Nova's Featherweight Tip of the Month 2014
Due to everyone’s busy schedule, this month’s Tip will be shorter and simpler.
A simple maintenance item that needs to be done periodically is tightening
the screws on your original Bakelite “S” plug on the electrical cord set. Such a simple thing, but I forgot to do this on the cord set at my workbench that is my official ‘test’ set. Now I have a nut and screw missing…. It is very simple – just take a screwdriver and tighten the screw.
Please remember to inspect your electrical cords periodically for damage; nicks, cuts, severe crimps. We want to stay safe. Preventing damage is always best – cords are damaged when they are sticking out and the case lid is closed on them.
Aluminum wiring is almost always a smooth wire (no groove down the middle of the wire). Aluminum wiring should be replaced. In the photo the wire on the left is aluminum (smooth). The wire on the right is copper (groove down the center).
I offer a service for you to replace dangerous electrical cords. Send me your foot controller, and I will replace the wiring for just the cost of the cord set with no labor charge (of course you will need to pay the shipping). While I have the foot controller, I will clean and inspect the interior making any necessary adjustments.
The new cord set comes with ‘built-in’ plugs for both the wall outlet and the machine plug. The machine plug tends to be much stiffer and a bit more difficult to plug and unplug than the original Bakelite plug.
If you would like the original Bakelite “S” plug installed on the new cord set, I can do that for you as well. However, there is a labor charge due to the amount of time and the tedious nature of the work involved.
It is quite common for me to receive bags of parts to the original Bakelite “S” plug that someone has disassembled and cannot reassemble. It is also common to receive plugs that have been incorrectly reassembled or damaged by attempted reassembly. When they are all counted – there are sixteen small parts that must be correctly assembled and aligned. As I previously stated – it is a time consuming and tedious job. Unfortunately, if the Bakelite plug has been broken, it is dangerous, and will have to be replaced.
Some of my international customers have brought to my attention that they would like their cords replaced and an original Bakelite plug retained, but the cost of shipping the controller to me through international post and then me returning it is prohibitive. Due to this concern, the following solution is offered. I can place an original Bakelite “S” plug on a new cord set and send it out with instructions for cleaning the interior of the foot controller and installing the new cord set. In this scenario, the original Bakelite “S” plug would also need to be purchased (or possibly ‘traded-in’).
I trust that you will find these new options helpful.
Finally, my wish is for this holiday season to be filled with joy and great blessings for you and yours. I have been greatly blessed during the past year by my association with all of you. Thank you.
Merry Christmas and Happy Stitching!
Is my machine a Featherweight?
During the past month several inquiries (and a few communication difficulties) have occurred regarding whether a machine was or was not a “Featherweight”.
The model that Singer designated as “Featherweight” was the model 221. Technically, the majority of machines are model 221-1 due to a patent update.
Though Singer did not put the model number on them until the 1950’s, they are distinguishable by some very distinctive traits:
- Size – Singer Featherweights are very lightweight, hence the name. They weigh only about 15 pounds in their little carrying case. The light weight is due to the cast aluminum body of the machine. The machine is about 15” long by 10” tall including the spool spindle pin. Later models manufactured at the Kilbowie, Scotland plant were shorter in length.
- Cases – Singer Featherweight 221’s carrying cases are rectangular boxes that resemble luggage cosmetics bags from the 1950’s. These measure about 13” x 8” x 12”. The size varied somewhat depending upon the year of manufacture. The colors were black, green, and tan with black being the most common. Singer Featherweights were never housed in the bent wood portable cases, were built-in to a cabinet, or had a removable top portion of the case with the machine remaining in the base.
- Motorized – All Singer Featherweights had electric motors.
- Folding bed extension – The sewing “bed” or base of the Singer Featherweight folds up on the left side of the needle.
- Belt driven from the motor – All Singer Featherweights have a visible motor and motor belt that drives the machine.
- Metal construction – There has been a plastic model dubbed “featherweight” in recent years, but it is not the model so highly prized by quilters and seamstresses. Nor is it the model that is my specialty and the focus of this web site.
These are a few of the obvious features to determine if your machine is a Featherweight – “The most popular portable in all the World”.
