I will admit that the show Storage Wars is one of my guilty pleasures. I love seeing what treasures are unearthed in grubby storage bins. Thankfully I’ve been able to control my impulses to attend storage auctions and bid outrageous amounts of money on what will likely be old, dusty junk, but I did recently benefit from someone else’s storage bin salvage.
I have a thing for vintage sewing machines. I love them. Perhaps it is because I originally learned to sew on a 1953 mint green Singer that my mother-in-law received as a wedding present. Or maybe it is that I like taking on sewing projects that involve lots of layers of heavy weight materials that the old mechanical machines can sew like nobody’s business. Or, maybe I just like their simple beauty. Whatever the reason may be, I am in the habit of occasionally checking Craigslist to see if I can find an old machine in need of a new, loving home.
A few weeks ago, I got lucky. I saw a post for a “Vintage Singer Featherweight”. I was immediately intrigued because a Featherweight sewing machine has long been on my wishlist. The pictures in the post were terrible, but I gave the guy a call and asked to take a look. It turned out that this guy was a storage bin auction buyer and in one of his recent hauls he had found himself this little sorely neglected Featherweight. He was asking $200 for this vintage machine. I looked her over, saw some great potential underneath the grime and scratches and verified that she did indeed turn on and run. I offered him $125 and we had a deal!
In my excitement to unearth the beauty that I *knew* laid beneath the years of dust, I forgot to take a good “before” picture of the Lady. Sorry about that, but to give you an idea this is the box I found her in and her case.
I have plans to refinish the case down the road. Even though it is broken down and quite stinky, I love it. The case tells me something about where the Lady began her life. The worn Norwegian Cruise Line stickers tell me that she was not only well loved but also well traveled. This worldly Lady deserved some TLC to bring her back to her former beautiful self.
As soon as I got her home, I started off by giving her a basic cleaning with a vacuum and a rag. That got the first few layers of grime. Then, following this excellent post by the Vintage Singer Sewing Machine blog, I got to work on oiling. Once I opened her up, I discovered thick layers of old gloppy motor oil, and I thought that perhaps she could benefit from a professional tune-up. So, the next day I dropped her off at my local Singer repair shop.
While she was away, I did a lot of research on refurbishing Featherweights and found some wonderful resources. Some of the most useful sites I found included:
- Graham Forsdyke’s Singer Featherweights
- Gaileee’s Featherweight 221 Resource Page
- April 1930s Sewing Shoppe
By the time I picked her up from the shop, I was ready to get to work. The repair shop did a fantastic job of cleaning up her insides and getting her running nice and smooth again. To my pleasant surprise, they also replaced all the foot pads on the machine and pedal for me. Something I was very grateful for since I had been preparing to spend a couple of hours with my screwdriver and chisel getting the old melted and crusted pads off! So now it was on to the fun stuff.
JillyBeJoyful has a great post called a Spa Date with your Featherweight that was extremely helpful. I stopped by my auto parts store and picked up some Tuff Stuff and Scratch X. Even though Jilly recommends a Carnauba wax for polish, I had read on Graham Forsdyke’s site that sometimes car waxes have additives meant to protect car exteriors from the elements that can be too strong for the Featherweight’s lacquer. He recommended a good quality Neutral tint boot polish instead. I made a trip to my local shoe repair shop and found a tub of Kiwi Neutral polish. After gathering up a few other odd supplies (OxiClean, soft old tshirts, old towels, a good light), I got to work.
Inside the mangled case, there was an accessory box filled to the brim with feet – both the standard Featherweight ones and a few interesting looking extras. Unfortunately, these had also suffered from decades of neglect and dirt. Even though the OxiClean label specifically says “Do Not Soak Metal”, I decided to follow Jilly’s advice and give them a good soak.
After 20 minutes in the OxiClean bath, all the accessories came out sparkly and looking new. It is really important to thoroughly dry out all your metal accessories to prevent rust, so I grabbed my hairdryer and gave all the feet a good drying.
Next it was on to the ScratchX. The Lady had some pretty serious scuffs on her bed.
So I got a soft cloth and went to work with the ScratchX. The results were pretty amazing.
Once I got her all polished up, all that was left was the finishing touches. I had ordered a few replacement parts from April’s 1930s including red felt spool pads, bobbins and a new felt pad for the drip tray. Cleaning up the drip pan took a lot of Tuff Stuff and some elbow grease, but well worth it. Once I put in the new felt pad the musty odor that had been hanging around The Lady disappeared. She was ready to get to work!
I am in love with my new little featherweight and am so happy to welcome her to the family! If you happen upon a one at a yard sale and she seems to be in decent working order, I highly recommend taking her home with you. There are a lot of great resources available to help you on your way to restoring your own 221, so don’t be intimidated. It will be well worth the investment.