A sewing kit, once an essential item in every home, was until recently an often-overlooked novelty supplied as a freebee in better hotel bathrooms. With the recent kickback against fast fashion, these miniature treasure chests are experiencing a bit of a renaissance. Perfect for reattaching a button, repairing a fallen hem or darning a sweater before a broken stitch runs, they can increase the lifespan of a garment immeasurably – preventing a much-worn piece from going into landfill and preserving it to be loved by future generations.
These kits - known as a housewife, or ’hussif’ - date back to the 17th century. Peacock’s Glossary of words [from Lincolnshire] of 1877 describes ‘Hussif, that is house-wife; a roll of flannel with a pin-cushion attached, used for the purpose of holding pins, needles, and thread’.
Beautiful examples can be found in the Victoria & Albert museum: My favourites include a fashionable green velvet case from the late 19th century. Produced at the height of the Art Nouveau period, both the heart shape and delicious green colour were popular characteristics of this style. The kit was probably intended for travel, as it contains a selection of basic tools and equipment including a thimble, needles, a stitch ripper and thread.
Also in the collection is another charming mid-century novelty sewing kit in the shape of a miniature globe made of tin, brass and wood. The globe has a removable top; the lower half contains a tape measure calibrated in inches and centimetres. Inside the globe are miniature spools of thread, each on a tin peg; the central well holds a Beachwood needle case, with a metal top, covered by a brass thimble.
“ Not all Sewing kits were frivolous items – they were issued to soldiers as part of their kit during both world wars.”
Theses canvas kits contained sewing needles, thimble, buttons for Battle Dress and shirts, thread (both thin for badges and thick for darning socks, gloves, and other woollen items), and beeswax (to help waterproof the thread) examples can be seen in the collection of the Imperial War Museum. A sewing kit is a perfect addition to a Christmas stocking or as a Secret Santa. They are available in pretty Liberty prints or in leather from Merchant & Mills.