Thread Matters 2020: 28wt & a Featherweight

Greetings Aurifil thread lovers! It’s Karen L. Miller from Redbird Quilt Co. kicking off Thread Matters – The Aurifilosophy Series for 2020 with a variety of tips, tricks, and tools for quilting on a vintage Singer Featherweight. That’s right… Free motion quilting on a Featherweight! So grab your favorite fabric, batting, and Aurifil thread, oil up your machine, and let’s have some fun!!

I couldn’t be more excited about having a play date with my July birthday gift. To document my Featherweight learning adventure I wanted to share:

Something Old
Singer Featherweight Model 221-1, Circa 1949
71 Years Old — He Who Has Yet To Be Named

Something New
Aurifil Color Builders for January – Milan Grey!

Something recently acquired
A Thread Post from The Featherweight Shop

and some other handy tools for the Featherweight! 

To aid in a successful adventure, I teamed up with the great folks from The Featherweight Shop (FWS) to set up my vintage Featherweight 221 with the best of the best tools of the decade.

The first step in my learning adventure was thread selection. What better thread to use on a vintage sewing machine than 100% Egyptian cotton by Aurifil – “The Cotton Experts”. Cotton is traditional and timeless and I’m happy to report it stitches beautifully on a Featherweight. I chose to quilt some gorgeous red linen by Moda and was excited to experiment with the colors from Aurifil’s January Color Builder collection, Milan Grey.

note: Are you subscribed to Color Builders? Check with your local shop for more information!

The Milan Collection includes 3 large spools of 50wt in the following colors:

  • 2600 Dove – a really popular piecing and bobbin color
  • 2610 Lite Blue Grey – the perfect medium grey to pair with my yummy red linen by Moda
  • 5004 Grey Smoke – a beautiful dark grey that would also be a perfect partner with red linen.

To show-off the quilting, I wanted to work with a slightly heavier thread so I choose to use 2610 in a 28wt. Selecting fabric and choosing thread color and weight is like pairing hors d’oeuvres with wine — so many choices yet so much fun! I filled my bobbin with the same color in 50wt and geared up to use my new-to-me 1949 Singer Featherweight 221 for some free motion feather quilting.

The first thing you’ll notice about working on a Featherweight is that the thread post is vertical. Back in the day, when most spools of thread were stacked or straight wound (one row of thread wound parallel to the one before it) this vertical spool delivery worked perfectly. The vertical post would draw the thread off the side of the spool as intended.

In the modern world, many spools are manufactured with a cross wound format, a zig zag wrapping where the outside of the spool looks like a series of Vs or Xs. With cross wound spools and cones, the thread is expected to be drawn from the top of the spool therefore preserving the twists per inch of the fibers of the thread and avoiding adding more tension to the thread as it is pulled from the spool. Aurifil spools are happiest when the thread is drawn from the top of the spool.

With this in mind, I was thrilled to learn about this nifty new Thread Post product by the Featherweight Shop at Houston Quilt Market last Fall.

The Thread Post is easy to use and is the perfect addition to any vintage machine with a vertical spool holder. Simply place the thread post (tapered end down) over the upright thread pin on the Featherweight.

Slide the black tab (included in the package) on your first thread guide and viola– the vertical spool pin has been converted into a horizontal spool delivery system. Now mount and secure your favorite Aurifil thread with the smallest spool cap (included) for a snug fit..

Once I installed my thread post, I was ready for some stitching and will never again have to listen to a spool of thread rattle around on the top of my Featherweight. The Thread Post installs and removes easily so it’s convenient to use with any other Vintage machine. Here it is on my Vintage Electro Grand Deluxe.

Next up– because my eyes are getting a bit old and tired, I was excited to learn about the LED replacement bulb — a HUGE improvement over the original incandescent bulb. Check it out:

The LED bulb provides much better clarity on my projects, has a longer lifespan, and doesn’t get too hot. It is also really easy to switch the old for the new!

My last bit of maintenance was updating my old tired belt with the Super Belt, exclusive to FWS. What I love best about this new belt is that it allows me to stop and start quilting without always having to start my hand-wheel manually. My old belt sometimes required me to spin my hand-wheel a bit. The Super Belt seems to have less friction so I don’t necessarily have to lift my hands from my quilt sandwich.  I love that – it’s perfect for Free Motion Quilting. There are installation instructions for the Super Belt on the FWS Website and on YouTube. 

