Saturday, June 11, 2016

Household Artifacts: European Sewing Tools 1150-1600 in Practical Use

Last summer I became fascinated with pre-1600 sewing tools and began to work towards creating a historically accurate hand sewing basket to use at SCA events. Because my own persona is mid-16th century, I’ve been looking more into late period tools than Viking/early period (although there were some excellent early period tools, such as the Viking “chatelaine”)

My research began as a practical exercise, rather than a theoretical one, and grew organically into discussing trends and evolution of sewing tools. My long term goal is to collect and document sets of tools in various centuries and cultures, showing the technological progression between eras and geographical areas.

From a practical perspective, the most interesting result of this project is the change in mindset that comes with using these sewing tools. To the modern sewer, especially one with a theatrical background like myself, items like needles, pins, thread and hooks and eyes are cheap, bought in bulk, and readily available. They are tools used without thinking. I cannot count the number of times I’ve misplaced a needle and just reached for another, swept the pins on the floor up as trash because it wasn’t worth picking them up, or tangled a piece of thread and just snipped it and started with a fresh strand.

But having only six medieval needles (and my persona would be exceptionally wealthy to have so many!) I find myself being quite careful where I put my needle when I am done with it because loss of one is significant.  And the price of linen and silk thread causes me to cut smaller lengths of thread to sew with and take smaller, more careful stitches because I do not want to waste the quantity I have needlessly. Making my own pins and hooks and eyes causes me to keep a far closer eye on items that were previously used unthinkingly.

I am regularly discovering new sources to look into and the more I research the less I feel that I know. It’s a fascinating, fractured subject to research involving a variety of academic disciplines and I can easily see myself absorbed by it for years.

I hope you enjoy reading about this topic as much as I enjoyed delving into it.

Household Artifacts: European Sewing Tools 1150-1600 in Practical Use

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