18th Century Sewing Kits

Last updated: Jan 7, 2024

This page focuses on images of different sorts of sewing kits, including sewing-boxes, etuis, housewives, and so on. The section on housewifes (hussifs) and sewing rolls has moved to its own page, but you can jump down to special sections for baskets, needlecases, and work tables.

(See also tailors & seamstresses, embroiderers, pincushions, chatelaines & equipages, work bags, étuis, etc.)

  • LACMA L.2006.13.6 and LACMA L.2006.13.7a-b, mother-of-pearl and painted wood sewing boxes made in Peru or the Philippines, late 17th or early 18th centuries
  • The hard-working mother by Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, 1740
  • Theriaults Antique Needlework Tools and Sewing, Lot 185, a mid-18th century Viennese sewing box with pincushion
    Pook & Pook Jan 12 2013, Lot 491, “Lancaster or Berks County, Pennsylvania painted pine sewing box, late 18th c., the slant lid with an attached pincushion, retaining an old blue surface with green stippled panels and strap hinges”
    sewing box of similar shape made in 17th century Germany
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1960-730, a woman’s work bag or sewing purse, England, c. 1760-1780; “ivory-color finely ribbed silk, elaborately embroidered with silk, silver metallic threads, enameled metal (copper alloy?), and sequins, edged with silver lace. Purse is a modified teardrop or pear shape of fabric-covered paperboard with the addition of an attached drawstring bag. Purse has 4 compartments: a top shallow compartment with flip-up lid; a drawer that extends out of the side; a hinged double tufted pincushion that drops from the bottom, secured by a button and loop; and a drawstring bag stitched to the rear with fabric channels for holding knitting needles in place. Silver tinsel tassels trim the wide ribbon drawstring and handles.”
  • Domestick Amusement: The Fair Seamstress, 1764
  • Historic New England 1977.17, a silver fish which contains a small scissors and a knife for sewing, c. 1765-1790
  • A candlestand-case (Fig. 1) made to contain threads, needles, wax, etc. and all other utensils, in Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, s.n. Tailleur d'habits et tailleur de corps, 1771
  • MFA 54.1349, an embroidered pin cushion sewing box, America; “foundation of cardboard box with sliding drawers at each end, ends of drawers, sides of box, and attached pin cushion at top of box covered with white satin (now yellowed and stained), satin embroidered with polychrome silks and gold metal thread and sequins in serpentine border design, arrangement of fruit filled platter in center of pin cushion with fruit or flower spray in each corner, bottom of box and insides of drawers covered with polychrome block printed paper.”
  • MFA 43.1607, a sewing kit in the form of a doll, England, late 18th century
  • Antiques-Atlas AS145A066, an 18th century ivory sewing kit; “measures 3½" in length and comprises of a pair of scissors, thimble, needle case, bodkin and stiletto. The implements are in base metal with gilding.”
  • Maria Niforos EI-15, a pincushion and needlecase in silk with beadwork and metallic lace; “ornate beadwork and metallic work surrounding the heart-shaped mirrors. These mirrors were composed of silver nitrate and were extremely expensive in their day. The Etui has a unusual vignette at the top, which seems to hold a hand-painted ornate bird perched on a grape vine that has been beautifully painted. The bottom of the pincushion is covered with a fine floral silk, edged with a silver braid.”
  • MOMU T12/1012/E32, a wallpaper-covered box with domino-paper-covered compartments containing embroidery threads, chenille, and ribbon, with fragments of a man’s waistcoat embroidered with silks and linen, c. 1780-1800
  • LACMA M.81.94a-c, a woman's work bag and box, Lisbon, c. 1787
  • MFA 54.1345, a sewing case with pincushion, 1790; “Small sewing case, tear shaped with upper part a pin cushion, and lower part and envelope, open at bottom and containing a double leaf of red wool for storage of needles, long pink ribbon loop attached to needle case and threaded through top of entire case for hanging, pin cushion covered in back with pink silk, on front with white satin and polychrome silk embroidered design of carnation and other small blossoms, pin cushion trimmed on edges with gold cord and minute silk tassels, the envelope (sewn to back of pin cushion) made of foundation of brown wool covered with black satin which is in turn embroidered with polychrome silk chain stitch floral motives, envelope lined with pink glazed linen, edges of envelope bound with ombré pink ribbon”
  • Lady Jane Mathew and her daughters, c. 1790
  • Sewing box in tulipwood and kingswood with painted medallions, England, c. 1790-1799
  • Kyoto Costume Institute AC29 77-5-18AL, a straw-work sewing box decorated with parquetry, France, late 18th century
  • Sewing box painted with scenes from Belgian spa towns
  • V&A 1769:1 to 13-1892, a carved ivory box which held sewing tools or similar accessories, made in China for the export market, c. 1790-1810
  • MFAH 2008.31, a wooden sewing box with painted scenes and a padded fabric top, late 18th century
    LACMA M.2008.17, a wooden sewing box with painted scenes and a padded fabric top, Mexico, c. 1800

(The housewifes/hussifs/sewing rolls are on a separate page.)


Needlecases and bodkin cases

  • PMA 1975-140-75a,b, bodkin needlecase with tape measure, England (Birmingham?), c. 1770; “Enamel on copper with hand-painted decoration and traces of gilt decoration; metal mounts; silk tape”
  • V&A M.7:1, 2-1998, London, c. 1780; “Enamelled gold bodkin case with blue enamel ribbons and flowers framing four cameos on a chocolate ground.”

Work tables and other furniture

The MFA describes the early development of these tables:

Tables such as this represent early efforts by American cabinetmakers to create furniture forms specifically for women. Although needlework was an essential skill and accomplishment for colonial women, specialized furniture to store sewing equipment was not produced until the late-eighteenth century. Prior to that time, women usually kept their work and tools in baskets or in pockets hidden beneath layers of petticoats. British designer Thomas Sheraton, whose work frequently was copied in the United States, defined these sewing or "pouch tables" as "Table with a Bag, used by Ladies to work at, in which bag they deposit their fancy needlework."