From its introduction at the Chicago World Fair in 1933, the Singer model 221 Featherweight sewing machine dominated the portable sewing machine market. It was revolutionary with its small size, light weight, a flip up sewing bed extension, its unsurpassed quality, classic design and its signature black carrying case. However, in the early 1950’s, the model 221 Featherweight’s domination of the portable sewing machine market came under attack. Cheaper, but poorer quality, imported portable sewing machines entered the market. Model 221 Featherweight sales dropped dramatically.
The Singer Manufacturing Company’s response to the loss of market share was not to lower the quality of its best selling sewing machine as might have been expected, but to produce a portable sewing machine of superior quality and design. The result was a portable sewing machine that is considered the peak of Singer’s design and engineering for sewing machines. Many consider it the finest sewing machine ever built.
Sometimes referred to as the Queen of Featherweights, definitely the Ultimate Featherweight - Singer’s response to the huge loss of its portable sewing machine market was the freearm model 222K Featherweight portable sewing machine.
Being able to remove three quarters of the large sewing bed creating the freearm, as well as having retractable feed dogs and an enhanced throat plate, enabled a much greater range of sewing possibilities. Freehand sewing, monogramming, sewing cuffs and decorative stitching all became much easier to do with a 222K Featherweight. The Singer Manufacturing Company must have felt that a new star was about to be born.
Production of the model 222K began in 1953 at Singer’s Kilbowie manufacturing plant in Clydebank, Scotland.
Despite the superior quality of the 221 and the 222K compared to the cheaper imported portable sewing machines, Featherweight sales continued to decline. Production of 221 Featherweights stopped in the USA in 1957 and both the black 221 and the 222K models stopped being produced in the UK in 1961. At this time, Singer started to manufacture a white Featherweight in their Kilbowie manufacturing plant. It was the model 221K5. This white Featherweight was cheaper to make than previous Featherweights having some stamped metal parts and an internal belt drive rather than a metal gear drive. Production of this Featherweight stopped in the late 1960’s.
Despite the superiority of the machine, sales of the model 222K Featherweight never lived up to Singer’s expectations. Production lasted only eight years. In these eight years, approximately 110,000 Singer 222K Featherweights were produced. This must have been a great disappointment to the company and it probably goes a long way in explaining why the 222K Featherweight was sold in limited markets. The total sales numbers were less than five percent of the number of 221 model Featherweights that were manufactured. The 222K Featherweights that were marketed were sold in Great Britain and in what, at the time, was called the British Commonwealth. Most were sold in the UK, Australia and Canada. Some were marketed in non Commonwealth European countries such as France, Germany and Switzerland but very few were sold in those countries. Due to poor sales throughout the British Commonwealth and in Europe the model 222K Featherweights were not marketed by Singer in the USA.
Due to the fact that 222K Featherweights were not sold in the USA, that the number of machines manufactured was small and it has been 50-60 years since 222K Featherweights were produced, it is no wonder that the 222K Featherweights are very difficult to find and are very expensive compared to model 221 Featherweight sewing machines.
If you live in the USA, it is not very difficult to purchase a Singer model 221 Featherweight. From 1933 until production in the USA stopped in 1957, millions of these sewing machines were manufactured in the USA and sold across the country in Singer Sewing Centers. Even after the manufacturing of 221 Featherweights stopped in the USA, Singer Sewing Centers continued to sell 221 Featherweights made Great Britain until the British production of black 221 machines stopped in 1961.
A large number of these sewing machines are still operating and many are available to purchase through classified ads in newspapers, in second hand stores or even, if you are lucky, at a garage sale.
Finding a Singer model 222K Featherweight to buy is a very different story. As 222K Featherweights were not sold at Singer Sewing Centers in the USA, finding a totally original 222K Featherweight to purchase in the USA is almost impossible.
Buying one of these much desired, but elusive, 222K Featherweights online from such places as eBay is one way, but can be a bit of a gamble. Buying a machine from a reputable dealer is a way to ensure that you get a quality, working machine.
Singer’s model 222K Featherweights are considered the very top of the Featherweight line of Singer sewing machines and are the acknowledged ultimate Featherweight. As rare and expensive as they may be, they are the most desired of all the Featherweights by sewing machine collectors, Featherweight fanatics, quilters and sewers alike.
One thing is for sure, when a 222K Featherweight is taken out of its carrying case at any sewing event it is a definite showstopper. People gather around to have a close look and admire this ultimate Featherweight that many Featherweight lovers have heard of but rarely seen.