The Secret Life of Sewing Machines


Anyone around my age (mid-30s) probably spent much of their childhood in the late 1980s pouring over Neil Ardley and David Macaulay’s famous book, The Way Things Work. It’s an entertaining introduction to everyday machines, with informative, but playful, diagrams that nicely capture any child’s imagination. Who having read that book can ever forget those drawings of tiny woolly mammoths pulling levers and operating gears?

There was something similar around that time in the UK called The Secret Life of Machines. It was an educational television series presented by Tim Hunkin and Rex Garrod, in which the two explained the inner workings of common household and office technology. The show was developed from Hunkin’s comic strip, “The Rudiments of Wisdom,” and it had an instantly recognizable format. Hunkin would introduce some machine, talk about its inner workings and development, and then end on some social commentary. Interspersed would be some funny demonstrations and creative cartoons, which Hunkin would draw himself. 

Above is one of my favorite episodes: the one on sewing machines. In going through the development of the machine, Hunkin and Garrod also explain the difference between things such as a chainstitch and lockstich, which might interest a menswear blog reader. There’s also some cranky “they don’t make things like they used to anymore” commentary, which menswear enthusiasts can’t seem to get enough of. I think you’ll enjoy the show, and at the end of it, if you want more, there’s also a nice program on laundry machines.

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