A Jewel in Tooting Bec!

I never even knew IMG_2875that there was such thing as the Sewing Machine Museum, but after hearing that the London Dressmaker’s Meetup Group was going along, I had to see for myself

The museum is part of the Wimbledon Sewing Machine Company premises on Balham High Street, about a 5 minute walk from Tooting Bec underground station.  It was begun by the then Managing Director Ray Rushton over fifty years aIMG_2883go, and now has over 600 machines in it’s collection.  It is only open between 2 and 5pm on the first Saturday of each month – so mark your calendars because you don’t want to miss this!

To be honest I wasn’t expecting what I found there.  I thought it might be one nice little room connected to a larger business, but in reality the museum covers three rooms, and is nicely laid out.  One room is for industrial machines and another holds the domestic machines.  There is also a faux shop front set up, looking like a sewing machine supplier from the 1940’s or 50’s.  At first it is kind of IMG_2886overwhelming, there is so much to look at, so I would really recommend walking around each room more than once.

Some of my favourite pieces were a statue of a lion which opens up to reveal a sewing machine, and some beautiful little carved sewing tables in which everything has it’s place.  Pride of place in the museum goes to a sewing machine that was a wedding gift to Queen Victoria’s daughter.  It is stunning – carved tops to the thread holders, and rich decoration all over the machine

Fittingly, shortly after this visit I ‘won’ an item on EBay, which I have been chasing for a long time.  I have long wanted a Singer 201.  These are the workhorses of sewing machines, probably the closest thing to an industrial machine while still being a domestic piece, and some would say even better than an industrial machine!  Many were supplied as treadle machines, but with the optionSinger 201al motor attached these machines can stitch over 1,100 stitches per minute.  Singer started manufacturing the 201 in the late 1920’s.  The model I now own is probably from 1939, and would have been one of the last ones produced before Singer turned their factories over to the war effort.  The Singer 201 was manufactured again after the war, and had very few design changes up until the 1950’s when the construction was changed from cast iron to lighter aluminium.

What I love about it is that it is a workhorse and yet is absolutely beautiful!  The curved lines, the engraved plates, the gold decoration – everything about it is lovely to look at, and lovely to use!  And what better machine for whipping up those vintage inspired pieces I so love?

For more historical information on the 201 take a look at Alex Askaroff’s article here:  The Singer 201

For directions and information on the Sewing Machines Museum:

The Sewing Machine Museum

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Heritage Knitwear and Vintage Hunting in Edinburgh

greyfriarsI am writing this as I whizz along in the train back to London after visiting Edinburgh for the first time. I have wanted to visit for ages and finally got the opportunity as my other half was working there. And it didn’t disappoint! I loved the city – such a fantastic mix of architecture, stunning natural phenomena such as Arthur’s Seat, beautiful parks, and some great street style.

I arrived late Friday night and the first thing I did Saturday morning was head to the National Museum of Scotland to see the exhibition on 200 years of Pringle. The exhibition was small but lovely, and charts the brand’s journey from premier underwear provider to Royal Warrant holders for twinsets and cardies! Not to mention some stunning photographs of Tilda Swinton.

drying rackIt was interesting to see the old wool onesies, and the drying rack they were stretched on during manufacture, and there were lots of bloomers and camisoles which look like the ones I unearthed in an elderly relatives house last year. I will have to get home and check the labels but my suspicion is they are more likely to be Marks and Sparks than vintage Pringle.

The knitwear – favourite pieces were a cardigan from the forties, embellished with cleverly placed twill tape, another one in pink with a pretty bow, a patterned mini dress from the sixties, and a cool cable knit sweater made recently with incorporates long nylon beads as panels within the traditional cable pattern.

twill tapepink beads

Then I set out to explore the city.  For vintage lovers Grassmarket is the place to go. I went to Armstrong’s Vintage Emporium which is apparently a local landmark having been established in 1840. I had read some mixed reviews about the shop, with some reviewers complaining about Primark clothing getting mixed in with the vintage. Well – I must admit I did find some Primark pieces along with some Top Shop and Zara, but they were all hung on a rail clearly marked ‘Modern Dresses’ . The vintage rails we just that – vintage – and I did see some very nice pieces. In the end I didn’t buy, but I would recommend a visit as the stocked was well organised and for the most part in fairly good nick.

Another lovely little shop, where I did buy, is the relatively new Pi-Ku Collective at 39 Candlemakers Row. It is a small but perfectly formed shop with a lovely collection of vintage clothing and blankets. I bought a beautiful pale blue silk bed jacket trimmed in off-white lace, and a cool sewing booklet on fitting from the 1960’s.

rooftopsFor the most part though, my favourite part of the weekend was just wandering the streets and soaking up the atmosphere. I have never been to a city where the natural environment is so integrated into an urban setting. The city has really been built into the natural formation of the land rather than imposing on it and the end result is a feeling of peacefulness. I will be back!

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