Monday, July 19, 2010

A Guided Tour of My Singer Featherweight

The Featherweight is truly a product of an earlier era, and you couldn't find many of the features that make it special on a contemporary machine.  What follows here, then, is a "guided tour," as it were, of my machine, which I am still learning my way around.  Hopefully, I can share my learning process with you all, and if there are any experts out there reading this blog, please share what you know with me!

Here's a basic picture of my machine:

Based on the serial number, I know it was a later model, manufactured around 1952 in Elizabethport, NJ.  Some of the earlier, pre-war machines had elaborate scroll-work decorations on the face plate, and more old-fashioned embellishments on the machine body.  Mine has a pattern of vertical lines on the face plate and simpler, more angular embellishments.

I've already mentioned that the Featherweight is light, and its extension table folds up so it can fit into a compact travel case.  As an added bonus, this feature allows easy, unrestricted access to the bobbin case and mechanism underneath the machine.

When the first Featherweights went into production in the 30s, the zig-zag sewing machine did not exist.  So the Featherweight is a straight-stitch machine: it does one thing, and it does it well.  It also has a back-stitch, which was a new and desirable feature at the time.

As someone born and raised on zig-zag machines, the tiny aperture in the throat plate of this machine kind of blows my mind.  Intellectually, it makes sense: since the needle will never move from side to side, the aperture can be quite precise.  But it still somehow amazes me to see it.

Here's the stitch length adjuster.  The length is marked in stitches/inch, rather than an arbitrary number, like on most modern machines.  To adjust the stitch length, you move the lever up and down; when the lever is in its fully upright position, you get a back stitch.

The lever itself is so utilitarian--a threaded rod with a nut on the end--that at first I thought it might be a careless, contemporary fix.  But in fact, it's an ingenious design feature.  By moving the nut up and down on the lever, you can limit its travel, in effect "locking in" your desired stitch length.  When you raise the lever to back-stitch, the nut effectively "remembers" your earlier setting, and when you move the lever down again, it will stop in exactly the position to which it was previously set, ensuring your stitching will remain consistent.  How clever!

Even the case is well-thought out, and I'm lucky that mine is in great condition, unlike some of the ones you find on ebay.  This one has a clip on the underside of the lid, to securely hold the foot pedal, and a small tray on one side, with metal slots designed to hold about half a dozen bobbins.  It has sturdy metal latches, which make a satisfying "snap!" when you open and close them.

A machine like this, with all metal parts, will purr when it's tuned correctly--no chintzy plastic rattles!  Right now, however, my machine is a bit noisy, and based on some controlled experiments yesterday, we've isolated the feed dog alignment as the culprit.  So our tune-up will begin with that adjustment.  Till then, I'm trying not to use it--but in the meantime I plan to sit here and admire it!

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