The Sewing Tin

I guess every house had one and some still have. The sewing tin that was part of my growing up was round, blue and battered. It wasn’t very big but it was like a bottomless pit. Needles, pins, frayed pin cushions, thimbles, yellowing measuring tapes, threads of all hues, some with their beginnings waiting to be extracted from the little crevice on their wooden spools, others in a rainbowed tangle, buttons, buttons and more buttons, some still attached to small pieces of old shirts and blouses, others long separated from duffle coats and school blazers, darning needles, slick little needle threaders, thin wools intermingling and waiting to be used to darn socks, a scissors, well-chewed little pencil and crumpled bits of paper with crossed off To-Do lists in Mother’s slanty writing, a non-functioning but intact light bulb that played its full part in the sock darning that went on, especially late at night or very early on school mornings.

I had full access to the sewing tin from a young age and you’d be forgiven for thinking that I would have made a good fist of sewing when we were introduced to it in Domestic Science Class in Secondary School. I even had high hopes for myself but soon realised that our sewing tin bore no resemblance to the way domestic science teachers expected things to be organised. As a kid, I had actually embroidered hankies on wet days mixing colours like an artist and rather liking the spikey threads that stuck out at interesting angles.

School sewing, on the other hand, required that one master a variety of tasks before moving on to get to use the sewing machine and make a floral skirt for the summer at the end of first year.

It took me until Christmas to get passed Task One which was to hem a square – first by darning and then with genteel little stitches. I simply didn’t do genteel and the neat stitching ended up being done by the frustrated teacher who needed to be able to write something on the dreaded Christmas report.

Task 2, which was to make a buttonhole defeated me and I can still see the little piece of bloodied material on which I tried and tried and tried until it was so frayed and filthy that I couldn’t even see what I was doing. I’d look around me and most of the others were either holding their flowery skirts up to their waists just before putting in the zip. Imagine a zip. There were loads of them in Mother’s tin and I’d even managed to put one onto a nightshirt for my precious teddy bear. But, I was never going to be putting one into a floral skirt like all my friends.

Summer Report on Domestic Science sang my cookery praises and suggested home practice with sewing. Mother chuckled when she read the report and said we must darn a few socks but first that we’d make some fairy cakes.

I opted out of Domestic Science in Second Year and still love thinking about the old blue sewing tin. I was complete tomboy so the floral skirt wouldn’t ever have been worn or could it have changed my style forever?

Author: socialbridge

I am a sociologist and writer from Ireland. I have worked as a social researcher for 30 years and have had a lifelong passion for writing. My main research interests relate to health care and sense of place.

29 thoughts on “The Sewing Tin”

  1. This reminds me of me; my sister and mother was incredibly talented seamstresses. I (also being a tomboy) would much rather be up a tree or digging in the dirt. Buttonholes were ridiculously complicated for me, even with the “buttonhole” attachment on the machine. And if you can imagine it, Mother could make the most beautiful bound buttonholes–I might have been the only young woman in my freshman college class who had tailored clothes with bound buttonholes. Our tin was gold, and had originally come with a fruitcake in it. What a delightful trip this was!

  2. Fun! I remember embroidering a horse when I was maybe 9 years old. After we married, I wanted my wife to sew me a shirt. Even thought she had done many dresses, she said she didn’t know how. She went to work (Evening shift at the hospital). When she came home, I had sewed up a plaid shirt with pockets. The plaids, even matched. I had gone out to a fabric store, bought a pattern, some fabric, and went right to work. She was amazed! I said, you just have to follow the pattern! So nice to hear all the things about your early years!

    1. Neither my father nor hubby would ever have had a notion – of course, I’m not much better.
      Between sewing and knitting you seem to have had a vert balanced upbringing or where did you learn?

      1. Probably watched my mother and/or mywife sewing. I don’t remember ever sewing anything before. The ladies I worked with in the lab knitted at lunch time. I said, “Show me how to do that.” Maybe someday I will post a photo of some lined leather gloves I sewed, and did decorative bead work on. The bead work was the two seater plane, I was flying. The deer was actually from a deer I had shot! (Don’t tell anyone!)

            1. Honesty doesn’t always serve me well.
              My Grandmother used to say: Tell them straight. Some people can take it; others certainly can’t. So glad you can.

  3. I have very fond memories of digging around in my grandmother’s sewing kit. She tried to teach me many times, but alas, sewing is just not one of my core strengths.

  4. Interesting, In the U.S., what you call Domestic Science was Home Economics and included cooking and sewing. I had to rip out a zipper 4 times before it was good enough for our perfect teacher. But, I wore that A-line corduroy skirt for several years. I was happy I learned to hem my clothes though, being a short girl at the time of mini-skirts. As for the cooking, I loved it, and we invited the boys from Wood Shop to eat at the end of each week, indoctrinating us into feeding husband, I suppose.

    I had a ghostly experience with a pin cushion. My dad and I were exploring an abandoned house while on a walk one day. I was about 5 years old. I saw what we call a Southern Bell doll pin cushion on the floor and went to check it out. As I picked it up, I distinctly heard a woman’s voice say, “Put that down.” I threw it down and ran to my dad for comfort. Eerie.



  5. Ours is a round, wooden covered box (redwood from California!) one of my uncles brought back as a souvenir for my grandmother in the 40โ€™s. Unlike your blue tin, ours only has buttons in it, but oh! what buttons! Big, black, perfect for winter coats buttons and tiny white buttons with red anchors on them from my first grade pedal pushers ( now called capris). All kinds of shirt buttons and the occasional rhinestone centered fancy button for evening dresses. Thank you for the walk down memory lane. My oldest daughter has ownership of our button box at this time. It is in good hands.

    1. Now that sounds beyond special. I adore buttons and wooden boxes.
      I’m so glad it’s in the good hands of your daughter. I hope it lives on for many, many generations. It deserves to.

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