Thursday, January 29, 2015

How To Thread The Spool And Bobbin (And Start Sewing) On A Singer Featherweight 221

How to thread the spool and then the bobbin on a Singer Featherweight 221.  Also a couple of details to know when sewing on a vintage sewing machine for the first time (or refresh your memory on if it's been awhile).

Upper Threading

The Singer 221 manual has a diagram of the pathway of the thread on a Featherweight:

The thread, of course, starts at the spool pin then goes down through the first thread guide (1).

Numbers 2, 3, and 4 involve bringing the thread through the tension knob.
  • After leaving thread guide 1 bring the thread down into the tension discs from right to left (2).
  • Either hold the spool or hold the thread firmly against the machine between 1 and 2 so that you can pull the thread up under the take-up spring (4) and yes, 4 then 3.
  • Pull the thread gently until it goes into the retaining fork (3).
The retaining fork is the  U shape with the pink thread coming out above the #2 on the tension dial in the next photo:

The thread looks like it goes into the discs on the right then comes out through the retaining fork and into the spring but to get it that way follow the previous directions of through the discs, then spring, then retaining fork.

Now simply take the thread through thread guide 5 (the hook above the tension knob) and then through the take-up lever (6).

After that there are three more thread guides (7,8,9) and then the needle (10).

Made sure the needle is in the machine correctly.  It should have the flat side towards the left when inserted.  The thread goes through it from the right and comes out on the left.

The upper threading is done.

Lower Threading

If you haven't threaded the bobbin see this post on how to do it.

Hold the threaded bobbin with the thread coming off the top towards you.

It's easiest if you hold the bobbin in your right hand and the bobbin case in your left hand.  I'm holding it in my left hand in the photo because I'm holding the camera in my right hand.

Place the bobbin in the bobbin case and pull the hanging thread up into the slot in the case.

Keep pulling that thread so it slides up through the slot and under the tension and comes out the tiny notch further up in the case.

Now it's ready to be put in the sewing machine.

Hold the bobbin case by the latch with the thread coming over the top and place on the stud in the machine.  Let go of the latch and push the bobbin case back so the latch catches in the groove in the machine.  It should look like this:

Make sure there's at least a couple of inches of thread hanging out.

Put the bed extension down.

One last step and you're ready to sew.  The bobbin thread needs to be brought up.  Hold the top thread while turning the balance wheel towards you.  The needle will need to go all the way down then back up to its highest point.

The bobbin thread should now be drawn up (you can pull the needle thread some to help it up). The bobbin thread is the loop of white thead coming up in the photo above.  You can take something (pin, small scissors) and while holding the needle thread bring them under the foot and help get this bobbin thread all the way out.  If you use something metal don't scratch your sewing machine throat plate or drag it across the feed dogs  -- you'll be pulling that bobbin thread up everytime you change the bobbin and don't won't to always be scraping against the metal or in time it will show.

Both threads are where they should be and you're ready to sew!

Remember to hold the threads as you start sewing or one will get sucked under and it'll jam.  If you need other information about sewing with a vintage Singer sewing machine I have some posts up under the tab Vintage Sewing Machine Basics.

Also, Featherweights didn't have seam guide markings on their throat plates originally.  I've put a sticker I bought for this onto mine that you can see in the photos.  It stays in place but can be peeled off easily if I want to remove it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

How To Wind The Bobbin On A Singer Featherweight 221

I was asked about winding a Featherweight's bobbin, so here it is:

Winding the bobbin on a Singer 221 Featherweight sewing machine is different from most standard size machines, but the principles are the same and it's easy!

First you need to remove the bobbin from the machine to wind it:
  •      Turn the hand wheel on the right side of the machine towards you until the thread        take-up lever is at it's highest point.
  •      Fold the Featherweight's bed extension up.
  •      Lift out the bobbin case by lifting its latch and pulling it out.

The bobbin case under the bed extension
The latch can be seen in this next photo:

I'm pulling it out with my index finger.

While the latch is pulled out the bobbin is held in its case.  When the latch is released the bobbin will drop out of the bobbin case.

To Wind the Bobbin

First hold the hand wheel with your left hand so it won't move while turning the stop motion screw over towards you.  The stop motion screw is the large screw in the middle of the hand wheel. Just grab with your hand and twist.
Stop Motion Screw
Doing this disengages the stitching mechanism so the machine isn't running while you're winding a bobbin.

