Mon, Mar. 8th, 2010, 10:01 am
The Sewing Machine Museum

Perhaps because I talk louder than either of them, Kevan and miss_newham continue to indulge me in my conviction that we should go to pretty much every museum in London, the nicher the better. This weekend it was the first Saturday of the month, and we all know what that means: the Sewing Machine Museum in Balham was open between 2pm and 5pm!

Now, the Greenwich Fan Museum is widely treated as a punchline to "what shall we do today?", but I've been, and: it's pretty great! There's a diagram with all the different parts of a fan, there's informative cards about peculiar fan-involving jobs that no longer exist, and there are two or three special exhibitions a year. When I went the special exhibition included one fan with eyeholes in it (for spying and flirting); and another with a branching dialogue, written half on each side, so the fan-wielder and her companion would always have something to say.

The Sewing Machine Museum, on the other hand, contains:
  • Approximately 600 domestic sewing machines, largely indistinguishable to the human eye (one of them has a small sign noting that it was owned by Queen Victoria's daughter).
  • Many vases and small china objects (eg a Charlie Chaplin figurine, who to be fair is wearing clothes which were presumably sewn at some point so perhaps it's thematically appropriate after all).
  • Seventy or so industrial sewing machines for different specialised purposes, labelled "zig-zag edging", "shirt sleeve inserts", "parachutes/corsets", etc.
  • A "History of the Sewing Machine" A4 sheet with sentences including "Most importantly, John Bachelder patented the vertical, straight reciprocating pointed needle with eye and a yielding presser foot mechanism" and "Also Sherburm Blodgett patented the revolving shuttle machine". Sherburm Blodgett!
  • A huge stack of April 2000 copies of the Journal of the International Sewing Machine Collectors' Society. You're allowed to take one away with you! Best metaphor: "the millennium has been and gone and the world, like the sewing machine, keeps on turning". Best slice of sewing machine history: "Not only did she look stunning as the Statue of Liberty, she was also the only contestant who combined her costume with sewing-machine interest. Remember it was Singer's French bride, the one he ran away from America with, who was reputed to be the model for the Statue of Liberty". Best typo: "At age 91, Louise Schlatter does not think twice about puking the pedal to the metal - that is, the foot pedal to her old sewing machine".

It's kind-of brilliant and I highly recommend it and am very glad we went, but it is certainly the case that—at least for people who don't know anything about sewing machines, a group which includes (for example) me and Kevan and Jo—it's incredibly dull. I have therefore been set the challenge of locating a more boring museum in London. Any suggestions?

Mon, Mar. 8th, 2010 10:45 am (UTC)
mockduck

Best post - nay, best quest - evah.

Tue, Mar. 9th, 2010 09:11 am (UTC)
several_bees

Thanks! I'll make sure to keep Livejournal updated on how it goes - someone's suggested the British Optical Association Museum, which may be my next stop, though the fact that they refer to themselves as "the musEYEum" is a little alarming...

Mon, Mar. 8th, 2010 11:03 am (UTC)
puzzled_anwen

I might have to change my name to Sherburm Blodgett. That does sound like a fantastically boring museum, and I like sewing machines quite a bit.

Mon, Mar. 8th, 2010 02:49 pm (UTC)
solri

I think it's "Sherburn", not "Sherburm". It's kind of a tie, since Google gives two search results for each spelling, but the two for "Sherburm" are both from this thread, whereas the two for "Sherburn" are independent witnesses. But anyway, you should change your name to one of these just so there will be two results for googling your name that aren't about you. And when you sign up for online services, you can be pretty sure that the user name you want won't have been taken. I imagine there isn't much competition for the domain name sherburnblodgett.com either.

Mon, Mar. 8th, 2010 04:43 pm (UTC)
puzzled_anwen

I could always go the whole hog and call myself Sherbum Blidgett...

Tue, Mar. 9th, 2010 09:12 am (UTC)
several_bees

I can confirm now that the correct name is Sherburne C. Blodgett. Not quite as good, but still pretty great. And just think of all the cute nicknames. Sherry, Sherby, Burnie, Sherbs, Blodgie...

Tue, Mar. 9th, 2010 09:15 am (UTC)
several_bees

In case you missed my most recent post, I can confirm that it's Sherburne C. Blodgett, which is still a pretty great name. (I've managed not to register sherburnecblodgett.com because I already have far too many domains registered for comedy reasons.)

Mon, Mar. 8th, 2010 01:22 pm (UTC)
nikborton

If you run out of strange museums in London, the Belgian Fry Museum in Bruges is quite good. It's not especially boring, though. Just... a weird thing to have a museum about, even when fries are one of your national specialities.

Mon, Mar. 8th, 2010 01:23 pm (UTC)
nikborton

The chocolate museum is enormously boring, though.

Tue, Mar. 9th, 2010 09:13 am (UTC)
several_bees

Nik it is a CHOCOLATE MUSEUM. I don't understand.

Tue, Mar. 9th, 2010 09:24 am (UTC)
nikborton

The history of chocolate is a surprisingly tedious thing. Even the kiddie signs - both museums have cartoons at knee-height explaining some facet of the current section simply, and again the fry museum is better - fail to make it interesting.

The free milk/dark/white chocolate buttons on entry were very nice, though.

Tue, Mar. 9th, 2010 09:30 am (UTC)
several_bees

But, but... Mesoamerican empires! Hans Sloane! Scandalous rumours that chocolate was terribly bad for you! There's an eighteenth-century letter from a French noblewoman that says something like "gosh, the Countess of Wherever drank so much chocolate during her pregnancy that her child was born black!", which is charming.

Maybe I need to get a job as Consultant to the Chocolate Museum where I walk around pointing at the signs and saying "more about death here!" and "hey you know women started taking hot chocolate to church in a town in Spain and then it was banned, and they stopped coming to church, and also somebody POISONED THE PRIEST, allegedly? Talk about that".

Tue, Mar. 9th, 2010 12:20 pm (UTC)
nikborton

In which case, you'll probably still find it boring because you know everything it has to tell you.

Though there are pickled cocoa beans and lots of implements and so on to look at. And a short film that I sat through half of in French before deciding the English probably wouldn't improve matters.

Mon, Mar. 8th, 2010 11:18 pm (UTC)
squirmelia: London Museums

Have you been to the British Optical Association Museum? I haven't, but it sounds like it might be boring.

Tue, Mar. 9th, 2010 09:13 am (UTC)
several_bees: Re: London Museums

I haven't! I'll have to visit. Its website mentions the Freemasons Museum in Covent Garden, which is perhaps another one to try.

Tue, Mar. 9th, 2010 11:24 am (UTC)
squirmelia: Re: London Museums

There's a Freemasons Museum in Bath as well, which I am tempted to visit.