A Growing Collection

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trinketsI used to always think I wasn’t one for collections. I’d see photos of seashells, feathers, or other tiny figurines and such that other people collect, and tell myself, “I could never fill my space with tons of little tchotchkes.” I’m seeing more and more how wrong I was.

I’ve written about this before, but I’m not one to have things sitting around my house that don’t have a purpose. I’m happy to buy things that feel useful to me, but I usually shy away from random things that just take up space. I think I’m at the point where I have to admit what’s growing in my sewing studio though. I have my own little random collection. So far it is made up of Charlotte the Singer 201-2, a dozen or so early 1900s sewing magazines, sewing patterns, an Excelsior Plaiter, some incredible vintage fashion illustrations (which I should share here), and a growing jar of cute buttons and antique mending kits.

What’s a few more small pieces, eh? I really hope this isn’t how every person on that awful show “Hoarders” started out. I’ll start stacking vintage patterns up in every corner, piling away every fashion illustration I can get my hands on, then 50 cats will magically appear in my sewing room, draped over every surface. I don’t buy every little sewing trinket that I find, BUT I COULD. I mean, how am I supposed to resist tiny prancing Lipizzaner pony buttons?!


Do I have a use for them? No. Did I NEED them? Yes. I hope you understand I had no choice but to take them home with me.

I don’t really know what made me start looking thru vintage photographs at my local antique store. Oh wait, yes I do. Two young kids were blocking my access to the vintage pattern bin and they seemed to be immune to my old lady “what are you doing looking in those, get out” stink eye. I flipped thru a few photos while I waited for my turn at the bin, and then I saw her.

1880sphoto I have no idea who she is, or what her name is, but something about her expression caught me a bit off guard. She seems so sure of herself. What I like even more than her expression is her dress. It’s a beautiful example of a dress from the 1880s. It’s impeccably tailored to her body, with those tight sleeves, formed lapels, and crisp fabrics. I love the detail on the side of the skirt- the fold of fabric that is wrapped around itself and hangs with the weight of two tassels. It’s no wonder she felt confident when this picture was taken. Finding this made me start thinking about possibly collecting (there I go again) more photos; I’d like to find more examples of antique photos with beautifully made garments.

After tucking the photo of Little Miss Sassy Pants under my arm, I went over to another cabinet, where I saw a small clear envelope. Inside of it were two packages of needles from the 1800s. Yes, they also came home with me. My brain says things to me like, “Oh, is that old but still possibly useful? BUY IT. NOW.”

1800sneedlesThe foil printing on the front of the package is really great, and originally what caught my eye. The inside of the packaging has some more fun foil stamping.

needleadsThese are the needles that are inside the S. Thomas & Sons casing. There is another foil advertisement, for Clark’s thread, but look at how tiny some of these needles are! The tiniest needles have such small eyes that I think I’d have a hard time even feeding a piece of hair thru one of them.

1800sneedlesizesThe H. Milward & Sons needles said that they were “patent helix” needles. I was curious as to what the needles would look like, but I think the main difference is the shape of the needle head and eye.

1800sneedleheadsTo compare, here is one of the antique “helix” needles on the left, and on the right there is a modern Dritz brand needle. Both are sharps, and both are supposedly the same gauge. What differences do you notice? You can click on all of these photos to make them larger if you’d like to see more details.

needleeyesThe eye of the needle on the left is much cleaner, and has a smoother and longer scarf. Notice also that the head of the needle smoothly runs into the blade, so it would insert into fabric easily. The needle on the right, which is the modern-day Dritz, has a needle head that is wider than its blade. You would find this needle to be more resistant to feeding thru fabric. Since the blade leads into a wider head, your needle would feed easily into your fabric up until your fabric meets the needle head. The head has to make a wider hole in your fabric to fit thru and make your stitch, because the blade doesn’t make a wide enough hole.

I’m eager clean up these needles and try them out with a bit of hand sewing. Would you use antique notions like needles and buttons on your current-day projects?

  • Tamara Oster

    I love your treasures! I also noticed the chair our Little Mss Sassy Pants is posed with….look at the rustic, woodsy simplicity in counter point to her poise and perfection. I love to collect old sewing notions, they make me feel connected with those who went before us!

    • I love them too! In fact… I went and bought more antique needles- I couldn’t help myself! I found more awesome photos as well of women in ball gowns from the 1890s and I can’t decide if I should hoard them as well.

      I like the feeling of connectedness as well. I always think of that when I buy something vintage or an old piece of furniture. Who’s story goes with it and what is that story?

  • Branalyn Dailey

    Just so you know, I have blog stalked you a little over here and I mentioned you in my last post (http://branalyn.blogspot.com/2013/04/so-but-so.html). You know, so everyone knows how obsessed I’ve become with the Craftsy class and my serger. : )

    • Hi, Branalyn! I’m so glad you are loving your serger so much! 🙂 You can stalk me all you want. I’m guilting of doing that myself sometimes!

  • Michelle

    I never thought about how snug those woven dresses were, wow. And the needles look like such a fun find – I hope you report back on how using them. I have an urge to go inspect my various needles but many are origins unknown (I know friends who swear by the John um, James?, brand of needles). I tend to not think about the needle I grab for hand sewing at all.

    • Isn’t it amazing? The thing is, they could be that snug and have no ease because they were individually made and actually fit everyone perfectly, unlike today’s clothes. I could write a book on how a correctly fitting sleeve would change your life and wardrobe!

      The needles are AWESOME. I am a big fan so far. I like the John James needles as well and have used them for a few years. I like their teeny tiny Sharps and Betweens because you can have more control over your stitches when you use a shorter needle. You should try them out- you may find that it’s actually faster for you to bind your quilts!

  • Alissa

    I would definitely find a way to use antique buttons as cute as those ponies!! And the difference in the needle is significant. I can’t count how many times I pull a needle through fabric only to have it get stuck at the head. Then I always wonder if the knot in the thread will stay put or slip through, as well. They did it better way back when! Thanks for sharing these finds – I love the photo, as well. It’s beautiful. I’m also drawn to old photographs – it’s fun to glimpse someone from years and years ago and wonder what their life was like.

    • I have quite a little stash of vintage buttons now. I am in love with glass ones, because I couldn’t put something like these little ponies in the washer.

      The head of a needle can make a big difference in the look of your hand stitching. If you can find vintage needles, try the John James brand. They are milled in England and are far superior to cheap needles.

      I found more old photographs- of women in 1890s ball gowns, no less. I just don’t know if I can justify getting them, even though they’re inexpensive.

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