Before the 1800’s and the age of mass produced ready-made clothing by industry, the necessary duties of sewing clothing, bedding and window coverings, often fell to women and young girls who were required to learn the intricacies and skills of sewing and to pass the knowledge along. Bone, ivory and later fine, pure steel needles and pins were prized for this task, as were thimbles of leather and metals. Scissors, made of iron or steel and thread holders were other sewing essentials. But how to keep all these sewing necessities handy and in one place? A sewing container, later to become known as a sewing basket did the job nicely. The earliest sewing containers were surely made of fabric or leather, to hold these essential and treasured sewing tools.
Today, sewing baskets come in a variety of shapes; the traditional rectangular shape basket is the one usually found constructed of rattan. The outer basket is often wrapped in a beautiful chintz print fabric, although modern denims and twills can be found as well; most have a hook and eye tape tab closure, molded plastic storage tray and padded interior lid that serves as its own pin cushion. Durable, functional, and timeless, the practical sewing basket filled with basic sewing notions would make a wonderful gift for the novice sewer and can be assembled from the many, many notions found in your local fabric or craft store. Add a how-to sewing book and your gift will leave lasting memories.
The compartmented sewing basket’s most wanted items would include:
Small pin cushion – the tomato shape with its dangling strawberry emery to sharpen and clean pins and needles is endearingly iconic of sewing – the wrist pin cushion its modern handy cousin.
Hand sewing needles, general purpose
Needle threader (while not essential, definitely helpful to have)
Marking pencils, for fabrics dark and light
Threads - Long fiber 100% polyester thread minimizes snagging, knotting and breaking. Having commonly used colors – white, black, tan, red, navy round out any sewing basket. Mercerized cotton thread is useful for fabrics with little or no stretch - great for quilters. Silk thread can be used on silk, wools, and silk blends. Great for basting as it does not leave a thread imprint when pressed. Beautiful for top-stitching, hand-worked buttonholes, machine embroidery and appliqué work.
Note: Inexpensive short-fiber thread can be fray easily, producing thread lint that clogs needles and breaks easily.
Sewing gauge with sliding marker for easy hem marking and checking measurements during construction. A 6” clear plastic ruler would work too.
Straight pins, dressmaker and ball head pins
Seam ripper – for those inevitable stitch errors; makes it easy to remove stitches without harming the fabric.
Buttons, snap fasteners, hooks and eyes, package of hook and loop tape
Scissors and Shears 8” or 9” bent-handle dressmaker shears – for cutting fabric only. When properly cared for, good quality shears will last a lifetime. Craft or trimmer scissors 4” or 5” are handy and small sharp embroidery scissors that cleanly nip threads. Pinking shears are a delight to have and wonder of functionality; however they are not always a common item in the sewing basket. To customize the sewing basket for the beginner quilter, a rotary cutter and mat, as well clear quilting rulers in a variety of sizes are a must.
Note: scissors and shears will be the most expensive items in the sewing basket. Dritz, Fiskars, Gingher, Olfa are some well-known, quality brands.
Sewing baskets of the past evoke a sense of nostalgia, while today's sewing baskets surely nudge our own sewing muse.