The humble but functional hand sewing needle with its familiar eye for thread to pass through made a first appearance in the 15th century but has been in continuous existence since animal sinew or fibrous plant material was passed through a pierced hole made by the bone, horn or wood fashioned needle. Needles eventually were made of many different kinds of metals. Todayís hand and machine sewing needles are made of nickel plated carbon steel, some even gold plated.
In times long past, needles were stored in ornamental needle boxes made of ornately carved wood or bone and those many surviving to today often made of sterling silver or pewter. Needles could be carried in metal bullet-shaped needle cases hung from a chatelaine (a decorative belt hook worn at the waist by women of household status in the 19th century) or in embroidered needle books. Sharp straight pins were kept in small boxes until the 15th century, when pin cushions were able to provide a safe place for expensive pins as they were hand made. The term pin money seems to have derived from the fact that pins were essential and valuable sewing tools at the time so saving up money for pins for a necessary purchase was important to households.
Those few antique sewing baskets from centuries past that survive are made of beautifully carved woods, some of pewter or porcelain, some of hand painted woven reeds or wicker, most with velvet linings. A sewing basket from Victorian times was often on a pedestal convenient to a chair as hand sewing and embroidery work were expected pastimes for young girls and women.
A sewing tool long forgotten mostly in fashion in the mid to late 1800ís is the sewing bird, essentially a clamp, many in the shape of birds, that hold fabric while being sewn. Darners are another forgotten tool, an egg-shape with an attached handle useful for darning socks. Tape measures of the time were wound on spools. Pin cushion dolls held sewing items like thimbles, threads, scissors and buttons as well as valuable needles and pins. Womenís magazines of the time had instructions on how to make the pin cushion doll. These magazines too are collectible in their own right.
In the recent past, approximately 1940ís, through the 90ís, mending sewing kits contained in what look like familiar matchbooks were often given out by hotels or businesses as a form of advertising promotion and are an interesting sewing memorabilia. Some can be found online at eBay, Etsy and Pinterest. As a form of advertising, these travel mending kits often contained several strands of threads, a tiny needle and perhaps a small button or safety pin. A few even contained matches! Perhaps they too will become collectible with the passage of time.
Sewing is an ancient skill, once exclusively done laboriously and painstakingly by hand, today a modern creative activity enhanced by computerization and pursued not only by frugal home sewers, but elevated by textile artists, hobbyists, and haute couture fashion.
Sew happy, sew inspired.