The Jewish Museum

Jewish Britain

A History in 50 Objects

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Singer treadle sewing machine

This Singer sewing machine dates from around 1912. It was owned by a family in the East End and used for both commercial and private purposes.

Many Jewish immigrants arriving from Eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly in London and Leeds, earned a living working in tailoring workshops. The Jewish tailoring trade played a key role in developing the ready-to-wear clothing industry. Traditional English tailors produced made-to-measure clothes for individuals. The immigrant tailors made cheap off-the-peg clothing, which was affordable for a wider section of society.

Working conditions were extremely hard with long hours, low pay, overcrowding and seasonal unemployment. Tailoring was divided into processes and each worker had a different task. Pay and status varied with each process with lower rates for women and unskilled labour. Many joined unions to campaign for better pay and working conditions.

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