How to thread a Featherweight (and other adventures)

The Little Lady

I didn’t get a chance to try out my new machine before I left. Not looking a gift sewing machine in the bobbin-case, as the case may be. Anyway, naturally the first thing I had to do once I got in the door (after kissing my husband, anyway) was run downstairs to play with my new toy.

First order of business: threading.


Now, there’s a vast amount of material out there on the internet concerning Featherweights. Probably everything you could ever want to know. But really, I learned on a vintage machine, albeit not quite this calibre  of vintage, and I could already see that the basic threading was pretty familiar. Nothing like my mother-in-law’s drop-in bobbin, sideways-spool-holding Janome that made my brain fall out.


The bobbin orientation, which is 90 degrees to the left of what I’m used to, was a little odd, but everything else about the bobbin casing and the bobbins was familiar enough. Fortunately or not, the machine came with its bobbins still wound with a small rainbow of thread (glad to know I’m not the only one who does that!) so I didn’t have to figure out how to wind a bobbin right off the bat. I love how easy-access the bobbin is—just lift up the folding platform at the left and it’s right there.

Bobbin rainbows.

So, I loaded up a bobbin, got the thread up to the top, inserted a scrap of fabric under the foot, and…

The engine whirred, the feed dogs moved, the needle sailed up and down,a nd within about three stitches I had a hopeless tangle and the thread fouling on the bobbin casing had sliced through itself.

Trying not to panic, I removed the bobbin from its case, put it in the other way, re-threaded, tried again.

And again.

And again.

So pretty

After ten or so tries (thinking all the while about that definition of insanity as repeating the same action expecting a different result) I reluctantly came upstairs to google “how to thread a featherweight”. But no great surprises revealed themselves. I had had the bobbin inserted properly the first time; the top thread ran through its  hooks, holes, and tension assembly just as I had thought. My stomach sank. Was something (ulp) wrong with my machine? Was the timing off? (My serger acted similarly when its timing was thoroughly blown, everything moving but somehow the stitches just not forming properly) Was something even more dire amis?

Then I reached the last, the very end, of the threading instructions.

The one major difference between the Featherweight and the other machines I have used before now. The needle (like the bobbin) is oriented at 90 degrees to the front. Instead of the eye of the needle going from front to back, it passes from right to left.*

As I’m a lefty and it was easier to get at, I had without any particular thought threaded the needle with the thread entering from the left and exiting from the right. It never would have occurred to me in a million years that THIS was the one tiny thing that could throw the entire stitch off. But there it was, in the instructions, scanned from some original manual. Thread the needle from right to left.

I rushed downstairs and switched my thread.

She sews!

And lo, she stitched. With a minor tension adjustment, she stitched beautifully. She stitched with top-stitch thread. She stitched with the buttonholer attachment. She stitched layer upon layer of denim.

Stitch-length lever. Lift to stitch backwards.

Eventually, I figured out how to backstitch (move the stitch-length lever all the way to the top). I haven’t quite wrapped my mind around not having to hold on to something to keep it stitching backwards.

Some fun details:

My mom purchased this machine through the antique shop where she works, in my home town. The machine belonged to the mother-in-law of the woman who lived next door to us when I was little.


A plaque on the front of the machine declares 100 years of Singer excellence. This makes me think the machine was probably made in 1951. The serial number begins with EF, which this website suggests means that it was manufactured in the UK (Scotland, to be precise) in 1949. The motor, on the other hand, says it was made in Canada and has some notation that includes “AU 61” which makes me think August, ’61. Obviously the motor could have been replaced… anyway. I’m inclined to go with 1951 for the year, at least.

The motor

It came with neither attachments nor manual, but it did have a few cute extras in the box:

Vintage Singer needles

Several packets of needles.

Un-cleaning set

The original cleaning set. I don’t think any of these will be getting too close to the machine. That’s an impressive amount of rust, especially when there’s none at all visible on the machine itself.


Receipts for repairs done in 1980. There’s some notes about earlier repairs stapled to the back.

Also in my home town, my mom found another Greist buttonholder at Value Village for $1.99. This one had a box of additional templates tucked in with it. She’s keeping the buttonholer, but let me have the extra templates. A shorter keyhole (yay!) but no eyelet.

More buttonhole templates! (yes, they fit)

So in short, I’m ready for my next project!

Next project! Summery capris

*Those of you who know Featherweights probably all know what I was doing wrong by now. Hush, don’t spoil it for the rest.



Filed under Sewing

20 responses to “How to thread a Featherweight (and other adventures)

  1. Ali

    If the serial number indicates 1949, you’ll probably find it was manufactured in 1949 and sold in 1951… my understanding was that every singer sold in the Centenary year got the badge, but they used to manufacture them in runs and then keep massive stockpiles (I could be wrong though, I’m sure someone with much more knowledge than me will come along!!)

