Along with cooking, there’s been another big return to other domestic arts in the large cultural swing to do-it-yourself or DIY movement which includes sewing and needlecraft. This has brought about an increase in sewing collectibles, even if a person isn’t interested in vintage sewing, for many vintage sewing items remain preferable — in terms of both quality and price — over contemporary products. Among the most popular sewing collectibles are vintage sewing boxes and baskets which can be used with little, if any, risk to their status as collectibles, making them useful collectibles.
Small woven decorative baskets with lids from China were very popular sewing baskets until the 1930s, when two Illinois companies, Princess and Harvey, began producing wicker sewing baskets. These sewing baskets or totes were painted in pretty colors and had feminine decal images on their painted wooden lids. Made in both round and square styles, and even deep rectangular versions, the matching cord handles kept the lids with the baskets or buckets at all times. Inside, usually anchored to the side of the wicker basket above the wooden bottom, there would be a wooden rack for holding spools of thread. This creamy yellow mid-century wicker sewing basket, 10 and 1/2 inches in diameter, still has most of its gold foil label stating it was made by Princess. There’s a smaller floral decal on the inside bottom as well.
Typically, there is some slight warping found with these vintage sewing baskets. A little is fine, but major warping and breaks in the wicker ought to be patched or repaired if possible, so that the baskets do not become further damaged. Do not soak vintage sewing baskets in water; but feel free to rejuvenate them with a gentle sponge-bath of wood soap mixed with water. Wicker may be left damp; but wooden areas, and those woven from other materials, should be dried.
This mid-century wooden sewing box sits on the floor near the sofa or chair. It is footed, and so stands at 14 inches (without the handle), to make access to the sewing items easier while you sit on the sofa watching television and the like. This vintage sewing box holds all your sewing items neatly inside the drawer-like compartments, which open up and expand accordion-style for easy retrieval. The compartments then fold back neatly in place to look like a small chest when the sewing box or caddy is not in use, keeping the cat and other little pests (like children and husbands) away from the sewing bits and bobs. The wooden handle makes it easy to move the wooden sewing box to wherever the sewer is seated.
When looking for vintage wooden sewing boxes like this, check for overall signs of sturdiness, just like you would for any piece of wooden furniture. Pay special attention to the condition of the handle and hinges — and, with folding styles, be sure that everything moves freely. For true collectors, it will be important that all the pieces are original and in good working condition, and that the wood’s finish is original with the appropriate patina. But if the piece is simply for practical use, remember that wooden joints can often be glued back together successfully, and hardware readily found and rather easily replaced.
Come back next Monday, when we’ll continue looking at vintage sewing baskets and boxes!