Is it a green Featherweight?
Is it a Jadite sewing machine?
Is it an update of a basic Singer portable first made in 1911?
Only the last statement is true!
Yes, that last statement is a reality–Singer updated a machine first built in 1911! My primary sewing machine is a Singer Featherweight that I bought used in 1969 when I began work as a TWA flight attendant. The Featherweight, or Singer Model 221, was introduced in 1933. Because it was built of cast aluminum (very expensive at the time) it only weighs eleven pounds. No one who is familiar with the Featherweight would pick up this green machine and call it light. It weighs almost thirty pounds and is not easy to maneuver!
The other obvious clue is that the medallion on the front of the green machine identifies it as Model 185K, not a 221. That green is an appealing color with none of the acid yellow undertones of today’s very popular chartreuse. Many of my quilting friends are as fond of that gray-green color as I am. It is a distinctive green associated with Depression-era quilts. According to quilt historian Barbara Brackman in Clues in the Calico, “…this slightly gray, or slightly bluish pastel green was the rage in Depression-era quilts in the 1925-1950 era. Sears, Roebuck and Co. called the shade ‘Nile green’ in their 1927 catalog….” Brackman added, “In 1929, Ruth Finley called it colonial green and mentioned that it was popular for interior woodwork, a legacy in the name kitchen green, which is popular today along with institutional green.” My quilting friends and I have come to call it “that green”.
My kitchen contains many “kitchen-green” items including the large green enamel bread box I’ve admired since I discovered it in a Kansas City flea market in the mid 1970s. Green handled kitchen tools, green milk glass dishes and bowls always draw my attention. The mottled glaze of “Prairie green” Frankoma pottery works well with the smooth surfaces of the green dishes now know as Jadite. Let’s talk about that “Jadite” term.
Jadite has become a generic name (thanks to sellers on eBay) for any glassware similar to the pastel green milk glass produced in the U.S. starting in the mid 1940s. That spelling actually was used to refer to a green jade-shade of vaseline glass product made in the early 20th century. McKee was the first company to mass-produce jadeite dinnerware in the ’30s. Anchor Hocking, another U.S. glassware company, called their product “Jadeite Fire King”. Produced primarily between 1945 and 1975, Jadeite products were durable and featured a fashionable color. It became the most popular product made by Anchor Hocking (who makes reproductions today). Jeannette Glassware was another U.S. manufacturer of green milk glass tableware similar in appearance to Jadeite Fire King. Still other glassware companies created their own opaque green glassware during the same period. One called theirs Jad-ite.
In the 1990s Martha Stewart regularly featured Jadite glassware in the pages of her magazine Living introducing new generations to the opaque green milk glass popular for decades in the mid-twentieth century. Millions of examples from these companies still exist and continue to excite interest from buyers making it an affordable and popular collectable today.
The Singer Sewing Machine Company transformed their tried-and-true Model 99 (introduced in 1911) with a sturdy black cast iron body into a fancy new green exterior and added a reverse feature. This repackaged machine was produced from 1959 through 1963. For decades the Model 99 was a reliable workhorse sewing machine for the home sewer. When introduced it was an innovation as one of the few sewing machines not encased in a large cabinet–making it an early “portable”. But, due to its weight, most sewers today would not consider it easily portable. Only someone like myself, who is entranced by the lovely green color, would consider hauling it to a quilting class.
Singer took the green theme on this machine to the extreme–green cords, green foot pedal and even a green belt from the motor to the fly wheel. The plastic case is a subdued tan plastic known to become brittle with age (mine has a small section missing on the back). I could not find any information on how Singer described the color of this machine when they were promoting it. However, I seriously doubt that Singer referred to this sewing machine as “Jadite”. I did see that term used by an enterprising seller online to entice prospective buyers.
Some of you may believe I have gotten side-tracked from focusing on this sewing machine. It’s true, but as a collector it all relates to what appeals to my eye and to my sensibilities. True, I do not need another sewing machine. But I wanted this machine when I saw it at a flea market a hundred miles from home. Actually, my friend Susan pointed it out to me. I loved the green at first sight. I hauled this small, but heavy machine, over to a table, turned it upside down and looked for any missing parts or damage. All looked fine. I was not familiar with this Model 185K machine. The price was well under a hundred dollars, but I walked away after writing the model number down. I planned to check it out online that evening.
At Susan’s house I did some minimal online research learning about its history as a repackaged Model 99K–that pleased me because I knew it was a reliable machine. I already had a 99K (another reason to pass on this machine.) I tried to talk myself out of buying this machine.
The next morning I was heading home from southern Missouri and would pass with in ten miles of the Rusty Rooster Flea Market where this delightful green machine was waiting for an appreciative buyer. I drove there and carefully inspected the machine. I opened the inside and found lots of vintage cotton lint indicating it had been ignored for a long time. I plugged it in and figured out how to thread top and bottom (this took awhile). It did sew a good seam, but sounded sluggish. I negotiated the price some and bought it.
When I carried it to the car I did not use the handle on the top of the plastic case because sometimes these antique latches do not hold well allowing the machine to fall to the ground. I carried this thirty pound baby with my hands underneath. The next day I was oiling and cleaning after researching more information online.
Two days after buying the 185K, I took it to our guild’s Airing of the Quilts annual picnic. We hang quilts on the rail fences surrounding one of our member’s homes. For the picnic I took a folding six foot table and a green checked tablecloth. As I was setting it up, my quilting friends were teasing me when they asked if I’d also brought a plant to be the centerpiece for the table. I laughed, but it gave me an idea. I had brought along the 185K to show it to a friend. I decided to pull it out of the truck and make it the centerpiece for our table. This seemed an appropriate decoration for a quilter’s event. Lots of women seemed to enjoy the sight of my new vintage machine–peppering me with questions about where I found it and what I knew about it. Later, one of these women emailed me that she was “green ” with envy over this machine. I laughed and sent her online links to other green 185K machines for sale.
In closing, I am posting a series of Jadite-related images ranging from the kitchen sink to a kitchen clock–all are photos I found online. Each intrigued me. Hope you enjoy them too. Thanks, Susan, for roaming through the 100 booths at the Rust Rooster Flea Market and spotting this jewel of a sewing machine.