When houses are cleared, belongings are sorted and items redistributed, sewing paraphernalia seems to be overlooked. Low intrinsic value is the most probable explanation, but to me, an individual’s sewing kit/box/basket is quite a personal item. 

I’ve acquired two or three previously, courtesy of relations or family friends, but this one was bought from an antiques shop in Ripley, Derbyshire. My only association with the place is that my grandad (born 1920) came from Ripley. I called last Saturday as my mum assured me the small town centre department store cafe served homemade scones.  

As we were about to leave town, I spotted an antiques shop, and something made me cross the road and park up again. 

The wooden sewing box was the first thing I spotted. As I began to open the compartments I saw the contents were still intact. The lady from the sho ventured outside and advised me it would be £10 for the sewing box, and a further £3 if I wanted the bag of knitting needles and patterns beside it. 

Inside I spotted some pretty postcards, set in frames that were completely wrong but that didn’t detract from their appeal. I found one set of three, then another. As I went to the cashpoint my mum found an inscribed cigarette tin that had the look of prisoner of war art. I’d also glanced at an old and shabby clothes airer. After a little bartering, I handed over £30 for the sewing box, the 2 sets of framed cards and the airer, swiftly followed by another £2 for the cigarette tin. A very fair price, I felt. I quickly put the airer to use in my sewing room, as a way of storing my WIPs rather than piling them on a dining chair. 

 The sewing box was slightly damaged, but filled with sewing paraphernalia. The contents appeared untouched since the last time it was used.  

 On a sunny Sunday afternoon, I settled down outside to sort through the contents. When looking at something like this, certain (slightly morbid) thoughts frequently cross my mind. When was the sewing box last used? Did the owner (presumably female) realise it would be the last time? Why didn’t her family want to keep her possessions?  

 The box was full – jam packed. Threads, fabrics, tools and equipment, odds and ends, spare buttons and scraps of cloth and ribbon. A collection of inexpensive items accumulated over many years.  

 I was ruthless. If I didn’t like it, need it, didn’t deem it to be old or quirky enough to be seen as ‘vintage’, it didn’t make the cut. The make do and mend mentality was particularly obvious when I came across this piece of underwear, partially chopped into and clearly saved because of the pretty lace detail.  

 Other items also harked back to a time when items weren’t disposable and repairs were necessary.  

 Eventually I made a discovery that pleased me. Perhaps the original owner didn’t just darn stockings and repair ladders in tights.  

 In the top right compartment, shown above, is a small selection of glass eyes and black plastic noses, surely meant eventually for stuffed toys. It would be lovely to know what she made, and to who she gave them.  

 I’m guessing that’s who the bow tie belonged to or was destined for, too. 

 

 Anything rusty, broken, discoloured or frayed was disposed of. I was especially pleased to find some pretty sections of lace, and some funky retro buttons.  

 Once everything had been removed and investigated, I gave the box a shake and a wipe, then organised the items back into place.  Oliver helped. 

 For now, the sewing box stands on the side in the sewing room. I like the style, as well as knowing that all of the items inside are clean and usable. It’s upcycled though not repurposed, and crucially, it’s not landfill. It does make me a little sad that the owner at some time probably made teddy bears and other soft toys, but that wasn’t reason enough for family to want to keep the box. It pleases me however that the box and many of it’s contents will live to serve another purpose. 

Have you inherited or acquired any vintage sewing items? Do they have a story? I’d love to hear it…

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