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May 2016

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I’m just a needlewoman, with needles on her mind

May 12, 2016

I've been making sewing cases for several years now.  It started with simple needlebooks and I developed several designs from there.  In the beginning, they were a favourite way of celebrating a particular fabric – whether it was a fabric print I really liked, or a piece of English Paper Piecing I'd made:

There's something captivating about a sewing case to a needlewoman I think.  Let's face it, we know how to celebrate the aesthetic and tactile aspects of fabric, but we also like to have a good reason to use and enjoy it, not to mention a reason to cut into it!  We also seem to have a penchant for having specially made things connected to our needlework, many of which are made with fabric.  There's the undeniably practical aspect to having the right tool or accessory to 'do the job', but I think it also has an awful lot to do with being able to surround ourselves with lovely fabric things, whilst we create lots more fabric things – what could be better?!

As much as I've enjoyed creating sewing cases just for the pure enjoyment of it, I've found over the years that I've also been constantly striving towards creating pieces that are the 'right' answer to every needlewoman's needs.  I get a lot of pleasure from thinking that I might be making something that someone really needs – something that is their 'just so' – a certain size, a particular closure, a certain number and type of pockets – and that's before you even get to the fabric it's made with, or the embellishments that might be added, all of which are very personal choices.  The lovely thing is that I'll never create just the right case for every needlewoman as we're all so individual, but it really is fun trying.

Recently, I've been making some larger sewing cases with a range of features, starting with this understated linen one that I added a small flower applique to and quilted with gold thread:

And more recently this one, which was a commission for an Etsy client:

This brought together the design of the original large linen one above, and another of my smaller cases that features Liberty applique hearts:

My client loved the features of the large linen case, but it wasn't her style – she wanted something with a stronger look and loved the rich colours of a print from Bari J's Emmy Grace collection.  This also gave me an opportunity to play about with how I built the case with the zippers inside, which also introduced a little more colour to the inside of the case, by using more of the featured Bari J print to edge the zips:

It's really surprising how much you can get into this case – you can even slip a 5 inch embroidery frame into the slip pocket at the back:

For those who have a little more to carry around, I can also make co-ordinating zipped project bags to go with any of my sewing cases, which I think are perfect for travelling stitchers since you can organise your sharps into the safety of the case, and carry your actual projects and larger items in the bag:

From the time I made the first supersized case, I've been mulling over the idea of the traditional needlewoman's workbox and had almost seduced myself into the idea of making one, but I wasn't convinced that today's needlewoman really wanted that.  Well, no, not entirely – I think most would love a beautiful handbuilt work box with lots of matching pieces to go in it, but that's something that they may well want to make for themselves as a kind of right of stitching passage maybe?  What most sewers seem to want is something more portable than that, something that helps them to fit their stitching around their busy lives, as they carry their work around with them and snatch 10 minutes here and there to add a few stitches to their current project.  

And while that may well be the profile of the modern needlewoman, I don't think she's changed all that much at heart – she still wants to enjoy her tools and accroutrements – they still need to be pretty and individual, so that they can enhance her enjoyment while stitching. So, this is the direction I found myself heading in when I sat down to design my next generation sewing case, which is more of a mobile work box.  I've brought together my love of the purse frame and the sewing case to design the Needlewoman's Clutch and I've used two of my favourite sewing case fabric combos for first two I've made:

The first features Liberty's 'Hesketh' tana lawn and a zingy green Essex linen by Robert Kaufman, with a pretty silver coloured clasp frame, decorated with birds.  I purposely made the bag a little too large for the frame so that the sides would be super puffy and a bit like a Gladstone bag.  At this point, I'm still playing with the shapes and working out what I like best:

Next came a pairing of pretty mustard and pink Tilda cotton prints, with a slightly larger bronze colour frame and a more classically clutch shape:

Both have a zipped pocket inside, and both have co-ordinating stitching accessories – a small pincushion, a mini needlebook with traditional wool flannel pages, and a padded scissor case:

For practical reasons, I wanted to use an undyed wool flannel cloth for the mini needle books, which is a lovely thin, drapey and soft cloth.  This was what used to be used, before we all got into using wool felt and I think I prefer it really – although both have their advantages and disadvantages.  I was also really happy to find a use for the pewter colour Edelweiss hook fasteners I've had in my stash for a few years now – I knew there would be a perfect project to use them on!  It was also nice to break out some buttons from my collection to make the little pumpkin shaped pincushions.  And as if it's not enough fun to carry your needlework and tools along in a pretty clutch bag, there's also the added attraction of being able to remove the needlework tools and using the clutch on its own too!

It's really a bit of a relief to have got the idea for the Needlewoman's Clutch out of my head and into form – my unrealised ideas seem to become a maddening voice in my head until they can come into being.  And as it turns out, my timing in completing this newest design is pretty fortuitous because one of my sewing cases is mentioned in Cross Stitch Crazy magazine today – what a great way to celebrate my needlecase evolution!