With my Featherweight fully outfitted, I was finally ready for some Free Motion Quilting. I was really excited to attempt to stitch out a curled feather on my mini red linen whole-cloth but first I spent a day or two testing, playing with, and getting used to all of the features and variations of my little gem of a machine.

He Who Has Yet To Be Named has a multitude of variations from a modern machine. Warming up with a sample sandwich allows me to test tension, ensure that the machine is threaded correctly, and that the needle is seeded properly. Post warmup I prepared a fat quarter size quilt sandwich with one layer of Quilters Dream Wool batting, did a little pin basting, and was excited to stitch out that curled feather over and over again. (I share the curled feather tutorial on my YouTube – stitch it along with me). The curled feather looks awesome on any fabric and with any weight of thread. It’s one of my go-to designs.

Here are a few things I learned in the process:

Feed Dogs and Stitch Length Settings
It’s common when free motion quilting to cover or drop the feed dogs but the 221 Featherweight feed dogs DO NOT drop. (REMEMBER: When Free Motion Quilting YOU control the length of the stitch by regulating the speed of your hand movement with the speed of the needle.) On the Featherweight your options are to cover the feed dogs or quilt with them uncovered. I tested both options and I must say I had better luck with setting my stitch length to neutral (shown below – the stitch indicator lever is set just above the 30 SPI mark – it is set parallel to the machine table top) and leaving my feed dogs uncovered than I did with covering them.

I believe the reason for this is that most feed dog covers (original, reproduction, and makeshift) yield a “lift” or bump on the bed of the machine. That bump results in the fabric being slightly lifted from the bed of the machine and can make stitch formation a bit tricky. I tried both a replacement feed dog cover and template plastic tacked down with blue tape. Both options resulted in occasional skipped stitches.

Option A — Replacement Feed Dog Cover

Option B — Makeshift Feed Dog Cover – Template Plastic with center hole

After a bit of testing, I opted to leave the feed dogs uncovered and set the stitch length at neutral. The dead center placement of the stitch indicator lever results in the least amount of movement of the feed dogs while stitching. You may occasionally feel a tug or a pull in the fabric but it’s nothing you can’t handle with a good pair of Machingers Gloves.

If you’re more comfortable covering the feed dogs and using a Teflon slider – then give that a whirl. On my modern machines, I often run that way. My featherweight didn’t seem to like that solution. Every machine, including He Who Has Yet To Be Named, has its own personality.

Darning foot and foot pressure setting  
I used a standard low shank darning foot for my 221 Featherweight and found that setting the foot pressure thumb screw (top behind the take up lever) all the way down gave me the best results.

Needles
As is standard for my domestic machine quilting setup I installed a new Titanium Coated Top Stitch Needle in the machine. Remember when installing a new needle in your Featherweight the flat side of the needle goes to the left side of the needle bar (not the back) and the needle is threaded Right to Left.

It’s VERY IMPORTANT to have it oriented, seeded, and threaded correctly otherwise the needle and thread will not be properly aligned for the hook assembly to make a stitch. With Aurifil 28wt thread, I opted to use a 90/14 needle. It worked wonderfully.

Needle Down {Wink, Wink}  
Don’t we wish there was a needle down option on the Featherweight 221?    It takes time to get accustomed to turning the hand wheel (aka balance wheel) toward you to set the needle down at each stopping point, but with a little practice it becomes second nature. Caution – avoid turning the hand wheel away from you, even if it’s “just a little”. The Featherweight was designed to have the wheel turned toward you at all times. Turning it in the opposite direction may result in bird nests on the underside of the quilt along with jamming and trapped threads in the bobbin area.

Tension – Tension – Tension
My grandmother always warned “don’t touch that tension dial” but honestly, adjusting the tension settings while free motion quilting with various thread weights and batting thicknesses is a common thing. I encourage you to play with it, don’t let it intimidate you, and strive to achieve the best tension you can. I was pleasantly surprised that He Who Has Yet To Be Named stitched out beautifully with very few tension adjustments. If you’re unsure of tension setting needs, I recommend that you reference the basic information found in your Singer Instruction Manual. You can learn a lot from these references (and many more informational posts from The Featherweight Shop).

