18th Century Sewing Kits

This page focuses on images of different sorts of sewing kits, including sewing-boxes, etuis, housewives, and so on. You can jump down to special sections for baskets, hussifs/housewifes/sewing rolls, 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; 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

Additional Resources

Blogs about this type of sewing kit: Dances with Wools, Slightly Obsessed, The Viking Hedgehog, A Woodsrunner’s Diary

The Housewife and Housewife (Mending Kit): shows re-creations of 18th century housewives, and their contents

Hussifs, Housewifes, and Sewing Rolls

While I’m categorizing the housewife, or “hussif,” in with the 18th century sewing kits (since many of them still contain pins, needles, and other sewing-related accoutrements) descriptions in the Proceedings of the Old Bailey indicate that they contained coins and other small items of value. For example:

The Old Bailey sometimes provides information about the housewifes themselves:

See also pocketbooks.

  • Sotheby’s Schorsch Collection Lot 755, “a fine and rare needlework silk hanging pocket, England, late 17th century”
  • Bonhams Oxford Fine Sale, Jul 1 2015, Lot 623, an early 18th century needlework hussif; “Featuring four pockets of brightly coloured silks, each one with an embroidered motif, including an 'A' monogram, a depiction of Queen Anne, the Manx triskelion and a crown with flowering tendrils, above four layered inverted red wool felt hearts, all worked in silk and metal threads, backed with foliate embroidered pink silk”
  • RISD 14.061, a needle case embroidery fragment, Rhode Island, 18th century; silk embroidery in cross stitch and rococo stitch on a plain-weave cotton ground
  • OSV 64.7.27, c. 1760-1800; a pocketbook with four scalloped leaves of dark olive green wool with napped surface which hold pins and needles
  • Bonham’s Sale 12101, Lot 554, “an 18th Century silk and silver wire floral embroidered pincushion, with blue velvet ground, with red felt needle roll”
  • MFA 54.1346, a sewing case, America, late 18th century; “long and narrow in shape, designed to be rolled up and tied, outside embroidered with polychrome silks in rococo stitch, design of assorted small squares, inside a series of brocade pockets designed to contain sewing equipment, at bottom a needle book of five leaves of red wool with pinked edges and cut out design, edges bound with green silk tape, tie of same tape.”
  • PMA 1998-162-27, a pattern of strawberries in rococo stitch on linen canvas, with engraved silver clasp, thread compartments, and wool baize flaps for holding needles, America, late 18th or early 19th century
  • V&A T.285-1984, a needlecase made by a resident of the West Country in England in 1754; “Folding sewing case with six inside sections, five pockets (two are sewn down) and a red flannel compartment for needles. The latter lifts away to show a white silk panel embroidered in red silk with a coronet, the initials 'S.H.' and the date '1754'. The outside of the case is lined with yellow figure satin of the 1720s and is edged with yellow silk braid, with a 46 cm (18 inches) long fastening ribbon to wrap around the case when folded and closed. The inside pockets are made from English woven ribbons of the 1720s (the blue and two yellow samples) and 1730s (green and cream), and a 1720s French silk brocaded is silver thread. One ribbon (of yellow with red design) has been used on its side. The open pockets are lined on one side with plain green silk. ”
  • Lucy Watson, Mrs. Thornton by Arthur Devis, 1755
  • Winterthur 2011.0045/Skinner Auction 2538B, Lot 47, a sewing roll (huswif) embroidered in flame stitch and inscribed “LP 1763” – see LACMA M.79.29 for a pocketbook with similar embroidery, inscribed “EP 1763” and thought to belong to a close relative
  • Skinner Auction 2230, Lot 292; “Embroidered Wool and Silk Needle Case, probably Philadelphia, 1764, elongated rectangle, wool yarns with Irish stitch worked in a flame design in shades of red, yellow, blue, and green, one end stitched "LM 1764," silk-bound edges and lining”
  • Winterthur 2002.0027.001, an embroidered sewing roll (huswif) made by Serepta Reeves in America and dated 1772
  • Winterthur 1978.0122, a sewing roll (huswif) embroidered by Jane Grier of Norristown, Pennsylvania c. 1775-1780
  • Winterthur 1966.1363, an embroidered sewing roll (huswif) made in America c. 1775-1825
  • Winterthur 1966.1362, an embroidered sewing roll (huswif) made in Pennsylvania and dated 1776
  • PMA 1910-178, a sewing case in brocaded satin with mirrors, tinsel, and beading, America, c. 1780
  • Winterthur 1960.0196, a sewing roll (huswif) made of block-printed cotton, England, c. 1780-1800
  • Winterthur 1969.3106, a sewing roll (huswif) made of block-printed cotton with cross stitches, made in America c. 1780-1810
  • OSV 26.85.48, c. 1780-1820; “Housewife or sewing case pieced from three different fabrics. Trimmed with light blue silk tape. Inside material is an 18th-century embroidered silk, the fragment of a larger design. Worked in shades of green, yellow, cream and pink with silver threads on ribbed cream silk. Two red wool leaves. Other fabrics are late-18th century block-printed cottons in shades of pink and red, brown one has green and gold also.”
  • Winterthur 1969.3107, a sewing roll (huswif) made of block-printed cotton with wool and silk, made in America c. 1795-1820
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1958-181, sewing case by Magdalena Gros, Pennsylvania, 1798; “This is a rectangular thread and needle case consisting of silk embroidery threads on a linen ground with printed cottons, and a striped linen backing. It has five pockets for holding materials. The sewing case is embellished in silk embroidered motifs consisting of small, angular motifs similar to those found on Pennsylvania German needlework. The flap has a star design and date of "1798" in cross stitch on natural linen. The bottom pocket has the maker’s name, "MAGDAL/ENA GRO/GROS" and a flowering tree motif flanked by birds (weather-vanes?) worked in silk cross stitch embroidery (a sampler type exercise).”
  • MFA 49.1011, a sewing case or housewife, England (used in Boston, Massachusetts), late 18th or early 19th century; “Red leather folding needle case with silver, engraved, urn-shaped clasp; long, narrow interior leather pockets, green silk satin pockets trimmed with green ribbon, white wool needle flaps trimmed with silver gimp over mirror”
  • Maria Niforos LA-144, quilted “huswife” with bobbin lace edging the opening-slits, possibly Swiss; back is plain linen with the initials 'TG' embroidered in bright red
  • Bonhams Sewing Boxes, Sewing Tools and Related Items, 12 Dec 2006, Lot 1587, a fine 18th century cream silk and polychrome silk embroidered hussif; “The colours bright and fresh, the outer cover vividly worked with a variety of flowers and trailing leaves, the interior with five silk skein compartments numbered '4/2/12/8/6' and worked along the length with vivid flowers and trailing leafy branches, the rectangular end with four graduated red needle flannels over a stiff card end worked with a scissor sheath flanked by a bodkin sleeve, both outlined in green stitching, the second flannel with two very fine needles, ribbon tie”
  • Colonial Williamsburg 1971-1419, a pincushion, needlecase, and thimble-case c. 1800, “made from scraps of silk gowns worn by Martha Washington while mistress of the White House”


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."