London is best known for its large, national museums - and they are very fine. However, one of its hidden joys is the scattering of small, unusual museums in the city. Few are more specialist than the London Sewing Machine Museum, whose scope is apparent from its name. It is conveniently close to Tooting Bec tube station, and less conveniently open just once a month.
Walk up the steps, past the small displays on the landing, and on entering the museum itself you can't help but be struck by the sheer numbers of machines. Yet this is only half the available space: there are plenty more sewing machines in adjacent rooms. Some are displayed in a recreated shopfront and workshop; others are interspersed with charming pieces of Victoriana. There are over 600 in total.
Incredibly, this is all the collection of one man, Ray Rushton. His father began selling second-hand sewing machines shortly after the Second World War, and Ray helped out transporting and renovating the machines. Thus a passion was born: the collection now includes one of the very first sewing machines as well as others with royal connections (including the machine which belonged to Queen Victoria's eldest daughter). There are also a number of intriguing variations which perform specialist roles such as stitching leather, carpet or gloves.
|Cloth cutting machine, 1906|
Some of the sewing machines have had movie careers: they are hired out to film makers who want machines of particular types or periods. Famous or not, though, they deserve a visit: sewing enthusiasts will be enthralled, while those of us rather less familiar with the machines will enjoy the chance to wonder at their sheer variety. This is also an important part of our social history: from workers in the textile industries to the housewife buying her Singer on hire purchase - not to mention the occasional princess - few sections of society have been untouched by the sewing machine.
Practical information: Open first Saturday of the month, 2-5pm.
London Sewing Machine Museum, Wimbledon Sewing Machine Co, 292-312 Balham High Road, SW17 7AA.
Admission free (donations to one of the charity boxes are appreciated).
Access via a flight of stairs.
More photos here.
More photos here.