Clean out those Lint Bunnies
Before I began quilting the whole-cloth I cleaned under my needle plate and oiled as necessary. When using a heavy weight cotton thread, chances are you’ll need to clean there every one or two bobbin changes. Unlike most modern machines removing the throat plate on the Featherweight requires you to take special care when replacing it. Be sure the position finger of the bobbin is centered at the top of the throat plate before re-securing the throat plate. Incorrect placement of the bobbin casing position finger will result in failed stitch formation, at best. Reference the instruction guide or online reference materials to be sure you have the bobbin case positioned correctly when reseeding the throat plate. Once you get it and set it, it becomes 2nd nature for subsequent cleaning events.

General Maintenance  
If you own a Featherweight, you’re likely very familiar with the maintenance required to make it run like a champ. I spent a bit of time scrolling through the great information and videos offered by The Featherweight Shop. Be sure you always perform the proper maintenance on your Featherweight. It’s important to keep it in tip-top condition so it will last through several more generations of quilters. The FWS has a wealth of reference documents and information on their site and their YouTube pertaining to Featherweight maintenance, including one of my favorites — How to Oil Your Singer Featherweight 221 Machine.

Bobbins
Once winding is complete, it’s important to reposition the bobbin spindle away from the hand-wheel & belt. If you leave the bobbin spindle pressed against the belt it’s going to result in sluggish performance of the Featherweight. Be sure to move that bobbin spindle gently up and away when you’re done winding the bobbin.

Throat Space Limitations
The Featherweight 221 has about 5 inches of throat space for quilting. If you’re accustomed to quilting on 9, 10, or 11 inches (or more) this limited space may be a challenge. This is one of the reasons I chose a Fat Quarter sized quilt sandwich – it was fairly easy to manage. When I stitched in the center of the sandwich I gathered the right side of the mini up in a “scrunching” kind of pattern (completely random). It helps to give yourself as much space to the right of the needle as possible.

Duration of Stitching
A rule of thumb for free motion quilting on a home machine is to take breaks often and stretch. This practice serves a dual purpose on a Featherweight. The motor of the Featherweight occasionally needs a cool-down break. Stitching non-stop for long periods of time is NOT RECOMMENDED. It’s best to treat your motor with care and consideration to avoid overheating it.

SUMMARY
Once you get the specifics of quilting on a Featherweight the actual hand placement and motif creation is the same as quilting on a modern machine.     If you’ve attended one of my lectures or workshops or perused my YouTube Videos you’re already on top of that. If you’re anxious to learn more, be sure to follow me on Instagram or Facebook and consider signing up for my newly established Newsletter. Here’s a snippet of what I plan to tackle next on the Featherweight — follow along so I can share my new tips and tools along the way.

I truly enjoy learning new things and knowing that I can free motion quilt on my little Featherweight makes me smile. It’s easy to transport, simple to maintain, and delivers a consistently beautiful stitch.

I hope this collection of tips, tricks, and tools is helpful. I’m pretty new to this and am always looking to learn more. If you have additional information you’d like to share with me or our readers, please leave a comment below.

GIVEAWAY!
— The Featherweight Shop is giving away 1 Thread Post each to 5 lucky winners
— Aurifil is giving away 1 January/Milan Color Builder Collection each to 2 lucky winners
— I’m offering up 2 combination gifts including of a copy of my A Quilters Doodles book paired with my thread collection of the same name – 5 small spools of 28wt thread in beautiful pastel colors.

To enter-to-win, simply click HERE to head to the rafflecopter page. This giveaway is open to all of our friends, worldwide. We’ll accept entries through 11:59pmEST on Monday, January 13th. We’ll contact the winner via email. Good luck!


ABOUT KAREN
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Karen L. Miller, owner of Redbird Quilt Co. is an Aurifil designer, Aurifilosopher, national educator, author, and cheerleader of all things free motion quilting. She launched Redbird Quilt Co. to share her love of appliqué and show others how free motion quilting on home sewing machines can bring their projects to life. Karen plays with all weights of Aurifil thread and openly contributes her knowledge and experience to the greater quilting community.   When she’s not home enjoying the multitude of songbirds that grace the Finger Lakes Region of NY, you’ll catch her traveling the countryside sharing her passion for quilting with Guilds and Shops alike.

Karen and her husband Cliff own one crazy Yellow Nape Amazon parrot named “Cayman”. Their children are grown and they are blessed with 8 grandchildren, many of whom love to sew with Gramma Karen!

If you’re interested in learning more about free motion quilting on home sewing machines be sure to check out Karen’s website, upcoming events and social media feeds.

39 comments

  1. I really enjoyed reading about the Featherweight machines. I would never have imagined getting such beautiful results from the older and more simple machines. It is absolutely beautiful.

