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Column #150

Sewing Caddies

It is said that sewing can trace its roots back 20,000 years and is a universal activity practiced in all cultures.

Early sewing needles were made from bone, wood, or plants, and the first thread was made from plant fibers and animal sinew. Those early sewers were stitching hides and furs together for clothing, bedding, and shelter, and it is not hard to imagine that there were many “Eureka! moments” across a multitude of cultures when discovering that a gizmo like a thimble could help push the needle through those heavy materials. Chinese archaeologists have found the earliest known example of a thimble in a tomb dating to 202 B.C.

The basic triumvirate of sewing tools—needle, thread, and thimble—are still the same now as they were since the beginnings of history, although we can justly claim to have gotten a tad more sophisticated in the materials used to make them.

The fourth sewing essential—scissors—came a little later to the party (teeth no doubt having served as an early stand-in for thread-cutting). Pivoted scissors (the forerunner of our modern scissors) were invented by the Romans sometime around A.D. 100.

The straight pin, another sewing must-have, also has a long history, beginning with thorns and bone, and moving into pins made of bronze by ancient Egyptians.

Iron wire was used to make pins in France and Spain as early as the 15th century, and the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century saw the creation of pin factories in Europe. The straight pin’s basic design has changed little since then.

With sewing being a way of life for everyone everywhere for millennia, it seems plausible that a receptacle in which to store the essential tools of the trade must have developed early on in the mists of history as well. I could find no history on when the sewing caddy came into being, but it’s not too great a stretch to assume that even Stone Age seamstresses would find a way to store and carry their sewing paraphernalia.

According to Collector’s Weekly, “The earliest sewing containers were simple bags made of fabric or leather. However, by the 18th century in Europe, metalworkers, jewelers, and other craftspeople were tasked with making fine sewing tools for aristocrats and ladies of the court…In the 19th century, industrialization and the rise of the middle class created a market for less expensive and more practical sewing boxes that were both attractive and durable.”

Sewing baskets, boxes, and caddies take all sorts of shapes and forms, from simple to elaborate.  Every quilter has one of some type. My grandmother gave me a small sewing basket made of wicker for Christmas when I was 9 years old, and I still use it today. My favorites, though, are two wooden folk art caddies that I own that are shaped like birds.

In both of these, a hole in the bird’s head provides a storage space for scissors, which, when inserted in the hole, form the bird’s beak. The wings—made from stuffed fabric—double as pincushions to keep needles and pins sharp and handy. Pegs serve as holders for thimbles and spools of thread.

These bird caddies, while not the most practical storage units, are funny-looking little things and they make me smile. I doubt early sewers had such whimsical ways to store their sewing tools, and I wonder what they would think of mine.


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Archived blogs:

Column 149: Rosie’s Redwork
Column 148: The Quilt of Belonging
Column 147: Kanthas—The Quilts of Bangladesh
Column 146: Patterns
Column 145: Suzy on Carolyn Mazloomi's Groundbreaking Quilt Exhibit
Column 144: Texas Community Marks Juneteenth Sesquicentennial with History Quilts
Column 143: Maya Embroidered Patchwork
Column 142: Huipil Patchwork Quilts
Column 141: Tom Korn’s Military Medal Quilts
Column 140: The Return of Double Knits!
Column 139: Passage Quilts
Column 138: Home of the Brave Quilts
Column 137: The Story of Fabric Yo-Yos
Column 136: Christmas in July
Column 135: Trifles
Column 134: Deaf Initiatives—Communicating Through Quilts
Column 133: My Betty Boop Quilt
Column 132: Maura Grace Ambrose
Column 131: All You Need Is Love
Column 130: Chicken Linens
Column 129: The Quilted Chuppah
Column 128: Patchwork Around the World: Yoruba Dance Costumes
Column 127: The Bowers Co-Op Quilts
Column 126: Fon Appliqué and Haitian Voodoo Flags
Column 125: The Quilt Garden at The North Carolina Arboretum
Column 124: Harriet Powers and Handful’s Mauma
Column 123: Quilters de Mexico
Column 122: An Appliquéd Surprise
Column 121: Matisse’s Fabric Stash
Column 120: Soogan—The Cowboys Quilt
Column 119: The Ron Swanson Quilt
Column 118: HClarkdale, Georgia—A Thread of History
Column 117: How WWI Changed the Color of Quilts in the United States
Column 116: Wagga—The Bushman’s Quilt
Column 115: All in the Family
Column 114: The Alabama State Quilt
Column 113: Balloon Quilts of Albuquerque
Column 112: The Family That Quilts Together, Stays Together
Column 111: Two Rivers, Three Sisters
Column 110: Quilters Helping Quilters
Column 109: Community Cookbooks and Fundraiser QuiltsParallel Histories
Column 108: Quilting to Freedom
Column 107: National Quilting Day
Column 106: The Airing of the Quilts
Column 105: A Call for a National Juneteenth Commemorative Quilt
Column 104: Dominoes
Column 103: 1936 Texas Centennial Bluebonnet Quilt
Column 102: Helen Blackstone, A Texas Quilter
Column 101: Montana CattleWomen Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 100: 100th Suzy's Fancy Column!
Column 99: Montana Stockgrowers Anniversary Brand Quilt
Column 98: The Tobacco Sack Connection
Column 97: Meet the Sisters Who Are State Fair Quilting Queens
Column 96: The connection between fairs and quilts.
Column 95: Her Mother Pieced Quilts
Column 94: Rebecca Barker’s Quiltscapes
Column 93: The Thread and Thimble Club Mystery

See other archived columns here

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