Adjusters Manual for Singer Portable Machine 221
Welcome to the Tip of the Month for October 2014. I’m glad to have you reading! I know many of you are new to the world of Featherweights and to my web site. I’ve been told that the Tip of the Month can be intimidating. Please don’t let it be. There is a wealth of information here for you and your Singer Featherweight, but you don’t have to learn it all at one time. If you are new to Singer Featherweights, I would direct you toward Nova’s Featherweight Basics Card. Everything you need to know about the basics of using your machine is contained on that 8 ½” x 11” card (click here for more information about Nova’s Featherweight Basics Card). Consider this analogy: there is a lot of information about bicycles – maintaining them, changing tires, adjusting or lubricating the chain, the physics of how they work, etc. But you don’t need to know all of that to enjoy riding a bicycle. The same principle applies to your Singer Featherweight 221. Learn the basics and enjoy using it while learning more as you go.
If you have been a reader for some time, you know that I typically write about things that I have seen in my repair workshop or that I have had numerous emails about over the past month. This month I would like to discuss the Adjusters Manual for Singer Portable Machine 221-1 that has become readily available and popular through an internet auction site. During the past month, multiple emails have come in wanting to know if I have the spring for the back of the hook for the Singer Featherweight. Because of the information contained within this Adjusters Manual, folks have pulled the hook off of their Featherweights and think they have a spring missing from their hook (see the excerpt from the manual).
THIS IS ERRONEOUS! The publication date of this manual is 1935. Singer changed the design of the hook after this manual was published. So, the vast majority of Singer Featherweights out there do not have springs on their hooks.
I have consistently advised my readers that if you do not have the knowledge to do what you are contemplating doing to your Featherweight – don’t do it – even if you own the Adjuster’s Manual. It is more than likely going to cost you some serious money (for shipping and repair). Several of these machines have been sent to me to reinstall a hook that was not broken and adjust the machine so it will sew again. Let me repeat – don’t remove the hook from your Singer Featherweight unless you are absolutely positive you know what you are doing. Of all the machines I have serviced and repaired, only once has it been necessary to remove a hook – and that was due to the point on the hook being broken by a needle that would not stay inserted in the needle shaft.
Additionally, this month I would like to recap, define, and distinguish three terms of vital importance:
Kerosene: Kerosene is a heater fuel that comes with a blue label or in a blue plastic bottle. I recommend kerosene to clean the mechanical workings of your Singer Featherweight removing the old oil, lubricant, lint and dirt that can impede the function of your machine. Diesel, WD-40, liquid paraffin, Liquid Wrench, PB Blaster, etc. are NOT interchangeable with kerosene. Kerosene will not harm the finish on your machine. You will find kerosene at hardware stores.
Sewing machine oil: Oil is a liquid. It flows. Any good quality sewing machine oil is fine for your Featherweight 221 (Singer oil, Bernina oil, Dritz oil, etc.). Again, never 3 in 1 oil, WD-40, etc. I do not sell oil through my web site because I ship through USPS and their regulations will not allow me to ship a liquid through the mail.
Lubricant: Lubricant is not a liquid. It is a grease. It is to be used on the machine gears and in the two grease tubes / wells on the motor (one by the belt and one on the back). I invested three years conducting research to identify a lubricant that I believe would be good for our beloved Featherweights. I introduced Nova’s Motor Lubricant in late August of this year. See the Special Tip of the Month from Late August for more information, and there is a video under the product description (click here to be taken to that page). I will be adding videos about using the lubricant for the Singer 301 / 301A and other vintage machines. You should be lubricating your Singer Featherweight motor at the end of every project or at a minimum every other month. The most neglected part of most machines in Nova’s Featherweight Maintenance Workshops and on my repair workbench is the motor. If you love it – you'd better lube it!
The Special Tip for Late August 2014 was very important. I would like to ask you to reread it and consider it carefully. If you own a Featherweight 221 or other vintage machine, you need to be lubricating your motor regularly. I recommend lubricating every other month with my new product, Nova's Motor Lubricant. Click here to order.
For the rest of the Tip for September, I would like to direct your attention to some new products I am carrying. Most of these are specialty products which makes them a bit more expensive, but very advantageous.
Nova's 301 / 301A Maintenance Card Finally, one of my Maintenance Cards for the 301 or 301A machine. Click here to order.