  2. What an incredible post, Karen! One of my Featherweights is a 222, a special edition which has a free arm, and feed dogs which drop. Your article is so complete, and your quilting is truly inspiring. Thank you!

  3. My husband, Al is the same age as your machine. I am also Karen. You two could also be an Al and Karen team if you name him Al. Silly, I know. I love following your posts and I really try to quilt just like you. I have 4 Featherweights (plus 50 other sewing machines) and haven’t attempted FMQ on anything other than my Baby Locks. I will give this a try. I bought myself the new thread post for Christmas. I broke my ankle just before Christmas so my life isn’t at all normal right now. This is one more thing on the growing To Do list. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Hi Karen! Love this 🙂 — We’re so sorry to hear about your ankle and hope that it heals up quickly. Have fun with your featherweights and all of the other machines and we hope that this post was super helpful!! Happy New Year! — Erin

    2. Aww Karen — I’m sending good vibes for your ankle to heal soon. How about you get a 49 Featherweight too and then you and Al can be partnered again! LOL. Keep us posted on your progress with FMQ — I’d be happy to help anytime so feel free to reach out. GET WELL SOON!

  4. I LOVE your red bird cup with lid with the bird on top! It is so perfect for you. I’m also a bird fan and blue is my color. I’d be excited if I ever saw this unique cup set in blue.

  5. This is awesome. I recently got my Featherweight221 out of storage and started using her as I travel about. Perfect size and I love the stitching. The sounds of the machine brings fond memories of learning to sew. Now to try some FMQ.

  6. So much wonderful information! Thank you. I know my Featherweight needs some maintenance but this makes me want to try FMQ on it. I haven’t tried 28 wt thread yet.

    1. Awww — thanks for the sweet feedback Tammie. I can’t wait to hear if you decide to FMQ on your 221. Be sure to get the maintenance done first so there is no trouble or damage. Reach out if I can help at all… and you MUST TRY that Aurifil 28wt — its’ the best !

  7. Wow, that’s such beautiful stitching in such a little space! Most impressive!! Thanks so much for taking the time to write this post and share all this great information. I love my featherweight and am always looking for more help.

  8. Thank you for such great information! I learned something new today. I’m going to go hug my Featherweight now. (After I hug my dog.)

    1. Thank you Yvonne — I really had fun learning a new machine. Something to consider when using a business card — the card is kinda soft so the feed dogs might eat away at it and deposit the dust and dander into the bobbin area. I like using something a little less porous to cover the feed dogs.

  9. Karen,
    I loved this post because I learned a lot… thanks for taking the time to plan, analyze, and write down your methods. Please teach a class in FMQ using a Featherweight. Please!

  10. My local antique dealer has come across a 1947 (the year of my birth!) Featherweight 221-1 that is pristine. This post really helped me decide to purchase the machine. Thanks for all the great info!

  11. Karen you are so detailed in your posts & training instructions. I am relatively new to Free Motion but I am hooked after your tutorials. Just finished my 1st baby quilt with light free motion & pleased with the way it turned out. I am anxious to quilt more & try the thread painting. I used Aurifil & loved the look & easy use. I don’t own a Featherweight , I have my Great GMother’s. Treadle Machine, that I learned to sew on as a child. Looking forward to learning more from you !!

    1. Aww – thank you for the kind message Connie. How is your quilting coming along ? Are you using the treadle for it ? I have one too but I’ve yet to try it for quilting. I’d love to see anything you’ve created with it — do send me an email. Thanks again. Karen

  12. This post is fabulous! I’ve had my Featherweights for a couple of years now and found those awesome LED replacement lights on my own, but had no idea there was a horizontal spool pin adapter available for these machines. I use my Featherweights as a travel machine for piecing, and the only thread I ever use with them is Aurifil 50 weight. I’ve not noticed any problems with my Aurifil spool positioned vertically on my FW, but that tug-spin action is annoying and I have definitely wondered about how that is altering tension intermittently. I’m off to purchase one of those spool pin adapters RIGHT NOW and I’m looking forward to giving it a try. Also, thanks for the recommendations of not only which needle to use with which weight of Aurifil, but also recommendations for which threads pair best with a different weight thread in the bobbin. I’m printing that out and saving it! One more thing: You must NEVER name your Featherweight, because He Who Has Not Yet Been Named is the best name EVER! 🙂

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