Sewing machines are a lot like cars. How we feel about them is entirely subjective. Regardless of the official product description or what online reviewers may say, if we like it, we like it and if we don't, we don't.
And just like a car, nearly any of them will get you where you need to go, more or less. But you wouldn't drive a Yugo up Mt. Washington or on the backroads of Montana, and likewise, you wouldn't expect to sew a leather jacket with a Hello Kitty Janome.
I've written a lot about sewing machines, both here and in Vogue Patterns, and what I write is based on my own experience. No matter how many machines I've sewn with, there will always be many, many others I'm not familiar with. I love reading other people's sewing machine reviews on sites like Pattern Review, but I always take them with a grain of salt. Again, it's subjective.
It's fair to say that the original Singer Featherweight, in production from roughly 1933 to 1964 (you can read more about the history here), is the machine most beloved among vintage sewing machine fanatics and quilters -- not mutually exclusive groups, of course. I resisted this machine for a long time due to the high price (you're lucky to find one that's complete for less than $150) and all the hype.
I bought my first Featherweight a little over a year ago on eBay, and it needed work -- a new hook assembly to be exact. I bought my second, also on eBay, a few months later, and it was perfect right out of the box -- and cost less than the other one! And you know something? They lived up to the hype, a rare thing.
Among the many projects I've sewn on my Featherweights over the last year was Cathy's entire maternity outfit, opera coat included. I've made shirts and pants on it too, though for jeans I prefer my Singer 201 -- it's more powerful and faster; the Featherweight can certainly handle multiple layers of denim, however.
What I like most about the Featherweight, aside from it's light weight and cute design, excellent piercing power and ease of use and maintenance, is that it is virtually silent. You hear the soft click clack of the hook assembly, but the motor is quiet as can be. One of the things I didn't like about my old Seventies-era Singer Genie, for example, was how noisy it ran. Many other vintage and contemporary machines have loud motors too. I'm not sure what makes a motor loud. Do you?
There were two main kinds of Featherweights: the 221 and the rarer 222, which was a free arm machine (above), and every day on eBay there are literally dozens for sale at auction and for immediate purchase. The Featherweight isn't rare but Singer is not making any more, obviously. And there's enormous interest and demand. There are even sellers who have made careers restoring vintage Featherweights, some even painted unusual colors!
There were a few Featherweight competitors, which often show up on eBay. Cute, but I've never tried one. Have you?
So let's say you are Singer (which is currently owned by SVP Worldwide, which also owns Pfaff and Husqvarna Viking, which is in turn owned by Kohlberg and Company, which bought Singer in 2004). Given the enormous and (arguably) growing popularity of the original Featherweight model, what would you do? You might try to restore the nameplate (think Ford Mustang), and Singer has done just that, numerous times. The results? Generic plastic zigzaggers.
You can purchase a metal Chinese repro Featherweight, though I'm not sure why you'd bother, when you can find the real thing at the same price or less.
Readers, a few questions:
1) Do you own or have you ever sewn with a vintage Featherweight? If so, what do you like most about it?
2) Have you ever tried any of the newer Featherweights, clones, or vintage competitors? How do they compare?
2) Is it time to retire the Featherweight name, in honor of a model that cannot be replicated today?
Featherweight fans, I want to hear from you!