  2. Ali

    Ooops meant to say, it looks gorgeous! I love my featherweight to pieces, it’s probably my favourite of all my machines.

  3. Mmmmm, your machine looks lovely. [Wow, a year ago I never would have said that:)] I’m love the fabric for your next project.

  4. Sue P.

    How I LOVE your sewing sagas!! One of my sisters got the Featherweight in our family, so I covet your stories about this machine. She swears that there is NO other machine that makes a better stitch. And how is it that your Value Village has things that I have not seen in 15 years in ours????? Buttonhole-makers? Vintage patterns? Notions? NEVER have I seen such things in ours. Still, I am inspired by your dedication to sewing. And by the way, I would take your daughters in a heartbeat if you tire of them. Feisty and precious.

    • Well, to be fair, my “finds” come from two different VV’s in two different cities. The one in my hometown is the only one in the city and thus you get all the good stuff in one place (this is where my mom has found the buttonholers). I often wonder if most of the vintage notions I’ve gotten at mine came from a single large donation, as many items were manufactured in Montreal, the far side of the country from me. Very few of the patterns are SERIOUSLY vintage—70s don’t seem to be too hard to find anywhere and I’ve only found one or two from the sixties, mostly kids’ patterns.

      As to the kids, well, I’ll probably keep them for now, but I’ll keep you in mind ;).

  5. Yum yum YUM!!!! She’s SO pretty!!!

    A couple of things I can tell you, based on the pics. The Centennial badge does indeed indicate that it was sold in 1951 (this badge generally adds about $50 to the value….roughly…..). EFs were commissioned in 1949 and 1950 – the serial number will tell you the exact date.

    The chrome stitch plate would be a replacement (and a very nice one! I loves me lots of chrome!) I don’t know offhand when they stopped the chrome plates & added lacquered ones, but I can find out.

    If it was manufactured in Scotland, the motor would have been replaced….or sent to Canada for completion, my feeble brain remembers something about this being done….(but don’t quote me!)

    And you’re motivating me to bring Colette up from the basement & start my refurb post! I know I promised to do that soon……..

    Oh you are SO going to love this baby!

  6. Sue P, it’s because the employees buy them for their daugthers before it is put on display. 🙂

    The tube contains motor grease – you’d might need at some point but pe prepared for the tube to split op when you squeeze it. I keep mine in a small bag and use a small syringe without the needle to apply it.

  7. Flo

    If you want to know for sure, you can find it from this site:, check the right hand side’s list and open up the EF pdf.

    Lovely machine, enjoy!

  8. How cool, and I love the century of Singer plate – that’s special!
    I would have threaded left to right too, as that’s how my current machine threads – glad you found the answer!
    One tip I picked up years ago for when your machine starts stitching funny is to simply change the needle – so often this has solved the problem for me, just goes to show how precise sewing machines are.

    • Yeah, I did try that, too. (One time my Janome out of the blue started skipping stitches, something it NEVER does. Turns out when I changed the needle last I had not inserted the needle all the way in before tightening the screw. It looked fine, but the needle was hanging a mm or two lower than it should, and it completely threw the stitch off!)

  9. Awesome-ness :)! Like you said above, there’s a tonne of info. out there on the internet about Vintage Singers – one good source of help/info. that some peeps might not of heard of is a group on Yahoo: They have links/copies of manuals (inc. service manuals too).

  10. Wonderful machine! How fun that will be to sew on!

  11. Treadle27

    She’s a lovely thing!

    Keep an eye out for the Singer Professional Buttonholers if you’re interested in an eyelet template. Their templates don’t fit the other buttonholers (boo!) but they all came standard with an eyelet and a bunch of others too. Mine fits my slant needle; but I’m almost certain they’re some made for the low shank machines like the featherweight too.

  12. She’s a beauty! What a great birthday present 🙂

    The bobbin case clearance is very tight on FWs so any thread or lint will create a problem. If there’s stitching issues first check threading, second clean under the bobbin case. Or so I’ve read 😉

    • It does fit very snugly (which is nice—no worries about putting it back in wrong. But seriously, the whole bobbin apparatus is pristine. Like hardly even any lint (although I can tell there’s some inside the machine, where you need a screwdriver to get at), and no thread tangled at all, except what was getting caught due to my mis-threading. It seriously looks like it was machined yesterday.

  13. How awesome! My machines currently all thread from front to back, so I’m intrigued by that right to left switch. It seems like it would make it easier for the tails to get tangled on the underside while stitching, no? That’s my biggest complaint with my machines, the tails get tangled so frequently.

    I remain jealous of your vintage finds. I live in a sewing desert, there’s almost nothing here and certainly nothing secondhand!

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