Friday, August 22, 2008

Threading the Featherweight




Subject: Felt under the spool

Another tip from Betty- one of my Senior Citizen quilting students
(who passed away, and is sorely missed): cut a small circle of (black) felt,
a little larger than your spool, with a hole in the center for the spool pin.
Slide this over the spool pin, so the felt is between the top of your FW and
the spool of thread. Betty insisted this was very important. She also
blamed some thread/tension problems on the new "lightweight" plastic spools-
said the old wooden spools were heavier, and this affected the operation of
the machine. I didn't question her, always keep my circle of felt on my FWs.
Subject: Re: Office Mom's question

According to my singer man, the reason the needle doesn't go down far enough
to catch the bobbin thread, is that there is thread build up under the throat
plate and around the hook mechanism. I believe this is also covered in Nancy
Johnson Srebro's book. I had this problem with one of my machines and didn't
know what it was at the time so had the repair man fix it. It should be
fairly easy to fix.
From: (Gordon D. Jones)
Subject: Threading sewing machines

The Singer model 99K does indeed thread from left to right, unlike the
Featherweight 221, which threads from right to left. Why is that?, you
ask. As I mentioned in an earlier posting, the direction you thread the
needle is not intuitive, but is dictated by the mechanical construction of
the machine. You need the instruction manual for that particular machine
to be sure of the correct threading procedure. For the mechanically minded
or simply curious, here is a simple explanation to determine the correct
direction by examining the stitch forming mechanism.

This explanation is for a lock stitch machine that has two threads forming
the stitches. The upper thread supplied from a spool and going through the
needle eye, I will call the needle thread. The lower thread is supplied
from a bobbin. In order to form the stitch, the bobbin case (containing
the bobbin), is passed through a loop formed in the needle thread. This is
the case for the old oscillating shuttle machines with the bullet shaped
shuttle. In the modern rotary hook machines and the oscillating hook
machines, such as the Singer models 66 and 99, the needle thread loop is
actually pulled around the bobbin case with the aid the of the hook. This
action causes the two threads to be interlocked, hence the term lock
stitch. How is this possible? The bobbin case is free floating and is
just sitting in the shuttle, with enough clearance around it for the needle
thread to pass between the case and shuttle.

Now for the tricky part!

Let's look at the needle action. The needle goes down through the cloth
pulling the needle thread with it. As the needle starts back up, after
reaching the bottom of the stroke, a small loop is formed in the needle
thread. Now is when the pointy thing must come by and either go through
the loop (bullet shaped oscillating shuttle), or catch the loop (rotary or
oscillating hook), and pull the loop around the bobbin case. Pretty
simple! In either case, the needle thread has passed around the bobbin and
interlocked the two threads. You can see, timing is critical. The point
must pass by the needle at just the right time in order to pick up the
needle thread loop.

Now if you examine the machine closely, while turning the hand wheel in the
proper direction, you can watch this action and see the point of the hook
or shuttle pass by the needle when the needle is just starting back up.
You may have to remove the throat plate (the plate the needle goes
through), to see this. Now you can see which side of the needle the point
passes by. This is the exit side, or the side of the needle the thread
comes out of when you thread it. So now you if you understood any of this,
you can determine which direction the needle must be threaded.

In the case of the model 99K, you must remove the throat plate in order to
see this action. The models 66 and 99 are oscillating hook machines. The
hook is circular and oscillates back and forth and does not rotate through
360 degrees like the true rotary hook machines. You wll notice that the
plane of rotation of the hook is horizonal for the 99K, while the plane of
rotation for the the rotary hook on a FW 221 is vertical. Either way works
fine, it's just necessary that the point of the hook pass closely by the
needle at the proper time. Enuf said!

Again, I want to emphasize the importance of getting the proper manual for
your machine. This way there will be no question about how to thread it
and you will also have instructions how to properly clean and lubricate it.
It's also a good idea not to do any disassembly that will effect machine
timing, unless you are a qualified sewing machine repair person. I have
encountered two FW221's in my classes that were out of time.

BTW, I was in a thrift shop a while back looking for sewing machines
(imagine that), and found this little black beauty that said Bel Air on it.
I thought it looked kinda familiar, then I realized it was an exact copy
of a Singer 99K. It was in beautiful condition, looked as if it had never
been used. It was called a Bel Air Bantam and was manufactured in 1950. So
I had to have it and when I picked it up to,much to my surprise, it hardly
weighed anything. It is an aluminum 99K, weighs about the same as a FW221.
It has a blue imitation alligator case that weighs as much as the machine.

