Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mother Of Pearl Needlework Tools

One of the finest reference books in my library is An Illustrated History of Needlework Tools, by Gay Ann Rogers. I remember saving up to purchase it, after finding it in the library while researching a Shaker pincushion. The book is now out of print, but copies are available on the secondary marked.

Over the years, I've browsed through the book many times marveling at the intricate artistry of 19th century sewing implements. Photos of fitted boxes, beautifully crafted and filled with complete sets of tools underscore the importance of needlework in 19th century life.

Rogers writes: "The fitted needlework box was carefully made and exquisitely decorated because it was an integral part of the social life of privileged women the first half of the nineteenth century."

"...women often carried their elegantly fitted needlework boxes on visits to one another. The boxes furnished an endless source of conversation and amusement for those in need of something delightful to occupy their time. Implements would be admired as needlework and conversation went on together"

Tools were commonly made of ivory, silver and mother of pearl, combined with steel if the implement called for it. Beauty and function went hand in hand. By late in the 19th century, moderately priced mass produced kits with celluloid handles were available in the United States.

While celluloid sewing tools are easily found, and sterling thimbles and scissors come along regularly, I'd never found any of the mother of pearl tools that I've admired in photos. You can imagine my delight then, when this group came up for auction recently. There were silk winders, spools, pincushions, emeries, a tape measure, scissors and more. Each is a little work of art. (The little carved fish are often called silk winders, but it's likely that they originally were produced as game markers. Victorian ladies saw the potential for a handy place to store a prized bit a silk thread, and used them.)

Had I been wearing a monitor you would have seen my heart rate spike, as I realized that the entire group was being sold together, rather than piece by piece. The chant of the auctioneer was nearly drowned out by the pounding in my ears. Mercifully, the battle was brief and I emerged victorious. If I had been able to purchase nothing else that day, I still would have returned home happy. These items are simply beautiful...don't you agree?

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