The Iconic Featherweight

1933 was a year of dramatic headlines. It was the worst year of the Great Depression with unemployment in the United States reaching 25%. Efforts to repeal prohibition laws were being fought in the court system. The winds sweeping across drought-stricken areas created devastating dust storms. Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany and opened Dachau, the first of many concentration camps that he would open throughout World War II.

But when we think of the past, we often think of it being simpler times of innocence. The 30s evoke images of the life depicted in Norman Rockwell’s paintings. However, it was then, as it still is today, through the adversities that we face that we find solace, inspiration, and invention.

Of little note in 1933, the I.M Singer & Co. (Isaac Merritt Singer & Company) began work on the first batch of 10,000 sewing machines—model 221—marketing them as the Singer Featherweight. The Featherweight made its world debut at the Chicago Fair the following year. The original cost…about $125. In comparison to the cost of machines today, the Featherweight seems like a real bargain. But in the midst of the Great Depression, when people could barely afford bread that cost 8 cents, this machine was astronomically priced. It was a machine for the privileged, as was the origin of many crafts.

Isaac Singer had been inventing sewing machines since the mid-1800s. In 1850, he invented a machine that has historically been described at the “first practical sewing machine.” In 1865, the same year that marks the end of the Civil War, Singer introduced the first “New Family” machine. In 1933, he created the Featherweight that was produced into the mid-1900s, ceasing production from 1939-1945 to support wartime manufacturing efforts.

It seems today that the Featherweight is just as popular as it was in the 20th century. These are highly sought after machines that are on sale anywhere from $200-$2000. Many of us own at least one. However, many of us don’t know how to use and maintain them.

Owl’s Nest Quilters hosts a Featherweight Club once a month. Karen Boston Murray is extremely knowledgeable about these special machines, as well as other vintage machines. She helps club members learn the history of their machine, how to date it, as well as how to clean, operate, and maintain it. They work on small projects while learning the operations and capabilities of these little gems. The shop also carries supplies and accessories for the 221 Featherweight model.

If you have a vintage sewing machine, please join us. Dates are listed on our calendars. The class is free, but we do need you to register so we know how many people to expect. Take a step back into history with us and see for yourself how wonderful the Featherweight truly is and what a dream they are to use.

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