This diagram from the Singer 221 manual clearly shows the numerical order in which the thread must be run:


  1. Leave the thread spool on the spool pin (1) on top of the machine.  (This is where the   Featherweight  differs from many sewing machines that have a separate spool pin for bobbin  winding.)  
  2. Take the thread and bring it through the thread guide (2).
  3. Then down to the bobbin tension discs (3) where the thread should run under and then up   through them.
  4. Have the bobbin pushed in on the bobbin winder spool (4) and bring the thread out one of the  holes on the left side. 



Now push the bobbin winder pulley down so it sits against the belt.  The silver wheel to the right of the bobbin is what will be touching the belt as the machine runs.

Hold the thread coming out of the bobbin gently to the side as you push the foot controller to start the sewing machine.  After a few turns clip the excess thread off.

Your bobbin should be winding!

When done pull the bobbin winder pulley up and remove the bobbin!  (Remember to twist the stop motion screw back into its normal position.)

Friday, November 7, 2014

What Can Happen If You Use Universal Needles On Knits

In short, if you use universal sewing machine needles instead of jersey or ballpoint needles when sewing knits you can get broken fabric threads and holes.  It happened to me - twice.  I've sewn knits with universal needles before with no problems, but I'll make it a point to change them from now on (especially on the coverstitch machine.)


In the middle of this photo along the coverstitched hem is what at first looks like a tiny pill or maybe a snag:


It's actually broken fabric threads.


If you don't think it's bad, look what happens when a hem with several broken threads has gone through repeated washings:


Small holes start appearing.


How did this happen?  Simple - I left universal point needles in my coverstitch machine instead of changing them out for jersey needles.  As you know, universal needles have a sharp point which can break the threads on knits.  Jersey or ballpoint needles, as the name implies, have a rounded point which goes between the fibers without breaking them.  I know this too but accidents happen.  I'm not bothered too much about this (these outfits aren't worth getting upset about), but this does reinforce the importance of sewing machine needles - so much depends on having the right ones.

As the post title says this can happen but it doesn't always.  I hemmed two other t-shirts on the coverstitch machine before switching the needles, and they show no damage at all.

I once wrote a post about how I leave notes to myself on my sewing machines and in patterns and wherever I need.  I rarely change the coverstitch needles from ballpoints, but I had for a project and then left the machine alone for a few weeks - I should have left a note to myself on that one - or better yet, changed the needles back to normal right after I was done!

Both of the hems I've shown are from clothes I made back in the summer.  The white one is a short sleeve t-shirt and the green one is a t-shirt dress.  I wore the t-shirt dress nearly every week during the summer. All the washings made the messed up hem show up more.

Speaking of reminders...


The small X on my needle case lets me know that particular needle has been used but is still good for using again. These little things make life easier.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Pet Proof The Sewing Space

Last year when I adopted two stray cats and moved them in with my family, one of the first things I did was cat proof my sewing space.  It had been a while since I had indoor cats and some of my sewing setup and habits would need changing to keep them safe.


Pins - The first thing I did was cover my pincushion.  I used to leave my pincushion sitting on the sewing table but cats can claw and nibble at those pins and pull them out (and the whole cushion is great to bat about on the floor).  I still wanted my pincushion to sit on the table, but I needed something to keep it in yet be easy to access. A vintage butter dish works perfectly for me.  The cats can't get to the pins, but I can.  My other pincushions and needle cushions sit in a drawer.


Scissors - My scissors always get put in a drawer when I'm not using them.  I once left my thread scissors out and came back to find them lying open on the floor.  I would hate for the cat to knock my sharp Gingher shears around like that.  I considered hanging them on a hook but had nowhere for that.  One of my cats stands on the sewing table and bats at anything shiny I've put on the bulletin board which hangs over it.  I also keep my seam rippers in the drawer too.


Measuring Tape - This too gets placed in a drawer.  It's too tempting for cats - they want to roll around on the floor biting it and dragging it away.

Thread scraps

Thread and Yarn Scraps - I don't have a trash can sitting by my sewing table, so I've always thrown my thread scraps into a small wooden bowl that sits to the right of me.  I now have to empty that bowl after each of my sewing sessions.  I've seen one of my cats check to see what's in the bowl and scoop a yarn scrap out of it.  Bits of thread and yarn aren't good for kitties to get choked on!

Serger Scraps - The same as my thread bowl, I have an old mixing bowl under my table that I throw serger scraps into.  I empty it frequently too.  But I do sometimes give one of the cats a serger scrap - it keeps her busy and happy while I'm working.  I try to make sure it's not too big of a piece so it doesn't get tangled on her or anything else.


