Sunday, December 18, 2016

"Housewife" Needle Holders & Christmas Ornament

For the past couple of days I have been working on another project, a Christmas ornament if you will, inspired by a very wonderful, "Housewife", made by Grandma Matie, aka Wanda Dale Roberts. She was a very good needlewoman and sewed her own clothes in high school. She was trained by her mother who was a good needlewoman in her own right, and made a crocheted, "Housewife", of her own.

Today I want to share with you some of my, "Housewife", collection. First tho,what is a, "Housewife", you might ask? Well I will tell you. Everyone that was anyone and even those of poorer classes, carried about their persons a sewing kit, for simply put that is what a housewife is. Most often it was just a simple bit of cloth with needle's stuck in it, which you could role up and tuck into a pocket for travel. As time went by these often became very elaborate and it said a lot about the social status of the owner. Children, especially girls, were taught how to make them as part of their training in sewing, at a very young age.
This one is modern and is on a printed card, and was given me by my daughter, Vonnie, a few years ago. I carry it in my sewing kit with all of my other notions, for it is in almost constant use, and very handy indeed.
 As you can see it has a wide range of needle's for my projects and I couldn't get along without it.
This lovely one was given me by a very dear friend, Janice Dodson, who made this entirely by hand. I modified it a little by adding the yarn so I could hang it on the wall. It hangs where I can see it every day, and reminds me of this truly gentle and kind friend.
This housewife was made by grt. Grandma May, aka Mary Ann Zimmerman-Roberts, Matie's mother.
She made the heart shaped crochet's I used on my other ornaments, tho this is of much finer thread. It is sewn over silk which has been sewn over two stiff pieces of cardboard, and dates to the early 1900's.
She may have intended to make another, "Housewife," out of them, but was never able to, or moved on to other projects. I was happy to have them for my own creations. The needle's seen here date from the period and are original to it.
This rough little housewife has the letter "R" cross stitched on it and came from Matie's little sewing bag. The, "R", standing for her last name of Roberts. I think this was part of her training in sewing and she did it some time around 1908 or 1910, she would have been 8 or 10 at the time. The embroidery thread is silk/rayon.
The inside is a very fine piece of silk, and the needle's, which are original to the piece, are tucked into a small swatch of wool. Which as you can see has been nibbled by a bug at some point.
I think this was in very common use by Matie and she was none to careful with it. The stain is not one I have attempted to remove, as I didn't want to endanger the silk inside. I may take a damp cloth and try blotting it a bit.
The above is not a, "Housewife", but a sewing project Matie did in high school circa 1917-1920. I wanted to share it, to show just how talented a needlewoman she was becoming. Believe me the stitches are so tiny and neat, they leave me in awe. This is lace, and silk ribbon, sewn to a little pink card cutout. The whole thing was then mounted on a black background and framed under glass. I was told, when she gave it to me, that the hair was her own.
Here is the sweet little, "Housewife", that inspired me to do an ornament. This was also made by Grandma Matie, and was made of wool felt, old lace, and silk ribbon. The center of each flower has a french knot and once again the stitches are very fine and neat, with lovely embroidery stitches on the edges and defining the hat. I think this was made circa 1915-1918.
It is made in three layers with the center layer holding the pins, as you can see. The pins are also original to the piece, as I felt it was better to leave them.
As you can see the back is very simply and not two sided. It seems at first glance a very simple project, but is deceptively so. The details and construction are much more advanced than they seem, as I found out when I went to duplicate it.
Here is the  tracing I did of the housewife, with a few modifications of my own. I fluted the skirt more and curved the tip of the bonnet a wee bit. In making it just two layers, and the fact I was also going to stuff it, I left off the lower lace, and added more flowers. I would have left it on if I could have found lace delicate and narrow enough, but alas I did not have any.
 Here they are for comparison, my ornament on the left and Matie's, "Housewife", on the right. I am thinking of doing another, only using tiny decorative buttons instead of flowers. Matie had machine cut tiny felt circle's for her flowers and I had to cut each of mine out by hand. A tedious task I have no wish to repeat. Believe me when I say, there are 37 little circles on my ornament and each of them has a french knot in it. Making 37 french knots is not a lot of fun.
Using embroidery stitches in black along the edge, and to outline the shape of the bonnet, really lent itself to that old time, "Sun Bonnet Sue", look. I think it made a lovely ornament and while challenging, was still lots of fun to make. So the next time you reach for your needle kit, I hope you think of this and remember the, "Housewife's", made by all of your grandmothers down through the years. May it also inspire you to new heights of creativity. 


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