For 140th’s Civilian Seminar – April 9, 2016

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:

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…..

Thread winder – Assorted thread winders –  Assorted thread winders –   Wood thread winders

Spools –  original wood spools –  Original wood spoolsoriginal MOP spools,

Scissors – Scissors at the METTailor Shears

Bodkin – It seems the basic style of a metal and bone bodkins go back centuries. – a copper alloy 1600 examplea 1600s exampleA 1600s bodkin

Awl/stiletto – Original bone stiletto3 stilettos (and other tools) from Historic New England

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

Needles and what holds them – Original needle caseOriginal needle caseLots of paper needle packets

Small tin or pasteboard boxes – for pins, buttons, beads, what-not –

Wax and Waxers – Original MOP waxer, – Original silver waxerlater berry waxer

Other sewing tools: Bell gauge for measuring needles


Where to find reproduction sewing tools:

Resources and Printables:


Additional Readings:


ADDED: Since several people mentioned they want to make their own sewing work box now, I thought I would add some online options.

Published in: on April 9, 2016 at 1:00 am  Comments (1)  

One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I just stumbled onto this Shaker style. Nice price.

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