Past Notions

I’ve been having some hand and wrist issues since Sunday– luckily it doesn’t seem to be carpal tunnel, but I’m being good and not sewing and wearing my brace so here’s a little side project I’ve been thinking about for a while now but has been low-priority:

I’d like to have a period sewing kit for the 16th century.  What does that look like?  What do I need?  How do I find the supplies?

My modern sewing kit consists of a pincushion, pins, needles, thread (and some way to hold it), a thread cutting mechanism (scissors or snips), an awl, beeswax, and some variety of measuring device.

I’ve gotten a hold of some of what I need, but not all.  I also have done some research on what I don’t have.


Spiral-head brass pins.  I believe these are cast, not twisted, but I don’t care that much.  These are from Irene Davis on etsy, who is a member of the Order of the Laurel for metalworking.  We had a great chat at GWW about period pins and needles.  To learn more about period pins I recommend this article from Early Lace.  At some point I might try making my own from brass or silver alloy wire because a) buying them is expensive and

b) These are nearly 1mm thick, which is fine for pining dress plackets and veils but not exactly ideal for pinning fabrics together, especially if you don’t want to make a hole.


Hand-forged needles.  These, I will admit, are kind of cheating– my mom got them for me at a tiny needle shop in Kyoto.  She didn’t even realize they were hand-forged until I looked at them and went…. wait a second…..

They’re also steel, while most of the period needles I’ve seen are brass.  However, in my talk with Irene Davis she mentioned that steel needles originated in China and spread because they work much better for sewing silk.  If I were doing 10th Century I’d try harder to find brass needles but by 16th C Spain there were established trade routes with Persia, North Africa, India, and China, so whatever.  I also have no idea where to find hand-forged brass needles that are a size I can actually use with reasonable weights of fabrics.  To be fair, I don’t know where to find these without a plane flight to Kyoto either.

For thread I use linen thread I buy at Lacis.  Right now I have it on plastic spools still, but we sell bone thread winders at the shop and I’ll get one eventually, I’m just trying to spend less money this month.


This is a bone awl from Burnley and Trowbridge– technically it’s a reproduction of a 18th C awl, but right now that’s good enough for me.  One thing I like about this is that the back end of it is textured to use as a needle pusher.  Since I have difficulty with thimbles for a variety of reasons I appreciate that feature.


A beeswax cake gifted to me at Costume College by another SCA costumer!  Luckily beeswax hasn’t changed much in the last couple hundred years, so this one’s easy.


Thread snips– I actually hate this style of snip, and when I have a choice I use a very precise light weight spring-loaded pair from Lacis, but there are period examples in this style so these are coming with me.  Check out these at the V&A!

I’ve been doing some research into period pin cushions.  There are a couple extant 17th C ones at the V&A and they tend to be rectangular and elaborately embroidered in a canvaswork style.  In the famous Elizabeth Vernon dressing room painting there is a rectangular pincushion with many pins, although it is difficult to tell what, if any, decoration it has.  I haven’t found any evidence of blackwork embroidered pincushions.

In terms of measuring devices I’m probably going to mark lines on a piece of ribbon or twill tape to use as a tape measure– I received a copy of the Modern Maker V1 over the weekend and I’m planning on making a bara tape anyway.

I’d also eventually like to look into period embroidery hoops/frames.  Right now I’ve got a Rolaframe scroll frame which is all wood and therefore not too obtrusive if I want to take it to SCA events, but I’m curious as to what was actually used because Hi

Tiny perfectionist


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