From: cc and David Weisbrod
Subject: Stitch forming mechanism

Now about the stitch forming mechanism!! "Sometimes" I'm a dunce. On my
FW, after the thread goes around the tension part, it then travels to a
metal guide before entering the hole of that up-and-down 'thingie'. About
this metal guide--I don't see it in the '50s models (don't know about

Anyways, I bypassed the metal guide and the thread went directly into the
'thingie', etc, etc. In sewing the first few stitches, the thread snapped
and snagged in the bobbin. Removed the snag (I thought) and realized what
caused it. O.K. Include the metal guide in the rethreading process.
Sew..snapped again.

As N. J-S suggested, I investigated and removed the stitch forming
mechanism. itsy bit of thread caused jam #2. Next problem:
Sweatin' and frustrated, I could not replace the mechanism and didn't want
to force the issue. Next day, the pfaff guy who serviced my old Riccar
showed me how to replace it. Duhhhhh! It's easy when the sewing plate is
removed. N. J-S's book fails to include this big tip. However, she did
say where the position finger on the bobbin case should be before securing
it with the retainer. So I learned yet another procedure. Since I'm
learning from readin' and askin', if it ain't in the book, I face a
wall. Gratefully, the techs who service my machines are very approachable
and helpful.
From: (Gordon D. Jones)
Subject: Thread jams

This is a note to address Susan Risty's problem, how to clear thread jams.
The most likely reason for thread jams - turning the hand wheel backwards
(always turn the top of the handwheel towards you), and not holding the
thread tails when starting to sew.

For the procedure that follows, refer to Fig. 11, page 12 in the
instruction book for your Singer 221. That's the little green book that
came with your Featherweight or if you don't have one, refer to page 55 of
Nancy Johnson-Srebro's book "Featherweight 221 The Perfect Portable". On
page 55 is reprint of the Singer book page 12, including Fig. 11.

First, determine what kind of thread jam you might have. Some jams can be
cleared by gently pulling on the exposed thread ends while rocking the
handwheel back and forth. Using a pair of tweezers helps. If you have
determined that there is a piece of thread behind the bobbin case base,
then removal of the bobbin case base is necessary.

Start by removing the throat plate, the shiny plate held down by two screws
that the feed dogs protrude through. While the throat plate is off is a
good time to remove the lint that accumulates around the feed dogs. Now
position the machine on its handwheel end so that you have the view shown
in Fig. 11. Remove the bobbin case, with bobbin. Now rotate the handwheel
until the small screw shown in part B, Fig 11, is positioned at 2 o'clock.
Nancy J_S uses 5 o'clock, but 2 o'clock allows for easier removal and
replacement of the bobbin case base.

Remove the small screw with a appropriatly small screw driver. I recommend
doing this in a place with a smooth floor, not carpet, so if and when you
drop the tiny screw, you can find it. If you loose the screw, you may
have trouble finding a replacment. OK, now pivot the cresent shaped
retainer (part B, Fig 11), as far to the right as you can. Now rotate the
bobbin case base, the part with stud (A, Fig 11.), until the position
finger( A2, Fig 11.), is at about 7 o'clock. You can do this only if the
throat plate is removed.

At this time you should be able to remove the bobbin case base with your
fingers. Sometimes you need to rotate it slightly from the 7 o'clock
position and sometimes the thread jam holds it tightly and you need to pull
harder. In any case, use only your fingers. I don't recommend using
pliers, it's too easy to damage the part, and a small nick on the surface
will cause the thread to catch. Believe it or not the needle thread passes
entirely around the bobbin case base along with the bobbin case (containing
the bobbin) during the forming of the stitch.

After the culprit threads are removed, reverse the procedure to reassemble.
With everything in the same position, the bobbin case base should drop
into place. You might have to rotate it back and forth from the 7 o'clock
position again.


When you replace the throat plate, be sure the position finger (A2, Fig 11)
of the bobbin case base enters the notch (B2, Fig 11.) on the underside of
the throat plate. If the position finger is not in the notch, the machine
will not sew!!! This caution is covered on the bottom of page 12 in the
newer Singer instruction books. The early books did not have this caution.

From: Terry
Subject: Threading/Spool Tricks

If plastic thread spools bounce around on your spool pin, making a lot
of racket on your otherwise perfectly quiet FW, try using a cone thread
holder behind your machine. You can purchase them in large fabric stores or
in shops selling sergers. The spool or cone sits on a separate base and the
thread feeds up high through a guide. I then attach a paper clip to my FW
spool pin and feed the thread through, continuing to thread the machine as
usual. If you use your FW for piecing quilts, a cone of thread lasts
forever. Monofilament nylon thread cones also work.
From: Lisa Yee Estrada
Subject: needles/threading for Featherweight

The manual that came with my FW said to use 15x1 needles. The
Schmetz needles that I use on my other machine say 15x1 on them,
so I tried one of those in the FW. It seemed fine. Is it okay
to use those needles?

