Just down the street from Tooting Bec Underground station is a museum that focuses on one of the more mundane aspects of our social history – the London Sewing Machine Museum.
The museum is dedicated to the memory of Thomas Rushton, whose original shopfront is proudly displayed in the domestic gallery. The company he founded moved to Tooting in 1979, and was renamed the Wimbledon Sewing Machine Company, and today its top floor is occupied by the museum.
The displays at the London Sewing Machine Museum are split into two distinct sections – one industrial and one domestic. Unlike the machines that you might have seen your grandmother use, industrial sewing machines are usually engineered for a specific purpose. Largely manufactured in the UK, the USA and Germany, on display are utilitarian-looking machines dedicated to various tasks including button holing, shirtmaking, boot patching, stitching eyelets and one for something called ‘decorative shell edging’ whatever that might be…
In the domestic room the multi-purpose machines for use in the home are far more decorative than their industrial counterparts – most are decorated in scrolls of gold enamel or delicate paintings of flowers, and some are even enclosed in wooden cabinets that can do double duty as occasional tables or Davenport desks.
At the back of this room is a very large and handsome piece of Victorian cabinetry (apparently salvaged from a gentlemen’s outfitters in Scotland) where the museum’s real treasures can be found, including two of genuine historical significance:
- The first is an original IV Maquina, made by French inventor Barthélemy Thimonnier who was the first person to manufacture sewing machines. Sadly there are few examples of his sewing machines still in existence as workers burnt down the factory where his machines were employed, fearing that mechanisation would threaten their jobs.
- The second is the most expensive sewing machine ever manufactured – a rather gaudy affair, this Wheeler & Wilson machine was given as a gift to Princess Vicky, eldest daughter of Queen Victoria.
The London Sewing Machine Museum is very definitely on the list of London’s quirkiest museums, and it also has extremely limited opening hours – from 2 until 5pm on the first Saturday of every month! However, I would definitely recommend a visit if you’re a fan of industrial design or indeed domestic life from the 19th century through to the mid 1900s.