There seems to be a lot to love about Tooting at the moment, it’s a South London area that is a real mash up of buildings from Victorian gentrification, a diverse population and the odd nice coffee shop and burger bar. Not to mention it’s the constituency of the new mayor of London Sadiq Khan (yay!). We may have a bit to teach Sadiq Khan on London’s museums (check out this from Apollo) but Tooting has something extraordinary to show us when it comes to being the home of our next hipster museum – The London Sewing Machine Museum.
Found above the Wimbledon Sewing Machine company building the museum is only open in the first Saturday of every month for only three hours. It’s a surprising treasure trove of a seemingly well documented collection of you’ve guessed it – sewing machines. The collection of over 600 machines fills two large rooms on the first floor of the building and even spills out onto the staircase and entrance to the company.
It’s an immediately satisfying experience for any museum lover to see how much there is in this private collection - especially as I was expecting it to a small cabinet in the back of a haberdashery! Each object is delicately labelled with the make and date and in the first room organised carefully onto open storage racks, visitors have to carefully negotiate those objects filling the floor space too but with an adults only approach it doesn’t seem to be much of a concern.
The second room is the where you’ll find the riches of the collection lavishly displayed in mahogany glass cabinets and a plush red carpet the collection feels just like the expectation of a private museum, there is even a reproduced shop front of the first building the Wimbledon Sewing Machine company owned. The rooms host little interpretation text so we were fortunate in this space to catch up with the enthusiastic tour guide and get the low down on the collection and its owner.
Owner of the sewing machine company and museum Ray Rushton became enthralled with the machines as a young boy helping out at his fathers new business. The story goes that he and his father would roam the streets for sewing machines and bring them into their shop for repair, as the years went by he collected the machines and built the company. Its not clear when the museum opened to the public and although the establishment is a bit unknown it is proving very popular. The collection is like no other and there were even some visitors that had flown in from the US just to check it out.
The second space features the rare, popular and beautiful. One in particular was a wedding gift from Queen Victoria to her daughter, as luxurious as you can imagine the machine even has spools made of either. Next up is the sewing machine that fetched the most money at auction. The Thimmonier, a sewing machine like no other when it was released in 1829 in a small batch, it is thought to be one of the last surviving of the practical and widely used machines. On loving display alongside it, is its documentation to certify its provenance – something you don’t see in your everyday museum. There are even some charming pieces that show the influence of the sewing machine in this space, including some small automatons that do a basic chain stitch!
The machines are consistently beautiful and charming this museum is a real treasure trove not to be missed out on. Check it out on the first Saturday of every month and if you get a chance pop to the haberdashery next door. That’s pretty cute too.