Funny you should mention this...

Last week I bought my first Featherweight. I couldn't get it
to sew without tangling the thread, so I took it to my local
quilting store. The woman who teaches the Featherweight
maintenance class looked at it for a few minutes and said,
"You don't have a Singer needle here. *Always* use a Singer
needle in your Featherweight. I bet that's your problem."
Sure enough, it was the needle!

Here is what she gave me as her recommendation:

Singer Regular Point Red Band Needles
Style 2020
Size 80/11
for lightweight woven fabrics

I told her I was going to use the machine for piecing quilt,
so I assumed that's how she picked the needle.

I'm not an expert, just passing along information.
From: Terry
Subject: More advice on threading

CAITLIN: You said your upper thread was laying on the surface of fabric.
Instead of dismantling your upper thread tension, try tightening the screw
in the bobbin case. When the b. case is at the proper tension, you should:
insert a full bobbin and thread it through the case; let the bobbin and case
hang freely while holding only the protruding thread; the unit should slide
down the thread about 8-10" each time you gently yank the thread. Think of
it like a yo-yo. If the whole thing slides to the floor on the first yank,
you know the tension is too loose, thus it will not pull your upper thread
to the "center" of your fabric.
Subject: re: Sickly Motors and other things

Someone also asked about why the machine keeps moving even when the clutch is
released for winding a bobbin. I did have success with this manuver: I
removed the little screw from clutch wheel on the balance wheel and unscrewed
the clutch wheel. Then I lifted out the little clutch nut inside. Then I
pulled out the balance wheel--but I didn't take it off the machine (cause it
looked like guts were coming out were I to completely remove it, and I DID
NOT want that to happen). After I'd gotten an area of about 1-2" exposed I
sprayed it all with WD-40 cause there was lots of black gunk in there. I
then wiped off the gunk, oiled it all up nicely, and reassembled the whole
thing. It now works fine.
Subject: big thread loops under the fabric.

For Amy L, with the big loops under the fabric. That was the exact
phrasing in the article in Quilting Today everyone has been talking
about. Although the article is about fixing the Featherweight, maybe
it applies to yours. It says "There is a trick to putting the throat
plate back on. (If it isn't correct, giant loops will form on the
underside of the fabric.) When the throat plate is off, the arm in the
bobbin area swings freely around. For correct operation, this arm must
be in the 12 o'clock position to fit in the notch on the underside of
the throat plate.

To achieve this: 1) place the arm at the 12 o'clock
position while the bed extension is up and hold it there with one hand.
2) with your other hand, put the bed extension completely down and slip
on the throat plate. Check the arm to be sure it is in the notch
before putting the throat plate screws back in." Good luck with yours.
Subject: Various threading hints

There is a hints section in the service manual that addresses some
problems I've heard discussed on this list.

When machine is noisy check: a) excessive play in hook driving shaft. b)
throat plate incorrectly seated. c) excessive end play in horizontal arm
shaft. d) excessive end play in feed shafts

When thread snagging, skipped stitches or other thread handling difficulties
occur check: a) position of hook to or from needle. b) correct pressure and
tension settings. c) needle bar height. d) hook timing.

When machine runs sluggish check: a) machine may need cleaning and
lubricating. b) horizontal arm shaft or hook shaft binding. c) binding in
other points.
From: (Carrie Bryan)
Subject: rough riders - the featherweight

Just thought I'd pass on this little eye opener. I've been using my 1935 FW
on EVERYTHING for some months now, and after one oiling it was sounding very
loud. I went over the whole thing and couldn't find anything wrong. Then I
started on a project that I didn't want to use dark purple thread on ...
The thread was the culprit! Although I can't see a difference in thickness
between it and the medium green and light blue threads I've used since (and
the light blue is the same brand and weight, according to the label), it must
be just enough thicker to make the rubbing of the spool thread against the
machine parts to be real loud.

So if your baby has been making a lot of noise lately and she's well oiled
and you can't find anything wrong, try changing the spool thread.
Subject: Proper Threading Techniques

There are several things to check and do....
1. New needle...I use a Singer when trouble shooting this problem. They are
longer and some Singers are picky. This may appear like a joke but read the
manual and be SURE the needle is in the correct direction. The side you put
the thread in the eye should have a groove running down the shaft. You can
feel it with you finger nail. That is very important.

2. GOOD thread. Not old and cheap. I use Coats and Clarks. New spool as
thread does weaken over time. Now put the spool on with the bar code side up.
That is the side where the slit is that holds the thread end. This has caused
me to get a machine for next to nothing as it catches the thread and then if
you pull it may let it go. Also see that you have some felt or leather under
the spool (the red circles you see and think are cute) This protects the
machine and also keeps the spool from spinning instead of feeding....then the
thread wraps around the spool pin.

