This must surely be in the running for one of London’s most obscure museums, tucked away upstairs on the premises of the Wimbledon Sewing Machine Company on Balham High Road.
Actually, “museum” may be pushing it a bit, as there’s very little information or interpretation about the history and development of sewing machines or their historical context. However, they certainly have an extensive collection of sewing machines (over 600) and associated equipment, such as irons, plus random photos and other machinery, like a barrel organ.
What I found fascinating is the range of specialist machines, right from the earliest days. There are machines for sewing light leather, heavy leather and carpets, fur and skin, bedding and mattresses, gloves, tents and tarpaulins, and parachutes and corsets – an interesting combination. 😉 There’s an early overlocker from 1914, as well as a crimping machine from 1927, a boot patcher, a machine for stitching eyelets, and a 12-needle chain stitcher.
Some are incredibly small – less than a foot wide in some cases. There are also child’s toys that are even smaller.
Many machines have very ornate treadles that were linked to a large wheel above, which in turn span the smaller wheel on the sewing machine.
Tucked away in a glass case at the back is “The most important sewing machine find this century” as proclaimed by the International Sewing Machine Collectors’ Society (yes, really) in 2008. This is a wooden tripod construction dating from the 1830s made by Barthelemy Thimonnier, who is widely credited with inventing the sewing machine. It was found by shirt manufacturer Albert Sassoon in a warehouse in South America in the middle of the 20th century.
Also on display is a machine that was given to Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter Vicky as a wedding present. The cotton reels were made of ivory, carved with a crown motif, the stitch plate was engraved with an image of Windsor Castle, and the glass cover was etched with Prussian and British royal coats of arms. The machine was given as a retirement present to the family’s English nurse, Mrs Wakelin.
The London Sewing Machine Museum is at 292-312 Balham High Road, London SW17 7AA. It’s open on the first Saturday of every month, 2-5pm.