My sewing paraphernalia held in Granny's tole box
Photo: Chronica Domus
Oh dear, it finally happened last week. While busily tapping away at my keyboard, I felt my trouser button abruptly give way, proof (as if any was needed) that all of the over-eating and idle inactivity of cooler winter days had finally caught up to my waistline. There was only one thing for it. I needed to embark on a rigorous slenderization diet in order to shed the few creeping pounds that had settled rather uncomfortably around my middle. Actually, there was one other thing I could do about this sorry tale, and that was to sew that button right back where it belongs. This entire episode left me wondering, do people still keep a sewing kit at their disposal to cope with such pesky little clothing emergencies? Here is the story of how I came about securing mine while simultaneously creating yet another in the series on "Relics Reimagined".
When I was in my early twenties and still living in London, I would regularly visit my Granny Elizabeth. We'd sit and chat over cups of tea, or take gentle walks in her walled garden, and if I were visiting during the evening hours, I would be treated to one of her delicious dinners. Granny lived alone (by choice), so having company at dinner time was always a great treat for her.
On one of my visits, she gave me an empty metal tole box which she had owned for much of her life. I found the box attractive because of its deep blue color and sturdy hinged lid, and also because of the motif depicted on top, which rather reminded me of a spool of thread. I could never quite identify what the central decoration depicted and had not a clue as to the origins of its contents. I imagined it contained toffees or perhaps boiled sweets of some ilk and rather regretted not having asked her about it at the time. Alas, Granny is no longer with us, but the little box helps keep my memories of her alive.
Granny's little tole box, but what could it have held?
Photo: Chronica Domus
Recently, I found the empty box in the back of a drawer and was surprised I had not put it to good use. Granny loved to sew and was an expert seamstress. She could knit and crochet too, which helped fill the many hours she spent at home while listening to the wireless. Anything she made was accomplished with the highest degree of skill and always looked perfectly perfect upon completion. Her dexterity and sharpness of mind remained with her until her final days. Her attempts at teaching me to sew and knit as a young child, skills that, unfortunately, I've not used in decades, outside of rudimentary tasks such as sewing a button, were always prefaced with her mantra. I can still hear her steady voice at the commencement of each instruction uttering, "If you are going to all the bother of making something, make sure and do it right the first time".
In honor of Granny, I decided the best use for the little tole box would be to turn it into a small sewing kit, housing the paraphernalia that would allow me to mend a torn seam or sew a button onto a shirt with minimal fuss. I wondered why I had not thought of this simple and practical idea before, shaking my head and rolling my eyes at my "eureka!" moment. Up until then, I am somewhat embarrassed to admit, a shabby little resealable plastic bag had clumsily sufficed. It was not a particularly practical solution I might add. After all, the bag was supposed to accommodate little sharp scissor blades and pointy needles. Ouch! Dear Granny would have visibly blanched at the thought.
Granny would most certainly approve of my (new) vintage wooden needle case that safely corrals my sewing needles
Photo: Chronica Domus
A few reels of thread in the basic color palette of one's wardrobe, a selection of needles of various lengths and thicknesses, a thimble, a cloth tape measure, and a small scissor is all that one requires to put together a useful and indispensable sewing kit.
A few basic sewing implements ...
Photo: Chronica domus
... now housed in Granny's tole tin
Photo: Chronica Domus
Not only is it a most satisfactory feeling to finally have a well-organized and safe place to store my sewing essentials, but I am now reminded of Granny Elizabeth each time I reach for my box, making it more of a pleasure than a chore whenever the need arises for a speedy clothing repair. Besides, this is another wonderful demonstration of how a relic can be reimagined and made useful once more.
Last week, as I reached for my sewing kit to sew my trouser button back in place, I showed the box to my husband explaining that I had finally put Granny's box to good use. He examined the lid's design and casually mentioned that it looked like a ship's capstan. I quickly admitted my ignorance of such a contraption, which led him to explain that a capstan was a revolving spindle onto which rope was wound. While searching for an image of a ship's capstan on the internet to bolster his point, he made a surprising discovery. It appeared that the capstan symbol was used by W.D. & H.O. Willis, a British tobacco importer who manufactured Capstan Navy Cut Cigarettes. The mystery of what Granny Elizabeth's tole box had long ago held was finally solved.
An early Capstan Navy Cut Cigarettes tin displaying the same motif as Granny's tole box
Granny was a smoker in her formative years, which I believe at the time was considered quite a fashionable and glamorous pursuit in some sectors of society. I remember my mother telling me that when she was a young girl and Granny lit up socially, it caused her great embarrassment. Apparently, not everyone considered smoking de rigueur, but rather a masculine and immoral practice. The fact that Granny held on to her tole cigarette tin for so long might have been an indication of how much she enjoyed the experience of smoking. Perhaps she was fond of offering her house guests a cigarette from such a discreet presentation box (notice the lack of wording on Granny's box which might have otherwise betrayed the contents within).
A stylish Katherine Hepburn showing women how it was done in the 1930's
Do you have the benefit of a basic sewing kit at your disposal when little sewing emergencies present themselves? If not I urge you the gather together a few sewing essentials so that you too will be kitted out to sew whenever the opportunity next presents itself.