The London Sewing Machine Museum has one of the most extensive collections of sewing machines in the world. This includes domestic sewing machines which date from 1829 to 1885, and industrial sewing machines made between 1850 and 1950.
Among the highlights at the museum include the first machine invented by Isaac Merritt Singer, who created the world’s first practical sewing machine in 1850. You will also find the sewing machine gifted to Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter on the occasion of her wedding, as well as a Thimmonier wooden sewing machine, which is still in working order.
This post is all about the London Sewing Machine Museum, and includes the museum’s location and opening times.
London Sewing Machine Museum
About the London Sewing Machine Museum
The London Sewing Machine Museum is the personal collection of the Rushton family, who owned a sewing machine shop on Merton Road for 58 years.
Their collection began after the Second World War, when Mr Thomas Arthur Rushton discovered a profitable trade in acquiring and reselling pre-owned sewing machines. He opened a store at 185 Merton Road in 1947, and founded the Wimbledon Sewing Machine Company at the same time.
The original store closed in 2015, but you can still see a replica of the store front at the museum, as well as a photograph of Thomes Ruston with his son Ray outside the shop in the 1950s.
After his father died in 1974, Mr Ray Rushton continued the family business, buying and selling haberdashery, and building up a collection of rare and antique sewing machines.
Ray died in 2022, but today his family continue to run the business on Balham High Road, and the museum, which now houses over 700 old sewing machines.
The museum is in the same building as the Wimbledon Sewing Machine Company, so you can buy thimbles, thread and needles when you visit.
The museum is open on the first Saturday of every month from 2pm-5pm. A resident expert gives a tour of the museum at 2:15pm, providing information about the history of the sewing machine, and talking about some of the most famous pieces in their collection.
Entrance to the museum is free, but charitable donations are welcomed. The opening dates for the rest of the year are listed below.
|5th August 2023
|2nd September 2023
|7th October 2023
|4th November 2023
|2nd December 2023
Location of the London Sewing Machine Museum
The London Sewing Machine Museum is located at 292-312 Balham High Road. The exact location is shown on the map below. If you are travelling to the museum by public transport, the nearest underground station is Tooting Bec tube station.
Tip: The museum is not easy to spot as there is no sign outside. Look for the building with blue panels on the front, and a Union flag on top. Once you are inside, you need to go up the stairs to the first floor. There is a photograph below to help you identify the building.
Sewing Machine Collection
The London Sewing Machine Museum has a large collection of rare machines and unusual items, some of which are listed below.
One of the First Sewing Machines Ever Invented
The museum holds one of the first successful sewing machines ever invented. It was built in 1829 by a French tailor called Barthelemy Thimonnier.
Thimonnier is regarded as being the inventor of the sewing machine. He opened the world’s first machine based clothing manufacturing company in France in 1830. His first job was to create uniforms for the French Army.
It wasn’t long however before other French tailors found out about Thimonnier’s invention, and were afraid it would lead to their unemployment. They attacked his factory and burnt it to the ground on several occasions, almost killing Thimonnier twice.
The London Sewing Machine Museum managed to acquire one of Thimonnier’s first ever sewing machines, which they bought in 2012 for around £50,000. It is the most expensive sewing machine ever sold at auction.
Co-incidentally, the date in July when the museum bought the machine, was the same date when Thimonnier first applied for the patent.
Sewing Machine Given to Queen Victoria’s Daughter as a Wedding Gift
The museum has the sewing machine that was given as a wedding present to Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter in 1865. It has a full etching of Windsor Castle on the metal.
Before Thimonnier’s machine was bought in 2012, this machine was the most expensive to ever be sold at auction, selling for £23,000.
Sewing Machine Used on Downton Abbey
The sewing machine that was used on Downton Abbey was borrowed from the London Sewing Machine Museum. The staff at the museum also helped the production team to create the exact sound that the sewing machine would have made.
Sewing Machine in Boy George’s Channel 4 Documentary
In 2010, Boy George was part of a Channel 4 documentary called “The House That Made Me“, where he was taken to the home he lived in as a teenager.
The home was meticulously transformed back to exactly how it was in the 1970s, with the exact model of the sewing machine that Boy George’s mother owned when he was a child.
The London Sewing Machine Museum supplied the machine for the documentary, requesting that Boy George signed it before it was returned. The machine is on display in the museum with a photograph of Boy George with the sewing machines.
Charlie Chaplin’s Mother’s Sewing Machine
When the contents of Charlie Chaplin’s childhood home was sold at auction, one of the items was an old sewing machine. It was assumed that the sewing machine belonged to Charlie Chaplin’s mother.
Victorian Sewing Machine Toys
The museum has a small collection of sewing machine toys from Victorian times. The toys were mass produced at the time, but today only a few of them still remain. They have clowns on them, and are able to do chain stitch.
The museum also has a Barrel Organ which is in working order, and has been tuned.
Photographs of the London Sewing Machine Museum
Below is a selection of the photographs I took at the museum.
Other Posts Related to Tooting
Tooting has some great restaurants, and cafes, as well as plenty of things to do. If you are visiting the London Sewing Machine Museum, check out the posts below for ideas on other things to do nearby.
This post was about the London Sewing Machine Museum
Thank you for reading my post about the London Sewing Machine Museum. The museum is open on the first Saturday of the month, and is a great place if you are interested in the history of sewing machines.
The museum also accepts unwanted second-hand sewing machines, although they may take them apart for pieces.