Treasure Chest Thursday – sewing box psychology

This sewing box belonged to my great aunt Mamie (also known as Ena, also known as DeeDee and christened Georgina – just as well I have her pinned down in the family tree!)

Sewing Box

It has well-organised compartments full of buttons, safety pins, needles, hook-and-eye fasteners, threads organised by colour and a few other bits and pieces such as the darning mushroom, beeswax for using on thread when sewing on buttons, a decorative thimble and a little gold propelling pencil that would once have hung on a Chatelaine, albeit well before Mamie’s time.

Contents of sewing boxMamie was a very independent lady who left Scotland on her own in her twenties and built a successful career in London.  Like so many women in the 1940’s, she never married – her Sweetheart went to War, never to return.  I remember her as being very well-organised, stylish and elegant, although I think having 4 of her niece’s kids running amok was a bit much for her.  Her flat in London was immaculate – cream shag pile carpet and modern chrome and glass furniture (it WAS the 1970’s), just ASKING for sticky fingerpints and abandoned toys.

Another story…

Bettered Sewing Box

What on earth happened to this one?

My Grandmother, Mamie’s sister, Elsie.  That’s what happened to this one!  The knobs on each side have been lost, the lids are scratched and scored, there’s a leg missing and when you open it, there is an explosion of home-made pin cushions, bits of old elastic, hotel sewing kits of every possible variety, pebbles, odd clip-on earrings, shells, miscellaneous sewing machine parts, rusty safety pins, coins…

Elsie was irrepressible, boisterous, loud, mischievous, clumsy and a laugh-a-minute.  She was prone to bursting into (very loud) song with no warning.  If she got too noisy and my Grandfather complained, she would put all the pot lids in the kitchen sink, stir them vigorously with a wooden spoon and shout “Is that enough noise for you yet?”  We kids thought she was hilarious, although probably a bit too cheeky for her own good.

Elsie used to knit socks for my Dad, and he loved his home-made socks when wearing boots, however she used whatever wools were to hand and couldn’t be bothered counting the rows, so every sock was stripey but there was never really a “pair”.  Well, not a matching pair, anyway.

We were allowed to play with the sewing box and I loved tipping the buttons out and arranging them on the table (what, no wii?).  Going through this box brings back so many memories.

The tailor’s chalk was used to mark out measurements when my Mum and Elsie were sewing, and a variety of sizes of thimbles would have been needed to accommodate everyone’s fingers.  The buttonhook is a left-over from times when you would have needed it to do up the buttons on your shoes.  The collar stud would have belonged to my Grandfather, Douglas.  The two odd cufflinks, likewise – one is marked “Riley” which was a British company that built cars.  Douglas ran a car dealership, so I have quite a few of these car -related Corporate Gifts.

The red ribbon is special.  Douglas and Elsie had a black china cat with green glass eyes and a red fabric ribbon tied around its neck.  It sat on the hearth beside the fire and the ribbon would get grubby and dusty, so every year my Mum would buy a length of new ribbon for the cat.  Elsie died in 1997 but my sister kept the tradition going until Douglas’s death, aged 91, in 2002.

If I need a button, a needle or some thread, I know it will be easier to find in Mamie’s sewing box.  If I fancy a rummage through some old things from down memory lane, I open Elsie’s sewing box, although things escape and it takes a bit of arranging to get the lids closed again…


Treasure Chest Thursday from Geneabloggers – create a post with the main focus being a family treasure, an heirloom or even an every-day item important to your family. A special thanks to Leslie Ann Ballou of Lost Family Treasures for suggesting Treasure Chest Thursday as a daily blogging theme!

About Jo Graham

Scottish genealogist - this blog is for my own family history and photos
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15 Responses to Treasure Chest Thursday – sewing box psychology

  1. Jennifer says:

    How neat! I’ve always loved these boxes. My husband bought one for me in an antique store in Lawrence, Kansas a number of years back. Yours is extra special though, because it’s an heirloom!

  2. Elisabeth says:

    What wonderful stories! And all of those accessories are fascinating, and look like they’re so well preserved! The first sewing box looks almost new.

  3. Carol says:

    I love this, the two boxes, so much the same, so different. Great post!

  4. Wow! What fun! I have a “modern” version of the sewing box, how I wish I had one like this though! Merry Christmas to you!

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  6. Greta Koehl says:

    I would so love to have inherited a sewing box from my grandmother or aunts. Mom lost at least one of her sewing boxes in one of our many moves. It’s also wonderful that you know the stories behind the items in the box.

  7. Missy says:

    Jo, thank you for visiting my blog as it lead me to yours. You have a wonderful writing style and I look forward to following your updates regularly.

    As for the sewing boxes, I’m a bit jealous. I’ve nothing of such value from my ancestors. Maybe, if I keep digging, I’ll discover at least one treasure.

  8. Nancy says:

    I love sewing boxes and I enjoyed your story about the two boxes and the aunts who owned them. It’s very fun that you personally knew the aunts and have memories of and stories about them. They both sound like such fun aunts. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Interesting comparisons..both of those old sewing boxes evoke wonderful memories..:)

  10. Susan says:

    I am SO glad you posted your favorite posts on Barbara’s list at Life from the Roots! This is a remarkable post. I can’t wait to go back and read the others.

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  14. Titania says:

    Jo, a fantastic story and beautiful memories about the sewing boxes. Such interesting ladies they were, both of them. I remember those compartment sewing boxes, so important they were as everything was mended, stockings, even underpants! All our dresses were made by my mother and a lady who came in to help. I am 73 this year so many things have changed, some for the better, some not. My last living uncle was 90 this month. As older one gets as more important becomes the past!

    • Jo says:

      Thanks for your kind words, Titania – yes, there was (large) knicker elastic in there and all the little hooks and eyes for bra straps. I was intrigued by the lump of bees wax which was used to strengthen thread when sewing on buttons. We were taught this at school (old-fashioned girls school in the 1970’s) but I suspect no one would know what it was for now. The past does become more important as time goes on! Jo

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