plugs into the machine).  These are almost always broken in a half moon shape on the bottom of the receptacle.  This is an easily preventable problem.  The receptacles are broken when hurriedly placing the machine back in the case.  The receptacle extends beyond the body of the machine and is hit when the machine is being lowered into the case.  That is why the breaks are almost always half moonshaped.  The prevention for this is to slow down, and lower the receptacle end of the machine into the case first, then straighten the machine (level) and continue lowering it into position in the case.  If you have a damaged receptacle, it should be replaced.  There is a danger of you touching the electrical prongs when plugging and unplugging the cord set.  Be safe so you can sew for a long time!

Happy Stitching!

January 2011

Parts are Available

Happy New Year!  I hope all of your holidays have been safe, happy and peaceful.  I have enjoyed writing these 'Tips of the Month' and hope you are finding them beneficial.  I typically write about issues that were either emailed to me or have come through my repair shop during the previous month.

This month's 'Tip' is accompanied by the photo shown here of a machine that recently came through my repair shop.  I was pre
tty amazed at the inventive resourcefulness of the owner's husband.  He had 'repaired' the machine with a piece of high tensile wire where the thread guide was missing.  And, while this arrangement was functioning, it was really unnecessary.  There are replacement parts available for the Singer Featherweight machines.  And, for the parts that are not being reproduced, I have 'parts machines' available for the robbing of parts.  So, please contact me if you are in need of parts for your machine.  Even if you don't see the part you are needing listed in my online Shop, I will be happy to help you in any way I can. 

Happy Stitching in 2011!!