The Singer model 221, affectionately called the “Featherweight”, is a classic, straight-stitch only sewing machine. This proven machine was first introduced at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933 and remained in production until 1970!
I’ve mentioned before that the Bernina 830 would be one of the first three machines inducted into the Sewing Machine Hall of Fame (if there was such a thing). While that’s true about the Bernina, it’s also true that the Singer 221 would have been the first machine inducted! This solid, reliable, well designed machine (basically same design for nearly 40 years — why change it!) is on most every sewist’s wish list.
There were several models in the 221 line — but you can pretty much separate them by colors. There were four colors produced by Singer — here are three of them. Shiny lacquer black, white (actually a light greenish white sometimes called celery), and a beige model. There was a fourth model produced for a short time during World War II in a crinkle finish — sort of a flat black that was actually a really dark grey. The most common is black, next is white, then tan. The “crinkle” finish is very rare.
These are flat-bed machines with a flip-down extension bed (much like it’s big sister, the Singer 301). The black and beige models have long beds; the white model has a short bed. There is also a free arm version, the model 222. This version is mostly found overseas and commands a premium price.
Singer made millions of these machines over nearly 40 years; unless they’ve been sitting outside in the rain for 30 years, they’re probably still sewing as well as the day they were born — but prices for 221’s remain pretty high. This is a great example of supply and demand pricing — the supply is pretty high, but the demand is even higher!
Featherweight’s rate high on the cute scale — people love these little guys.
Although the models are basically the same, you can spot several differences in the different colored models. Most apparent from the front of the machine are the differing faceplates.
The shiny black 221 has two two different steel faceplates. Early models have a “scrolled” faceplate; later models used a faceplate with parallel grooves.
The beige and white models use a stamped and painted faceplate. This makes them cheaper to manufacture. These were introduced near the end of the 221’s production life.
The “crinkle” finish models are basically the black models, but with a crinkle finish. All 221’s use standard Class 15 bobbins.
I mentioned four production colors — but note that there is an aftermarket for “painted” Featherweights. Folks take regular Featherweights, strip them down, then paint them in various colors with automobile paint. These are not factory models — whether or not you want to pay a premium price for the paint job is up to you ( and many people choose to do so!)
221’s were manufactured in the US and in other countries. You’ll often find motors for voltages other than 110. Generally, the white models and the 222 free-arms are most likely to use different voltages.
Portability is a big selling point with the 221’s. They weigh 11 or 12 pounds and are easy to move. People love to take their 221’s to sewing classes and quilting groups — especially since the machine is so cute!
While people have dubbed them “Featherweights”, this is not their official Singer name. Be aware that Singer has produced a recent line of imported machines they’ve called Featherweights. This is most definitely not the same machine and is not viewed as a desirable machine.