Small items - Buttons, bobbins, knitting markers. Anything small gets put in a drawer or a container with a lid.  I don't want the cats getting them in their mouths or simply batting them under the furniture and losing them.

Rolling Chair - I always look behind me before rolling backwards in my chair now.  One of my cats sprawls out behind me while I'm sewing and I'd hate to roll back on her!

Having a place for everything and everything in its place doesn't take much time to arrange and works well for both the cats and me.  I would like to add that it keeps the sewing table neater...but, no, it still somehow is a mess most of the time.


One thing that can't be avoided is cats sitting on fabric or knit projects.  That's just a fact of life if you sew and have a cat!


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Stitch Length on Vintage and Modern Sewing Machines

Occasionally I need to know a vintage sewing machine's stitch length compared to a modern machine's.  I've not found much information on it, so I sat down with a couple of sewing machines and tried to figure it out for myself -- a sort of conversion guide of stitch length settings between vintage and modern sewing machines.

Modern sewing machines have the stitch length set (and measured) by millimeters.  Setting the machine to 3 results in a 3mm stitch.  Vintage sewing machine stitch lengths are set by stitches per inch.  Putting the stitch length lever to 10 gets you 10 stitches per inch.

I sewed some samples with my modern machine and my 15-91 at different stitch length settings and compared them.  Some were good matches; some were a hair off.

   Stitch Length
Vintage     Modern
      6                3.5
   8                3
      9                2.5
   10               2
     12               1.5

I found the modern 4mm length to be a tiny bit longer that the vintage 6 one.

These settings are approximate.   The little information I could find out there had someone else's vintage machine's 9 equalling a modern 3.  For me the 8 was a perfect match for a 3.  Part of the reason for such variation is how the stitch length setting is done.  I push a button on the modern machine and it automatically sets the stitch length to that number.  For a vintage machine the stitch length is set manually with a lever:

The lever for a 15-91 is supposed to have the top of it level with the number line.  (I sometimes put the thumbnail of my left hand on the number line and push the lever up to touch it.)  If you set the lever a little above or a little below the line, the stitch lengths will be a scarce bit different --therefore, my chart is not exact but a guideline.

Generally the vintage stitch length settings go from 6 to 30 stitches per inch or 6 to 20 with a fine area above that.  I tried the 30 setting and it's so tiny it looks like a thread of the fabric itself.  This is actually one of the options for it.  In a vintage Singer booklet on Fashion Stitches, Ornamental Stitching is for making fabric look like it has an extra contrasting thread.  (This book is available on PDF at Sew-Classic website).  You could pull a thread of the fabric out and stitch at 30 on the line with a different colored thread or simply stitch without pulling the thread out.  The example shows a collar and detail work on a couple of blouses, but this could also be done on table linens and such.  (It would take a lot of patience to add all that detail to those shirts, I think!)

Courtesy of Sew-Classic

The other thing to do with the 30 setting is to attach the vintage zigzagger to the machine and make a satin stitch.  I have done this out of curiousity, but it seemed rough on the old machine.

Since we're talking about stitch length here -- Have you ever looked at a vintage stitch length table for the correct stitch lengths to use on different fabrics?

The general setting for cottons is 10-12 stitches per inch.  I distinctly remember being told this in Home Ec years ago and for years automatically set this length when sewing.  Not so anymore!  This is small by today's standards.  I remember having to pick out tiny stitches on linen with a perfectly matched thread -miserable- now I make those stitches a little longer and more manageable for mistakes!  (Also I always sew a scrap before starting my project and see what I like.)

For those of you with sewing machines so old they didn't even have a stitch length lever with numbers but a plain screw that changed the stitch length when turned...

...sew a scrap and set it to what seems best!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Free Motion Quilting (and Embroidery) on the Singer 15-91 Including How To Drop or Lower The Feed Dogs


I was asked a while back about free motion quilting on a Singer 15-91, and I'm finally getting around today to writing about it. 

I'm not going to give general instructions for FM quilting since there are numerous sites that do that.  The same for embroidery --you can find a vintage Singer sewing pamphlet about FM embroidery at Sew-Classic.  I'm  going to show how to set the Singer 15-91 up for the FM work.  Both the quilting and embroidery require the same set up.  The only difference between them is whether you're sewing on layers for a quilt or fabric with a stabilizer for the embroidery.  (The needles and threads used are different too, but you already knew that.)

