A Practical Look At Sewing Cases
Sewing at home
The paintings and prints we looked at are saved on this “140th NYVI Civilian Seminar – Paintings” Pinterest Board. The examples of sewing boxes, cases, baskets, tools, etc. can be found on this “140th NYVI Civilian Seminar – Examples” Pinterest Board
It is important to look at examples prior to 1860 because these are the sewing boxes we would have grown up with seeing our mothers and grandmothers use; these are those we would have used in our teens and twenties. We wouldn’t always have a brand new sewing box from the 1850s or 60s; we may have had a box from the 1830s that we have used for many years. In some instances, children had their own sewing cases.Boxes can be simple or quite ornate, or somewhere in between.
At home, some women would have a sewing stand, also known as a work table. This feels more like a piece of furniture for many of us in the twenty-first century. As sewing stand would have drawers or compartments for sewing tools and thread, while providing a work surface. It may also have a catch/bag for threads and scraps. One fairly well known sewing stand is called a “Martha Washington”. It is important to know that while this type of stand was an earlier, 1810-15 Federal style (therefore functional but not fashionable by the 1850s/60s) some were made in the 20th century as well. (Here is a Shaker sewing stand.)
Sewing on the go
While some of the sewing boxes above may be suitable for travel, many of us want something that will transport easier. This can include smaller boxes, baskets and other sewing cases. Manufactured/purchased sewing cases, aka etui took a variety of shapes, including this one that looks like a book when closed.
For our interpretive purposes, we have several options for mobile sewing:
- Shaker boxes and baskets
- Lidded baskets
- Paper covered band boxes (they can also have pincushions on top.)
- Work bags
- Work pockets (housewife)
- Homemade baskets, boxes, etc from directions in Godey’s, Peterson’s, etc
Making Your Own
Domestically made sewing cases were also known as work pockets and housewifes. They were both structured with pasteboard and soft to be folded or rolled. Some resembled books. Extant examples show they were made with leather, painted canvas, oiled silk, silks, cottons and wools. A work bag was also a good option. (Earlier example)
Filling Your Box
What you might want inside…..
Crochet hooks and Tambour Needles – Original tambour needle –
Tape Measures – It seems original tapes are silk, linen and wool. I see some that are hand inked and some that appear to be printed (purchased that way) – an assortment of original measures –
Thimbles – 19th century thimbles at the MET
Small tin or pasteboard boxes – for pins, buttons, beads, what-not –
Other sewing tools: Bell gauge for measuring needles –
Where to find reproduction sewing tools:
- The Scarlet Scarab – Bone and horn tools including thread winders, stilettos, awls, bodkins, waxers.
- Burnley & Trowbridge – Scissors, bone & wood thread winders, creasers, stilettos, etc.
- WoodRecycler on Etsy – Wooden needle cases
- MyGann on Etsy – Offers handcarved Bobbins (bodkins) , stilettos (some need to be sharpened) and crochet hooks.
- Fashionable Frolick on Etsy – Sometimes offers hand inked tape measures. (I have
- yet to see one in person.)
- Several Etsy merchants offer reproduction pin cushions, including myself, Textile Reproductions (beautiful flame stitching), Talbott & Company (also small bandboxes),
- The Needle Worker on Etsy – Carries handmade bandboxes for millinery. The smaller sizes could suit sewing needs.
- Silent Stitches – Reproduction silver sewing accessories. (Most pieces appear to be sold out. Some have modern aspects.) The scissors page has some appropriate options. They also have a sewing bird, several needle cases and other useful accessories.
- Shaker Workshops – Oval Shaker boxes (wood) including some already set up for sewing.
- Hancock Shaker Village – Oval Shaker boxes.
- Apple Jack Folk Toys on Etsy – Has band box kits (I just found this. I have no idea what the kit is like.)
- There are some passable scissors at Joann’s
- Crafts, Bits & Pieces in Fairport occasionally has vintage sewing tools
Resources and Printables:
- Eliza Leslie’s pdf
- Basic sewing pdfs
- Printable labels for needle packets
- Directions for balloon bag (button keep or string holder)
- Previous article on “Sewing on the go“
- Previous article on sewing tools
- Previous article on “What is in your Sewing Box?“
ADDED: Since several people mentioned they want to make their own sewing work box now, I thought I would add some online options.
