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Monte's Singers Make a Splash

by laura mcdowell hopper

photos by melanie zacek

Quiltfolk’s Michigan issue introduced readers to Monte Graham, the Singer Featherweight expert of Pinconning. Quilters throughout the Great Lakes State flock to this small town — known as the Cheese Capital of Michigan — to learn about Featherweights from Graham or to have him repair their cherished vintage machines. For almost ten years, his Featherweight services have been in high demand. But what inspired Graham’s love of these small but mighty electric wonders?

A decade ago, Graham’s wife Carol had a group of friends over to their house for a sewing day. On that fateful day, one of the friends brought her Featherweight. “I went back there to talk to them for a second,” Graham said, “and I saw that little machine sitting there, and I’m thinking, ‘What is that, a toy?’” He laughed. He asked his wife if she’d like a machine and soon the couple were collectors. “You can’t get just one, [they’re] like potato chips,” said Graham.

This lifelong Michigander has another reason for loving these sewing machines: They’re just like classic cars. After a thirty-year career as an ironworker, Graham worked on classic cars as a hobby until knee replacement surgery kept him from getting under the hood. “It was a natural transition to do something else mechanical,” said Graham.

Learning about Featherweights quickly replaced Graham’s drive to build custom cars. “When I’m polishing the [sewing] machines, it’s like polishing a paint job on a car, only on a smaller scale,” Graham said. “Being mechanically inclined, it was pretty much second nature.”

“When I’m polishing the [sewing] machines, it’s like polishing a paint job on a car, only on a smaller scale”

– Monte Graham

Graham appreciates that Featherweights have lasting power, like a good car. “I love these [machines] because in this throwaway world that we live in, where everything’s plastic and you use it for three years and then throw it away, these things are still going strong,” Graham said. “I’ve got some that are seventy years old and they still sew a perfect stitch.”

Luckily for him, there is no shortage of Featherweights for him to tinker with, as the machines continue to grow in popularity the older they get. Graham points to “mutual love for those little Featherweights” as a reason his article is Quiltfolk, Issue 08 became so popular. “They’ve almost got a cult following now,” he said of his beloved sewing machines.

At press time, Graham and his wife are embarking on an extended vacation to Florida to visit family and take a break from the snowy Michigan winter. The trip is just for fun, but these two Featherweight fans still have machines on their minds. Always looking to grow his collection, Graham said, “While we’re down there, we’ll be on the hunt for Featherweights.”

For the serious Featherweight collector, Graham suggests the book Featherweight 221: The Perfect Portable and Its Stitches Across History, Expanded Third Edition, by Nancy Johnson-Srebro (C+T Publishing, 2001).

Sharing his passion for Featherweights is important to Graham, and the Featherweight classes he and his wife teach are a big draw to Bittersweet Quilt Shop and Home Décor in Pinconning. “I want people to enjoy their machines as much as I enjoy working on them,” Graham said. “I don’t know what to do with myself when I don’t have one on my desk.”

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