LED Bayonet Style Bulb This is a great bulb for your Featherweight. It will not get extremely hot and burn you like the regular bulb. It is rated to have a long life. And, because it is LED without a filament to break, it should be very compatible with our little portable machines. One additional feature of these bulbs is that they have the 'cat eye' connectors for greater connectivity in your machine. A big, "Thank you!" to Kermit C. for helping me locate these and testing them for me! Click here to order.
Offset Screwdriver This is a specialty tool not available in the run of the mill hardware or home improvement center for removing the screws in your needle plate. The difference is the width of the blade. This one is very narrow to allow it to fit into the slot of the screw heads. Click here to order.
I hope you find these products beneficial.
Special Tip - Late August 2014
Singer Motor Lubricant for the Motor of Your Singer Featherweight 221
This Special Tip has been a long time "in the works". I hope that you will read it and share it with your guild members, bee members, and friends. Because of the special nature of this Tip, you have my permission to reprint it (without editing) in your guild newsletter or share on Social Media.
Featherweight Motors and Lubrication
by Nova Montgomery
The motor on a Singer Featherweight, or any sewing machine, is its heart and soul. If the motor fails, there is a halt to that machine’s sewing capability. The Singer Featherweight motor can be opened, cleaned, and most often restored to full sewing capacity. However, preventing damage is always preferable to fixing a problem.
Unlike modern sewing machine motors that are sealed, the Singer Featherweight motor (and all vintage Singer motors) must be lubricated on a regular basis. There are two grease tubes on the Singer Featherweight motor; one on the rear and one on the top of the motor. These two grease tubes must be filled with an appropriate motor lubricant in order for the motor to continue to operate. Lubricating the motor is often the most neglected part of maintaining a Singer Featherweight. At least ninety percent of the machines that come through my Singer Featherweight Maintenance Workshop and across my repair workbench have nothing in the motor grease tubes. And, since the motor will function for a time with these grease tubes empty, the owner is often unaware of the damage being caused inside the motor.
The photos show what can happen inside a Singer Featherweight motor when there is no lubrication along with other factors including age and heavy use. Not lubricating a motor properly can accelerate the build-up of soot and can cause excessive wear. Soot builds up inside the motor and can cause the motor to begin to hesitate and finally to stop altogether. When a motor begins to hesitate, we instinctively reach up, turn the hand wheel and “help it” start. The built-up soot can usually be cleaned out and the motor restored to full operation, but this is not a task for someone inexperienced in servicing these motors. Never let anyone who is merely “mechanically inclined” attempt to open your Singer Featherweight motor.
The design of these motors is ingenious and has kept them sewing for decades. At the bottom of the grease tube is a wick held in place by a copper spring. Grease is inserted on top of the wick in the grease tube. The wick absorbs and carries the oil from inside the grease (all greases are carriers for the oil contained within them) down to the shaft of the motor. As the motor heats (part of the normal process of the motor running), the wicks are warmed dispensing more grease for greater lubrication during use.
The key element is the grease. If the grease is “too thin” (or if straight oil is used), too much is dispensed into the motor and could cause the motor to smoke as well as possible deterioration of the wire coating inside. This could lead to permanent damage to the wiring on the motor’s interior. If the grease is “too thick or sticky” not enough oil will be released from the grease to lubricate the motor. If a product such a petroleum jelly is used, a sticky mess that could be combustible is created inside the motor. It is interesting to note that Singer cared about these motors enduring. From the very beginning, Singer’s owner’s manuals warned customers about using only the right lubricant. The original owner’s manuals specifically warn against the use of petroleum jelly – most likely because it looked similar to the original grease. I have opened and cleaned enough motors where petroleum jelly was put into the grease tubes to know that this is a certain recipe for disaster.
When nothing is inserted into the grease tubes, there is nothing to lubricate the motor and the wicks at the bottom of the grease tubes become dry and harden. When they are hardened, if they are pushed on, they will cause too much friction against the shaft of the motor and can cause a motor to slow or stop. So, it is very important not to push on these wicks or remove them. They have a vital function to the operation of the motor.