The first thing to do when preparing the 15 for free motion work is to drop the feed dogs.  Tilt the machine back and unscrew the large screw that is right in front in a slot as far as possible. This lowers the feed dogs.  Set the machine back down.

Next move the stitch regulating lever to its neutral position.  This is the line in the middle of the stitch indicator plate.  See this post on changing the stitch length if you need to.  (The lever is not on the line in the photo so you can see it better.  And since the photo is overly bright so you can see the numbers, you can see how much lint is on my machine at the moment!)

Putting the stitch lever in the neutral position disengages the feed dogs --they will still move up and down but not back and forth to feed the fabric.  If you forget to change the stitch length you can still FM work as long as the feed dogs are down; the stitch length is determined by the operator not the machine.

The machine is ready now but for a few details.  First for either FM quilting or embroidery you might want a darning/FM foot or a regular old darning foot.  A picture of both of these is in a previous post I wrote. The darning/FM one comes in all metal, open toe, or plastic --most prefer the open toe or plastic for better visibility but I use the one I have --you can see it in some of the next photos.  Some people don't even use a foot during FM work.  I like to use one during quilting, but I don't always use one when embroidering.   If you're not using a foot and the stitches won't form, you need a foot.

Also, before sewing the actual quilt or embroidery try out a sample to see how the tension is.  Sometimes the top tension needs adjusting.

When starting (remember to lower the presser bar if you're not using a foot) sew one stitch and pull up the bobbin thread.  Hold these to the side when starting so they don't get caught in the stitching.



Because the feed dogs are out of the way you can move the fabric in all directions.  Just go and have some fun with it!  Don't worry about little mistakes --they hardly show when you're done.  And a little note:  I've seen sites that say to go fast when FM quilting.  Fast is good but never go faster than you can handle or feel comfortable with --and 15-91's can go fast.

Of course, you would have your quilt pin basted better than mine.  Because it was a sample I didn't bother much.

Here's a bit of embroidery I did for play awhile back:

The reason I'm sewing on the stabilizer on the back is because the thread I have in the bobbin is a cordonnet.  See the pamphlet at Sew-Classic that I linked to above for how to do this.  Also, the fabric in the hoop needs to be on the bottom to touch the bed of the machine --opposite of hand embroidery.

This is the embroidery turned over.  Because I couldn't pull the heavier thread through on the first stitch I threaded it through a needle when I was done and pulled it to the back.

That's all there is to it!

When you're done with FM work remember to put your feed dogs back in position by tilting the machine back and putting the screw back in the back of the slot and tightening.  You might want to put the stitch length regulator back into a stitch length too (or sit like I did once trying to sew and not being able to until I noticed the lever was in the neutral position).  Most of all relax and have fun with it --the 15-91 is superb at this type sewing!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Plastic vs. Metal Bobbins

This question often comes up:  Should I use plastic or metal bobbins in my sewing machine?
The general rule on bobbins is if the bobbin case is metal use metal bobbins.  I wouldn't even consider using plastic in my vintage Singer 15-91.  But some of the later model sewing machines can use either plastic or metal.

Of course, you don't have to follow the first rule but the second general rule on bobbins is to pick one, metal or plastic, and stick with it.  Why?  Because the difference between them can affect the tension.  This is what I've experienced this week with my Singer 500 Rocketeer.

From the moment I started sewing with this machine I used metal bobbins.  I did find I had to turn the bobbin tension screw a whole half turn to get the tension right.  Then I didn't feel like winding a bobbin for some practice stitching so I grabbed a plastic one that had thread already on it.  It didn't work.  I found I had to turn the tension screw all the way back half a turn to where it started to get the tension right.

Since the bobbin box that came with the machine only had six metal bobbins and was full of plastic bobbins (plus more loose in a drawer), the previous owner obviously preferred the plastic ones.  I think the bobbin tension was set for the plastic bobbins and when I used metal ones it had to be changed.  Honestly, I don't know if other machines are this picky!


When it comes to class 66 metal bobbins (as used in the Singer 500, 201, 66 and 99)  there is another issue too.  The vintage bobbins were made much better than some of the new ones.  This doesn't really show up well in a photo but you can feel the difference. The vintage bobbins are smoother around the hole in the middle.  The newer ones stick up a tiny bit.  The problem is that this tiny bit can sometimes catch the thread as it's coming off the bobbin and affect the stitches.  Plastic bobbins don't have this problem.
Choices.  I think for the Rocketeer I'll probably use the plastic bobbins that came with it.  There are a lot of them.