We talk to Robb Myers, the much loved local sewing machine fixer, who is celebrating 70 years at his shop, Sew Amazing on Roman Road.
It was in Stoke Newington’s Church Street that Robb’s father, Alfie Myers, established his sewing machine engineering business, in 1947. He serviced machines for the Ford plant in Dagenham, Clarks shoes, the famous shoe maker: John Lobbs of Pall Mall and many others, even the Royal household.
Robb had been working for his father but he was sent to Glasgow to work in the Singer sewing factory at Clydebank when he turned 16. For the next few years, Robb spent time away from home in Stuttgart and Holland while he learned his father’s trade. In 1980 Robb returned to Stoke Newington and took over the running of the business working alongside his father.
The manufacturing industry was changing in the UK during the 1990’s with many of Sew Amazing’s customers moving their factories oversees. The business moved to Bow in order to survive the change.
‘We moved to Roman Road in 2000 to concentrate on the retail side of the business and to benefit from the footfall of the Market’ Robb tells me as he takes a bite of his banana sandwich from Randolfi’s, the oldest cafe on Roman Road Market.
I’m trying not to move in Robb’s compact workshop so I don’t bump into any of the sharp equipment on the benches. The busy store on the corner of Roman Road and St Stephen’s road is bustling with customers taking advantage of the birthday discount. A fashion student has come to collect his machine that has been serviced and Robb is demonstrating a newly refurbished machine to other customers.
Jill, Robb’s wife, sources the haberdashery that lines the shelves. Sew Amazing is a popular place for crafters with their own small business and hobbyists new to the crafting craze. Entering the shop, the eye is drawn to a rainbow coloured display of knitting yarn on the back wall like jars of sugary delights in a sweet shop. Local maker, Marcy from Woolly Wonders, is demonstrating her knitting skills throughout the day and knitted the jolly 70th birthday bunting that proudly hangs in the shop window.
‘I have been shopping at Sew Amazing since they opened on the Roman. They always have what I need in stock and if by chance I need any wool or other items that are not in stock, they try their hardest to get it in for me. It is always a pleasure to shop here as Robb and Jill are so lovely and make you feel welcome every time you go in’. Marcy enthuses when I ask her about Sew Amazing.
‘Robb and Jill have always encouraged me to broaden my horizons where my kitting is concerned and it is because of them I opened my Instagram page and sell my creations in their e-shop’.
I know what Marcy means as twelve years ago I discovered Sew Amazing when I was frantically trying to make curtains for my new flat. Halfway through, my trusty old Singer machine started dropping stitches. In a panic, I ran it down to Sew Amazing and Robb managed to temporarily fix the machine so I could finish the project. It was time to invest in a new sewing machine and Robb spent time with me, as he does all his customers, to select the right machine. Robb was involved in the development of the model I bought and I knew I could trust his expertise.
‘I only stock new machines with metal bodies so they can be fixed. I hate throwing away old machines’ Robb says when asked about his recycling programme. He proudly produces a couple of antique machines from his 40 strong collection, including the Bradbury in the photo above that was built in Manchester.
Robb keeps the antique machines as a hobby and slowly refurbishes them when he has chance. He won’t be selling them any time soon but one or two can be spotted in period dramas as he lends them to films and TV prop departments.
Sew Amazing’s customers are mostly looking to buy domestic machines but he does still service industrial machines for schools and colleges, having done so since 1961.
Relatively new to this sector is Shoreditch Design Rooms. Founder Louise is demonstrating a few of her upholstery skills in Sew Amazing as part of their birthday celebrations. ‘I have industrial machines for the school but students need to practice at home on a good heavy duty domestic machine and Robb helped me research the right machine.
A sewing machine is so important and it is comforting to know I can recommend someone who can look after it really well’ Louise tells me when I ask her why she first came to Sew Amazing. Robb has been servicing the school’s machines since it first opened four years ago and Louise says ‘I feel when it is fixed it is fixed!