Towards the end of 2016, Clydebank Museum and Art Gallery launched A Stitch in Time – a new project focused on celebrating The Sewing Machine Collection and Singer Archive, West Dunbartonshire Council’s Nationally Significant Collection.
Since the 1880s, Clydebank has been synonymous with Singer sewing machines. For almost one hundred years, Singer’s Clydebank Factory was a place of innovation and progress. When it closed its doors for the final time in June 1980, it left behind a legacy that continues to resonate across Clydebank and the West Dunbartonshire area.
While the Singer connection to Clydebank is to the fore when the subject of sewing machines arises, our Recognised Collection is actually comprised of sewing machines from across the manufacturing board. In fact, the collection grew out of Singer’s own Research and Development department, where machines by rival manufacturers were routinely acquired to inform Singer’s own evolving designs.
Since achieving Recognised Collection status in 2014, West Dunbartonshire Council’s Heritage Team has worked hard to increase access to the Sewing Machine Collection and Singer Archive. Previous projects have focused on collections care, improved storage, and documentation. Most recently, however, focus has shifted to achieving a better understanding of our existing audience, as well as exploring ways to engage new audiences with this fascinating collection.
Building on a previous Recognition funded project (Patterns of Engagement), our new A Stitch in Time project seeks to deliver two key outcomes. Firstly, an exhibition that showcases a selection of sewing machines from our Recognised Collection; and secondly, an activity and research programme that celebrates the sewing machine and adds to our collections-based knowledge.
Our exhibition A Stitch in Time – the Story of the Sewing Machine is open at Clydebank Museum and Art Gallery, and runs until Saturday 13th May. Building on the strong foundation laid by Patterns of Engagement, between September 2016 and January 2017, our Project Curator worked with the wider Heritage Team to curate an exhibition that tells the history of the sewing machine. We’ll take you from its invention in the mid-nineteenth century, to the far-reaching social changes it impacted, into the subsequent century, and the rise of the ready-to-wear clothing industry.
In order to bring to life the ingenuity of the sewing machine as a transformative invention, alongside examples from various manufacturers, are garments and accessories that illustrate the evolution from hand sewing to machine stitching. Elsewhere in our gallery spaces, there is a further display which showcases sewing machines from the 1950s – 1980s, tapping into memory-sharing and reminiscence through the inclusion of patterns, clothing, and ephemera from the Singer Archive.
As our A Stitch In Time project moves forward, it’s our hope that the next phase of activity and research will see the theme of memory-sharing expanded. We are seeking to develop our offer with regards oral history gathering, creating reminiscence kits aligned to the Singer Archive that will be made available to community groups across the area. We also hope to expand our knowledge of other Glasgow-based sewing machine manufacturers, and better understand how these manufacturers marketed their machines. Our activities programme will provide visitors with the opportunity to experiment with sewing machines in a friendly, supportive environment, whilst bringing the story of the sewing machine full circle to the earliest examples we hold in our Recognised Collection.
By the time our A Stitch in Time project comes to a close, our hope is that the Singer legacy will have been rediscovered by a whole new generation of sewing machine enthusiasts, aided by those individuals from the area who do remember the Clydebank Factory are willing to share their valuable memories and insights. Our aim is to enliven our Recognised Collection in new and imaginative ways, raising its profile and reminding our audiences of the importance of the sewing machine as an invention worldwide, and the importance of Singer in shaping Clydebank.
More information on the A Stitch in Time – the Story of the Sewing Machine exhibition can be accessed here.
For more information on the associated events and activities programme, please contact Clydebank Museum and Art Gallery
tel: 0141 562 2400
Sarah Christie, West Dunbartonshire Council