From the research I have conducted, the original lubricant ceased manufacture quite some time ago and the word “motor” was dropped from the packaging. In my opinion, since Singer stopped manufacturing their original motor lubricant, a product of a similar quality has not been available to adequately lubricate a Singer Featherweight or any other vintage Singer motor. Over time in using the name brand product, I have observed inconsistency from “batch” to “batch” – this caused me great concern. So, I began conducting tests on the original motor lubricant from the 1930’s, 40’s and early 1950’s. Then I began looking for an independent laboratory to go beyond my capabilities and conduct more controlled and in-depth scientific testing. My goal was to find a product that would function like the original grease that has successfully kept these machines sewing for all these years to lubricate the motors of the Singer Featherweights and other vintage Singer machines.
After months of testing by the lab, the research findings concluded that there does not appear to be an exact match for the original lubricant currently available. Consequently, the quest shifted from finding a “match” to finding a lubricant that is as close in characteristics/properties as possible to the original. This has been accomplished and a material was identified! I conducted the final testing in Singer Featherweight motors and it appears that consistently the motors are being better lubricated and functioning more efficiently. All my testing has had positive results and I am now using only this product in my personal collection of machines.
So, I am very pleased to introduce you to Nova’s™ Motor Lubricant! As my mission statement indicates, I want to help you preserve your machines for years to come.
Nova’s™ Motor Lubricant is packaged in a syringe with a lubricating tip (this is a blunt tip - NOT an inoculation tip). I chose this packaging because the lubrication tip allows precise application of the grease (i.e. puts it where it needs to go) and allows for complete filling of the tube. It also displaces the old lubricant, so your grease tubes are filled with fresh new lubricant all the way to the wicks. In my opinion, it is also a great lubricant for the metal gears.
Remember, though, beginning proper lubrication with the new motor lubricant cannot undo years of poor lubrication or other maintenance issues. And, it is not recommended that anyone inexperienced with the Singer Featherweight motor system attempt to open a Featherweight motor. If your motor needs service, it is always best to seek service from a reputable and knowledgeable technician.
Nova’s™ Motor Lubricant is intended only for home users for lubricating sewing machine motors with grease tubes and metal gears. It is not intended to be used in any commercial / industrial setting. Never put Nova’s™ Motor Lubricant on nylon or plastic gears.
Nova’s™ Motor Lubricant – an excellent choice for your Singer Featherweight’s (or other vintage Singer’s) motor and gears.
Click here to order Nova’s™ Motor Lubricant. There is a video demonstration for you under the long description of the lubricant.
Replacing the Drip Pan Pad on Your Singer Featherweight 221
For August I had planned a major announcement about the health of your Singer Featherweights. Unfortunately, everything is not quite in place for me to be able to share this “big news” with you. I am now aiming for a special announcement mid-August. It is coming – I’m having to learn to be patient.
So, this month I substituted a video with information about cleaning a drip pan. None of my videos are “scripted”, so you get what I am thinking / feeling. I apologize that in this video you will hear the word “nasty” used to describe this particular drip pan numerous times. (It really was!) ;-)
I received a couple of emails this month inquiring about homemade drip pads cut out of felt. My experience with these has been that they are almost impossible to remove from the pan and that they are not very absorbent. The pads that I carry for the Singer Featherweight 221 are made from a felt as near to the original as I could find. These are manufactured specifically for me and differ from others on the market.Enjoy the video and be watching for the special edition Tip of the Month later in August!
I would like to visit with you about the foot controller for your Singer Featherweight this month in the Tip of the Month.
Nova’s™ Basics Card instructs you to treat your foot controller like a china tea cup. Why?
I often have students come into a quilting class, unpack their foot controller, drop it on the floor and then kick it into the position they desire for their comfortable sewing. This is NOT treating your foot controller like a china tea cup!
The original foot controller for your Singer Featherweight is a “carbon resistance” foot controller. Most often there is a porcelain “pack” inside the foot controller that has stacks of carbon discs inside. The porcelain is delicate, but the discs inside are much more delicate. If enough of these delicate discs are broken, one of two things will happen: 1) the foot controller will cease functioning, or 2) the foot controller will begin to get extremely HOT. Occasionally, a foot controller that is getting hot can be adjusted and it will be fine, but most of the time it is terminal. There are no replacement parts being manufactured for the original foot controllers. (I do carry a very nice electronic “full foot style” foot controller in my online store, but I would prefer to keep these machines as original as possible for as long as possible – prevent the damage.)
