The Sewing Box

My husband and I love old stuff. We enjoy going to antique stores, junk stalls, flea markets and estate sales. I actually subscribe to an email list for a site that lists estate sales in my area. We rarely go looking for anything in particular. It’s more of a treasure hunt to see what we can turn up. A treasure to us anyway, if not to anyone else. But as much as I enjoy finding that rare treasure, I occasionally can’t help but feel a little sad – especially at estate sales – for the things that the family decided wasn’t worth hanging on to. An example would be some grandma’s prized china that is collecting dust on an antique store’s shelves because no one wants to bother with the care and storage of china anymore when they can use disposable plates and save the cleanup. Another example is the sewing box. There is quite literally nothing valuable in an old sewing kit. Full of 50 year old pins and old spools of thread.

Somehow, I’ve become the keeper of old sewing boxes.

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This one belonged to my adopted aunt’s mother.

I wouldn’t say I’m a collector or sewing boxes, because it was not something I set out to find. Rather, the first one was given to me. When my husband’s grandma passed. Her sewing kit was one of the things his father got to keep, except that his father didn’t sew. In fact, no one in his family sewed, except me, and I wasn’t even technically part of the family yet. But the sewing box held too many memories to end up in the junk pile, so it was offered to me. With my love of old things, how could I turn it down?

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As I went through this little box packed with old needles, wooden spools of half used thread, snaps and buttons that had been rescued from worn out articles of clothes, I felt that sadness again. There was no way I could part with these items. There was a sort of history here. So I cleaned it up and put it on a shelf for safe keeping.

When my own grandmother passed, I inherited her sewing box. This is when I first ran across salvaged zippers. My Grandma Dot had lived through the depression and came from a naturally thrifty background. She was the type to salvage everything that she thought could be of use again someday and I know she actually put it to use and a perfectly good zipper was a crime to waste! (Grandma ran a “Doll Hospital” and was always taking in old dolls to be repaired. She sometimes made them new clothes from leftover scraps.) There were actually a few things that I did part with from her boxes, but quite a bit I kept too. I have a set of old drapery rings that I will probably never use, but I haven’t been able to convince myself to part with them yet.

With her boxes, I also inherited even more wooden spools of old thread, along with Styrofoam ones and a couple of plastic ones. I specify because there is a timeline there. The wooden spools came first. Then in the 70’s (I’m guessing) is when the Styrofoam ones hit the scene. Most recently are the plastic spools because they are more durable than the Styrofoam ones. I have a bucket full of thread, but I actually use it.

When my adopted aunt’s next door neighbor passed, they asked me if I wanted a couple of old cameras they’d found since they knew I was into photography. While I was round collecting the cameras, there sat a lonely little sewing box. I asked if they were keeping it. “You want it? Take it!” was the enthusiastic reply. I now had four sewing boxes. This one came mercifully empty except some of that iron-on hem stuff. I don’t know if they cleaned it out, or if Marie never really sewed, but I was actually a little relieved. I did not need any more old sewing tidbits, no matter how sentimental they made me!

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Hopefully I’m done inheriting sewing boxes. Yet I know, if I see one sitting bereft of it’s seamstress I probably won’t be able to leave it for the junk pile. I’m telling you, there’s a history in those little boxes.

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