A Sewing Basket/Container is used to hold all of the usual items for sewing, embroidery or repairs to household items.The earliest sewing containers were simple bags made of fabric or leather. However, by the 18th century in Europe, metalworkers, jewellers, and other craftspeople were tasked with making fine sewing tools for aristocrats and ladies of the court. This led to the production of handsome boxes to securely hold these tools.
In those times Artisans used rare woods, leather, ivory, or precious metals inlaid with gems and mother of pearl on the outsides of their boxes, while the interiors were lined with rich silk or velvet. Larger boxes had two or even three levels or sections.
Sewing started many years ago and was originally used to stitch together animal hides for clothing and for shelter using sinew from animals for thread and needles made of bone. People then moved on to use silk threads and metal needles. If you should find a very old sewing basket it may still contain a few reels of silk thread which is what people used before the more modern man made polyester threads.
Before mass-produced clothing became affordable, sewing was a way of life for people around the globe. Most often, women were given seamstresses duties, and at a young age, girls were required to master complicated sewing skills. As a result, containers such as boxes and baskets designed to hold sewing tools were widespread and diverse.
A typical Victorian sewing box would be just big enough to keep all of a woman’s sewing tools, as well as a little bit of her handiwork. Inside, you’d find a ‘needle book’ with a large range of sizes, along with an assortment of thread made of cotton, linen, and silk, plus buttons formed from shells, acorns, wood, and metal. Sewing implements included different types of shears and scissors, a pin cushion and needle emery, a jar of beeswax, and a folding measure or measuring tape. Some boxes even housed tools to make lace or square cords.
In those days the interior of woman’s sewing box was considered an intimate space, much the way the inside of a handbag is now. Many of them were made to be locked, and a lady might keep some sort of love token inside it, like a romantic letter, a book of poetry, or an image of her beloved. In France, small sewing boxes known as étui in France and “lady’s companions” in England. These portable containers usually held the most basic tools required for sewing on a day trip or for a sewing circle: scissors, needle case, bodkin, and thimble, tweezers or button hook.
In recent years a small lidded sewing baskets might be made of woven cane, grass, rushes, willow, honeysuckle, or bamboo, but some containers for storing sewing items could be made of leather, wood covered in tapestry, textile, or other types of materials.
Starting around 1930, wicker bucket totes, like those made by Princess and Harvey, became beloved sewing boxes for countless numbers of women. These usually have cord handles and decal images of flowers, poodles, and sewing tools on their wooden lids.