The photo shown here is carpet in the classroom area of a quilt shop where a foot controller became so hot that it burned a hole in the carpet. So, if you stitch with shoes on, it is a good idea to check your foot controller occasionally to make certain it is not getting hot. And, ALWAYS unplug your machine at the wall when you are finished sewing. Recently, while doing some other testing of machines, I had them plugged into wattage meters. I had heard and read about “leaking” electrical appliances, but when you see it happening it is quite revealing. I observed the meter light up randomly though the machine was NOT in use. So, ALWAYS unplug the machine at the wall – for safety and energy savings sake.
Lots of new and exciting things happening within the month of July that will be of interest to you and your Singer Featherweight. I know I keep promising, but everything should be ready to launch by the first of August.
My “Tip” to share with you for June encompasses several topics. As is typical for me, I’m writing about things that have occurred during the past month.
During my Featherweight Maintenance Workshops in May – there were several students (some “new” to their machines, some who have been sewing on their machines for years) who were surprised to discover their machines would sew in reverse. This is one of many things covered on my Nova’s™ Featherweight Basics Card. This Card was developed to cover the “basics” of using your machine. There are many unique attributes of the Featherweight; thread path, needle direction, bobbin direction, etc. These are all covered in full colored photos on the Basics Card.
Needle insertion can be difficult. One additional tip I would offer would be to begin by putting the needle down into the hole it goes through for stitching. Make certain it is turned the right way by looking at the top of the needle shaft and orienting it correctly. Then raise it up into its position (as high as it will go) and tighten the needle clamp making certain that you have not rotated the needle when raising and tightening it in place.
I received an email from a new Featherweight owner whose machine was jammed. She had invested a great amount of time on various Internet forums, and due to the advice given there had spent money on unnecessary parts, etc. After emailing me (I offer Consultation Services for very reasonable fees), the diagnosis was swift and she was successful in getting her machine sewing. Nova’s™ Featherweight Troubleshooting Card addresses just such issues. It has full color photos on the front and verbiage on the rear (such as, “with various things to look for in diagnosing the problem and find a solution”). Owners can potentially save a great deal of time, frustration and some money with the Troubleshooting Card.
Each of the five of Nova’s™ Featherweight Cards was developed because of my students’ requests to address various issues about their machines. Each Card addresses different information about the Featherweight. (Click here to purchase Nova’s™Featherweight Cards.)
Additionally, there is a wealth of information here on the Tip of the Month, which is indexed for your convenience and ease of use.
I also received some interesting historical information this past month about the part numbers on the Singer Featherweight bobbin case. I’m always delighted to receive additional information about Featherweights! From the evidence presented, it is possible that the number 45750 was the number of the base of the bobbin case and the totally assembled case had a reference number of 45751. While some of the historical data I have collected via the hundreds of machines that have come through my Maintenance Workshop and across my repair workbench do not agree with this – it is quite interesting and intriguing. It does not change the fact that the reproduction bobbin case (now numbered 45751) does not fit the vast majority of Featherweights. What does this mean for you? Protect your original Singer Featherweight bobbin case! When in your sewing studio, etc. keep the bobbin case with the machine not in a separate drawer or box. When you are taking a workshop, don’t leave your bobbin case unattended. When you leave for a break or lunch, put your bobbin case in your wallet. If you need to replace a lost or missing bobbin case, I will work with you to help you get a bobbin case that will work with your machine.
Lastly, the three major repairs that I have encountered with Featherweights on my workbench in May have been to repair what someone else has “fixed”. I am repeatedly cautioning you about to whom you should trust your Featherweight. Just because someone is “mechanically inclined” does not mean they have the knowledge or skills to work on your Featherweight! In each of these cases original parts were ruined (including a motor) and had to be replaced, resulting in much costlier repairs in the end. In one humorous instance, the owner was on the phone discussing charges, procedures for shipping, etc. She repeated what my fee would be for the repair she needed. Her “mechanically inclined” helper was listening in the background and shouted, “That’s not enough to charge for something so contrary!”
Short videos are continuing to be added to the web site demonstrating and comparing various products. You will find these videos in the description of the various products.
