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Beautiful Old Wooden Spools and Bobbins of Thread in Antique Canning Jars

Vintage sewing notions are not outdated mending concepts, but rather items used in the nearly lost art of hand sewing. In days gone by, hand sewing was an essential skill that nearly all young women and many young men learned young. Some people uplifted their sewing to an art form. Although it was work, it was also relaxing. Mending was a chore but items made from scratch were something to be proud of. Sewing baskets were the toolboxes of these craftspeople. The tools they used are referred to as ‘notions’.

???????????????????????????????A Vintage Working Portable Sewing Machine I Found at a Church Rummage Sale with Original Case for $10 a Few Years Ago

Sewing notions run the gamut from silk, cotton and linen thread on wooden spools to delicate stork-shaped scissors and darning eggs for mending socks.

Who mends socks anymore?

???????????????????????????????Old Black Darning ‘Egg’ on a Handle, Antique Sweetgrass Basket Sewing Bird and Handmade Pin Cushion

Many of the notions themselves were handmade; hand-turned darning eggs, needle cases made of wood or from fabric scraps and embroidered pin cushions. Those that were ‘boughten’ or purchased from a shop often were elaborately decorated, artistic, a pleasure to use and see on a daily basis.

???????????????????????????????Handmade Needle Case and Pin Cushion with Old Thimbles

Vintage sewing notions harken from a time when people, mostly women, would dissect an old garment after years of hard service and salvage everything possible from it. They’d patiently wind up all the thread that could be saved onto an old spool. (I believe there’s even a reference to this in the book, Little Women.) Every button would be rescued and kept in a jar or the bottom of the sewing basket. Every bit of lace, every old zipper and length of seam binding would be re-purposed. Then, any of the fabric that wasn’t worn through would be pressed out and re-made into another, smaller, clothing item for an adult or a child. The fabric that was left would become patches, mop rags or braided into a rug. Nothing was wasted.

???????????????????????????????A Braided Rug Made By One of My Grandmothers

Many years ago, I lived in Northern New York state for a couple of years, in the Adirondack wilderness area. The closest town was Saranac Lake, 35 miles away from my cabin in the woods. I volunteered there at a local thrift store and at an antique and junk shop. In exchange, I had the choice of vintage clothing and old household items. One of my prizes was an antique sewing basket, with a pin cushion and needle case woven into the lid. As soon as I found it in an old trunk full of faded newspapers, I loved it. It made me think of my Grandmother. Gramma loved the smell of a sweet grass basket. Even after years in that trunk, when I opened that old basket it smelled like a field of fresh-cut hay.

???????????????????????????????Inside the Lid of the Basket with the Woven-In Needle Case, Thimble Holder and Pincushion, There are Decorative Needle Packets and Hand-Painted Darning Tools for Socks, Garment Elbows and Knees and Gloves as Well

Growing up, Grandma and I would spend hours, sitting side by side with our sewing projects. She would be making outfits for me and I’d be making outfits from the scraps for my dolls. She showed me a lot of tricks and techniques and I cherish the memories of all those hours. I loved digging through her sewing basket to find just the right old button or hook-and-eye to finish a doll’s outfit.

???????????????????????????????Sweetgrass Baskets and Vintage Notion Packets

By the time I was in the fifth grade, I was making some of my own clothes as well. When in high school, ahead of my time, I was taking interesting old fabric I found at yard sales and creating unique clothing items with vintage lace and antique buttons. Then I had a little business making clothing from old jeans; skirts, vests etc. From there it was one-of-a-kind quilts from a variety of recycled fabrics and lace.

???????????????????????????????Some Reproduction Sewing Tins I Use to Store Sewing Items

When I went away to college as a teenager, my Grandmother took some items from her sewing basket and added them to the smaller version she’d help me assemble years before. Some of those things she’d had for decades, if not longer (how many belonged to her mother or grandmother I wonder now). I felt honored to have them. Every time I used some of those mending tools, I thought of her and it took me a little closer to home. It also reminded me of her hand sewing ethic; “it must look as good on the backside as on the front.” A tough concept to live up to but I try!

???????????????????????????????Some Mysterious Buttons and Old Thimbles from My Grandmother’s Sewing Kit

I was lucky to have my Grandmother for many years after but she’s been gone a long time now. To this day I cannot work on a sewing project without hearing her words in my head. Even when good enough would suffice for me; I slow down, rip out and do over projects that I know would never meet with her approval.

???????????????????????????????A Fascinating Assortment of Items from my Great Grandmother’s Sewing Basket. I Still Haven’t Figured Out What the Green Metal Flower-Shaped Item with a Spike on the Back Is

To this day, if I go to a junk sale or rummage sale, I keep an eye out for vintage sewing notions. When I find them, I display some of them in old canning jars and a few of them end up in my own sewing basket. There are a couple of things that I am still trying to figure out the use for. I have even picked up some reproduction pieces that I find interesting and useful.


The Metal Item at the Bottom is (I Think) a Boot Hook

Some of the things I’ve found in old sewing baskets just don’t seem to have any apparent explanation. Obviously, they meant something special to the women who owned and used them all the time. I’ve found shells, stones, medals, single earrings, odd coins, uniform badges and glass beaded baby ID bracelets in them. Sewing baskets were very personal spaces. Women used them nearly every day of their lives and I think those odd items held very special meanings for them. I think they stored those things in their sewing baskets so they could see them and touch them every day. It was a safe place and those items I’ve found, I’ve stored in tins and jars in memory of those unknown women. I take then out on occasion and I ponder the mysteries. Their original owners may be gone but they are not forgotten.

???????????????????????????????This Unfinished Quilt Square Made of Re-Purposed Fabric was Found in the Bottom of an Old Sewing Basket from a Rummage Sale, Just Waiting for Me!