Sewing With A Smile

Written by: Olive Graffam, DAR Museum Curator of Collections/Research Associate
February 24, 2016

The DAR Museum collection of needlework tools spans the years from the 18th century to the early 20th century and contains both basic and exceptional examples.  In 2008 the museum received a collection of small sewing tools donated by Rolfe Towle Teague, Past Curator General 2001-2004, who was an accomplished needleworker.  Her collection reflects an interest in nature; animal, bird, and aquatic themes prevail.  Decorative and useful, these small objects are not only a whimsical addition to the DAR Museum needlework holdings, but also convey a remembrance of feminine lives.

Through the ages, sewing has occupied much of women’s lives.  Whether for plain or decorative sewing, needlework tools are required. The term needlework implies labor, and in the past, women often referred to sewing as their “work.”   The accompanying implements became known as needlework tools.  Here are four from the Teague collection designed to solve sewing tasks with a smile.  

What is more basic than the ordinary straight pin? Mary C. Beaudry in her book Findings:  The Material Culture of Needlework and Sewing discusses archeological discoveries about the types and sizes of pins:  short pins, long pins, sewing pins, wig pins, shroud pins, blanket pins, black mourning pins and numerous others. Pins were first sold in loose sets and later in papers and boxes.  Loose pins were a problem and a variety of pin holders came to the rescue.  This little hedgehog is an endearing solution and is typical of sewing novelties so popular in the late 19th and early 20th century.

A needle rarely gets much attention today, but it remains an essential needlework tool.    Like pins, needles on the loose are a hazard and a nuisance.  Entrepreneurs offered needle cases, needle books, and holders in various materials and designs. The Redditch, England firm of William Avery and Son manufactured brass needle cases in every imaginable design.  Here a hinged walnut opens to store needle packets or individual needles.  In the 1860s and 1870s when Redditch made needles for the world, these cases were extremely popular. The website of the Forge Mill Needle Museum in Redditch provides an interesting introduction to Redditch needle making.

Scissors and shears in all forms and sizes are a common part of household inventories.  Expensive sewing and embroidery scissors were treasured and kept in pristine condition. These embroidery scissors made in Germany feature exotic birds on the bows and rapier blades for fine handwork.  The scissors exemplify both usefulness and beauty in a needlework tool.  Decorative scissors used for leisurely sewing were a popular gift for women of all ages.

Here is a gift to make anyone smile.  This little bird cage is a tape measure made in Germany about 1910.  A tiny bird perches inside its cage made of brass wires secured to a stepped base.  The user pulls and retracts the tape measure through a slit in the base. Its beautiful condition suggests the owner preferred to enjoy it as an ornament rather than a hard working tool.

If you stroll through the Yochim Gallery, take a look at these and other examples from the Teague collection.

Click here to see the images in this blog.


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