3. Set the tension at the middle setting....just do it.

4. Sew on a piece of cotton fabric. Look at the work.
A. Loopy on bottom? Recheck the threading and the needle is in the right
B. Pulled and jerked or broke thread? With the foot down and the thread
under the foot and you are pulling the top thread to the back of the
machine...does it flow OK or is it impossible to pull? That is a tension
C. Loopy on top? Check the bobbin. Is it thread correctly and the
bobbin in the correct direction? The thread should come off to the right with
the bobbin in the bobbin case facing you. The tension of the lower case
should be so that if you held the thread and let the bobbin case fall from you
hand (remember to catch it with the other hand). It unwinds up to 2 rounds
and stops.

5. It will be the top tension in most cases....take it apart for the 10,001
time with the foot up. Now this time lets assemble it with the spring turned
over 180 degrees from where you had it. Make sure the discs are clean (not
oiled) and they touch at the center and do not fit together like spoons. When
you put the final screw on be sure that you have it in just as much as needed
and not tighten. Now lower the foot and do the pull test again with the
setting at 5. It should have some resistance but flow.

6. A sew test is when you use a piece of fabric (cotton) folded on the bias
and you stitch 1/4 inch from the edge. (you can be a little more or less)
Using both hands hold each end of the seam and quickly "pop" it hard enough
you head stitches break. Look on either side at the break...put a pin the other side broken there? If so it has a balanced tension.
If not e-mail me and I will send you more in depth instructions.

NOTE: The tension works only when the foot is down. That is so you can pull
the thread and fabric from under the foot with ease. Anytime you pull them
out pull to the back and you will have less problems with broken threads and

In the FW book she remarks about something that I have seen often. About 50%
of the machines (including the ones coming from the repair shop) has the
tension spring upside down. It will go in either way and correctly the small
loop should be up. The second most common thing is the needle in backwards.
I got a machine for $2 as it was threaded on the wrong side of the needle.
She never got it to work right and on the inside of the case top was hand
written instructions telling her how to thread it.....wrong.

To thread the bobbin case. Hold the case with you left hand. Put the bobbin
in with the thread coming off to the right. Holding it with the case with the
left thumb and forefinger look and see that the 2 screws are at the 12 o'clock
position. Take thread end out about 6 inches at most.....hold the bobbin so
no more comes out by adding pressure as you hold it in the left hand. Now
take the tread at the end with the right hand and guide it to that slot at 1
o'clock on the case....once in there pull down and to the back of the case
until you feel a slight click. Now it is threaded. Holding it so the bobbin
does not fall out look on the back of the case....with the 2 screws at 12
o'clock there is a lever end at 7 o'clock. Pull that up and it will hold the
bobbin in the case until you put it in the machine. The case goes into the
machine with where the thread comes out at the top. It will click into place
and when you release the handle it pops back into place on the case. BTW that
handle is how you get it out also.


Uncle Dannie said...

Nice layout. Congrats on your new updated blog. Entering my name for the 221 Give-away.

Molly J. said...

Gordy, YOU ARE AMAZING. After getting a thread jam and reading and re-reading page 36 from Nancy J-S's book, I was ready to throw my FW at a wall! I KNEW what the trouble was but could NOT, with her instructions, get the bobbin case to come out!! THANK YOU SO MUCH for your 7'oclock and 2'oclock tutorial. FINALLY my machine is sewing again. Blessings to you!

Mafanwy said...

Gordy, I am new here and i want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for saving my darling little 221 from sailing across the room. I was having problems with thread tangling under the throat plate, i had done everything to rectify it, i got nowhere. I came across this group quite by chance and started to read. I thought i had to leave the machine alone as i could no longer see the wood from the trees. There i found your advice. I approached my machine with caution and told her "this is the final solution behave or we will part company. I followed your instructions to the letter. Lo and behold underneath the bobbin case tucked almost out of sight was a diddy bit of thread. Cleared it and put bobbin case back together. Read a bit further and realised what the problem had been. I had last week cleaned and oiled my machine and had taken the bobbin case out but had not realigned it correctly at the top with the throat plate. The whole casing had been moving, no wonder she protested and fouled up on me. She now runs sweet as a nut, perfect stitching has resumed. I cannot thank you enough.
I love these machines i have 2 black 221's and one 222, and a white 221. I have collected lots of attachments but finding them in GB is not always easy. I need to find 2 springs for the reel spools and 2 new felts.
I look forward to speaking with this group of like minded fanatics of these machines.