I was planning to talk about what tools to have in a sewing box/case/basket later this year in the fall. But, there are a few conversations happening now. So, let’s take a look now at what the original cast keeps in their work-box and what we keep in ours.
When looking at what they kept in their work-boxes we can look at extant cases, advice manuals, personal & descriptive literature and paintings. Virginia Mescher has already done a very nice job discussing recommendations from advice manuals and descriptions, while sampling originals in her article “The Case of the Lost Thimble.” I strongly recommend reading that first, before assembling a sewing kit of your own. Interestingly, we don’t see a sewing box or basket in “The Seamstress“, 1858. Bloch’s “The Artist’s Parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bloch in Their Sitting Room“, 1855 shows a nice knitting basket. (Knitters may also be interested in this painting.)
This is my basic simple sewing box for going to day events where small sewing jobs may come up or I may have a little back-up cloth project such as making a sewing case, sewing a quilt block or making a set of under-sleeves. In the box from left to right is a bone bodkin, bone stiletto, a metal bodkin, small pair of scissors, thimble, two thread winders and a case of needles. These easily fit into my 4″ box or a rolled sewing case.
- The above items in a rolled case
- Two pairs of scissors that are also good for cutting fabric, each in their own cases (I tend to loan or bury a pair.)
- Spools of thread I know I’ll be using. Usually, this is white, natural, black and a couple colors plus a heavier white and maybe a heavier black.
- Paper and pencil
- Measures (My fabric one is next to the spool. The metal one is one I still need to date.
- A few spare buttons (side pockets)
- Pinball with pins (bouncing around tables at the time of the photo)
- A small ball of crochet cotton (missing)
- A small ball of wool (missing)
- Scrap bits of fabric (pulled for sorting. You can see a couple small pieces and some paste board in a pocket)
- A Magnet for finding lost needles and pins (missing)
- Assorted ribbons
- My emery if I can ever find it again.
- If I’m going to be working with straw, I bring those scissors, those needles and a cloth for my lap.
- Yes, those are walnut shells
This is Bevin Lynn’s Shaker box dressed as a sewing box. We live in an area where there were multiple Shaker communities. GCV has and interprets a Shaker building. These oval boxes were available in our area. Trish Watrous Hasenmeuller took time to contact South Union Shaker Village regarding some conflicting views as to the availability of these oval boxes to the public rather than being kept in the Shaker community. Trish writes “They said that the oval boxes were often sold to the public but were usually made in the northern Shaker settlements. They have catalogs of items for sale from the 1870’s that have them. Evidently they didn’t print a catalog in the 1860’s. Tommy Hines, the Executive Director at South Union said: “The northern Shakers both marketed and used the sewing boxes. The oval variety is more common and probably more prevalent in the period.”” (Thank you, Trish)
I would say this is 8″-10″ on the longest side. (Suddenly wishing I would have measure these.) Bevin has lined the box as well as the lid. In her box, we find a pincushion, measure rolled in a bag, thimble in a pocket, wax, thread winders, tailor’s chalk, a bodkin, small container and little bits of thread. In the lid she has a pincushion, scissors pocket and needle pages.
This next box, also Bevin’s, is a pasteboard box covered in period decorative paper and lined with period printed paper. This box has multiple levels. Inside the lid fits a large pincushion, decoratively embroidered. This has ribbon loops to make removal easy. Inside the box, a blue velvet covered tray holds a number of tools with ribbon loops. We see a fish needle-case, a bone bodkin, a bone stiletto and a seam-ripper. This tray sits inside the base of the box on top of divided compartments inside. As with the lid, ribbon loops help to lift the tray out. In the compartments we can see a small balloon bag, tailor’s chalk, a thimble, bees wax, a shell case, thread, rigs, a pencil, a measure in a bag and a thread winder.
I’m hoping to have one more sewing kit to share soon.
I am also adding a post for Sewing on the Go.
Edit to add: Be sure to catch Liz’s “Fitting Out a Sewing Box”