- Over the weekend, this Shaker style box was 75% off. It is back to $99. It is a really nice option. If it goes back on sale, it would be a good price. http://www.ebay.com/itm/Handcrafted-Bob-Brennan-Cherry-Wood-Sewing-Box-Lap-Finger-Contruction-Detail-/152029285973?hash=item2365a6ce55:g:tngAAOSwKtlWn~z-
- This box is very clean looking. It has multiple woods on the outside and an interior ready for a tray. I see the remnants of paper and tray rails. $35 http://www.ebay.com/itm/ANTIQUE-PRIMITIVE-FOLK-ART-MARQUETRY-WOOD-CASKET-DOCUMENT-JEWELRY-SEWING-BOX-/381579961255?hash=item58d7f023a7:g:kjUAAOSwwpdW6t6x
- This one needs some TLC. The outside design of this box is much like a box that was not far from where we were sitting on Saturday. It looks like someone painted the inside. That may be worth stripping or covering. $22.99 plus shipping. http://www.ebay.com/itm/Old-Vintage-Antique-Wood-Wooden-Sewing-Jewelry-or-Document-Box-/231895480429?hash=item35fe0c386d:g:Pf0AAOSwJQdW9EPW
- Here is a beautiful mid-century example that shows an unusual paper interior. I believe this was a remake from the 19th or early 20th century. http://www.ebay.com/itm/Lovely-ANTIQUE-ROSEWOOD-SEWING-BOX-Mid-1800s-Original-Interior-Linings-/172007395935?hash=item280c70925f:g:76AAAOSwt6ZWUgsE
- Here is a sewing workbox ready to fill with tools. This one will need to ship from England. $162 approx. (There seem to be many more boxes selling from England right now.) http://www.ebay.com/itm/Antique-Rosewood-Sewing-Box-Abalone-inlay-ref-1022/381593006686?_trksid=p2047675.c100005.m1851&_trkparms=aid%3D222007%26algo%3DSIC.MBE%26ao%3D1%26asc%3D36332%26meid%3D39584fa698ac48359ea4ded515ebb993%26pid%3D100005%26rk%3D2%26rkt%3D6%26sd%3D172007395935
- This is another ready to fill with tools. It doesn’t have paper or cloth inside. $125 http://www.ebay.com/itm/Antique-American-Mahogany-19th-Century-Jewlery-Sewing-Or-Trinket-Box-/201557047460?hash=item2eedbc78a4:g:Y-QAAOSwxp9W6X4f
- This one has some boo-boos. It is an appropriate style (similar one above.) $75 https://www.etsy.com/listing/249721662/shaker-sewing-box-with-inset-tray-and?ga_order=most_relevant&ga_search_type=vintage&ga_view_type=gallery&ga_search_query=wood%20sewing%20box&ref=sr_gallery_13
- This one is unique in that it is a slope but it also has holders for spools. If you like to write as well as sew, this may be a nice option for you. $75 https://www.etsy.com/listing/287871005/antique-wood-sewing-and-writing-box?ga_order=most_relevant&ga_search_type=vintage&ga_view_type=gallery&ga_search_query=wood%20sewing%20box&ref=sr_gallery_15
- This is a nice price for a set of 4 Shaker style boxes ($80) if you wanted more than one or multiple people wanted to split. https://www.etsy.com/listing/248934838/set-of-four-nesting-shaker-oval-boxes-in?ga_order=most_relevant&ga_search_type=all&ga_view_type=gallery&ga_search_query=shaker%20box&ref=sr_gallery_17
- Here is a Shaker style box a bit smaller than the one I showed you. $25 https://www.etsy.com/listing/263448295/cherry-shaker-style-oval-box?ga_order=most_relevant&ga_search_type=all&ga_view_type=gallery&ga_search_query=shaker%20box&ref=sr_gallery_42
- This one is close to the size I showed you. $35 https://www.etsy.com/listing/234804510/cherry-shaker-style-oval-box?ref=shop_home_active_12
- I wish this one had better photos. It may be a bargain box. $15 https://www.etsy.com/listing/264258090/rustic-wooden-box-with-lidstash-box?ga_order=most_relevant&ga_search_type=all&ga_view_type=gallery&ga_search_query=shaker%20box&ref=sr_gallery_14