Work toward instructional videos is continuing also. Hopefully, these will be available by the end of the year.
For almost three years I have been conducting research on a critical issue pertaining to the maintenance and longevity of our Featherweights. I am quite excited to finally have drawn some conclusions. I’m hoping to be ready to share this research and the conclusions with you next month. Be watching!
I hope you are reading my Greetings and News (located under Contact Nova on the Navigation Bar at the top of each page of the web site) for information on what is happening with Nova’s Featherweights and Quilting. And, I would be very honored if you would “Like” Nova’s Featherweights and Quilting on Facebook. I’ve been somewhat negligent on postings there over the past month due to my travel schedule and the research I’ve been conducting. I hope to do better this month!
Cleaning your Singer Featherweight 221 with Kerosene
The Tip for this month is in both text and video (see below).
I recommend using only kerosene to clean the mechanical parts of your Singer Featherweight. There are other, better solvents on the market, but they can be harmful to the finish on your Featherweight. I see photographs on the Internet of people recommending using other, stronger solvents, but they can damage your machine’s finish.
The engineers who designed your machine are the ones who originally recommended cleaning the mechanical parts with kerosene in the original owner’s manual.
I have received emails and phone calls from concerned students and customers who have been told that diesel is the same thing as kerosene. This is not true. Kerosene is a heater fuel that can be found in a one gallon container at most hardware stores and in a quart container in camping departments. I also heard this month about someone recommending “tiki torch fuel” to clean a Featherweight. Tiki torch fuel has citronella (to keep mosquitoes away) and other additives. You can use kerosene as torch fuel, but I would not use tiki torch fuel with its additives to clean my Featherweight. Nor would I use colored “lamp fuel” – just plain kerosene.
Tension Assembly of the Singer Featherweight 221, Cleaning with something other than kerosene
Our Tip of the Month this month deals with ‘Commandment’ # 7 from March's Ten Commandments for Your Featherweight. I have received several emails and phone calls about this, so I wanted to show you the why behind the ‘commandment’. The end of the video will also address paint loss in peculiar areas on the machine. I hope you enjoy.
Please remember that the Tip of the Month (as well as all of the information on this web site) is copy right protected. You must have my written permission to copy the information in any manner.
Remember you can order Featherweight Parts and Accessories securely through my web site (under ‘Shop’ on the Navigation Bar at the top of the page) or by calling me.
Ten Commandments for Your Singer Featherweight 221
Last month’s video Tip received great reviews! However, there are a number of loyal readers who only have dial-up, so for a time, I will alternate between the video Tips and written Tips. I have created a YouTube channel, so those of you who have that capability, can see everything I have posted on video. I am posting a number of short video demonstrations about various products that I carry, anticipating that they will be useful to you.
Please remember that the Tip of the Month (as well as all of the information on this web site) is copy right protected. You must have my written permission to copy the information in any manner.
Ten Commandments for Your Featherweight
1. Thou shalt remember to hold the thread tails every time when you begin stitching (this will prevent jamming the machine).
2. Thou shalt always rotate the hand wheel toward you – not away from you (again, this will prevent jamming the machine).
3. Thou shalt remember to properly maintain your Featherweight (see Nova’s Featherweight Maintenance Card for good information – click here to be directed to Nova’s Featherweight Maintenance Card).
4. Thou shalt use only sewing machine oil on the machine.
5. Thou shalt be very cautious of the source of information you heed about your Featherweight (not everything you read or see on the Internet or other sources is true).
6. Thou shalt not use damaged or overfilled bobbins in your Featherweight.
7. Thou shalt not use a screw driver on the top tension assembly of your Featherweight.
8. Thou shalt not use any cleaner with ammonia or alcohol on the painted portion of your Featherweight (see Nova’s Cosmetics Card for information on products and cosmetic care of your Featherweight – click here to be directed to Nova’s Featherweight Cosmetics Card).
9. Thou shalt not travel with or ship an improperly packed machine (see the Tip of the Month from October 2013).
10.Thou shalt not disassemble something that you lack the knowledge to reassemble (there is no need to remove the sewing hook or the motor to maintain your machine).
Bobbin Case Tension Issues
This month I am debuting a video Tip of the Month! Please let me know how you enjoy it!