The Sewing Box
This post was originally published in the 1820 Col. Benjamin Stephenson House's volunteer newsletter, The Volunteer, May 2011. Written by RoxAnn Grabowski Raisner.
''Twill last all my sewing years!” Thomas Hardy quote
|1770-1820 sewing box|
Sewing kits dating to the 1820s or earlier came in a wide variety of styles and sizes. Some were small, easy to carry cloth cases that fit neatly into a pocket or reticule while some were sewing tables tucked into a corner of a room. And as we all know, it’s not the size that counts but how we use it that matters.According to The Workwoman’s Guide published in 1838, “A work-box, or basket, should be large enough to hold a moderate supply of work and all it requisites, without being of such a size as to be inconvenient to carry about, or lift with ease.” The author goes on to state, “There should be in it divisions or partitions, as they assist in the keeping it in order; but some persons are apt to run into extreme of over-partitioning their boxes, which defeats its own purpose and become troublesome: this should be carefully avoided.”
|c. 1805 sewing table|
A small kit known as a ‘housewife’ contained the basic tools needed to mend a garment; needles, thread, and scissors with the possible additions of buttons and thimble. Women and men carried these simple kits for unforeseen clothing emergencies. Documentation shows that soldiers often included them in their haversacks (a soldier's bag for rations, extra clothing, etc). One such ‘housewife’ was owned by George Shannon and traveled on the famous Lewis & Clark expedition. Shannon’s kit was constructed of red leather instead of cloth.
Sewing boxes and tables are intriguing items, even today. One of the most noticeable pieces at Stephenson House is the sewing table in the parlor. Just about every tour through the house will ask “What kind of table is that?” Children especially find the strange (and generally unknown) objects contained inside of it to be fascinating.
Many of the standard sewing tools used by our ancestors are no longer used by the general population today, so they have become obsolete and foreign. Using these objects as interpretive props is an excellent way to engage visitors and keep our heritage alive.
|My travel sewing box/kit.|