14th to 15th Century Sewing Kit for La Bella Donna

 

So, you want to assemble a sewing kit for your Italian Peninsula persona? This is a guide to doing so with sources to point you in the right direction for your place and time. Remember, many things were similar on the peninsula but each city was its own autonomous region with its own dialect and terms for the following items. It’s up to you to do further research to determine the nuances of your city.

 

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Giata’s Personal Sewing Kit: linen drawn thread handkerchief to work on, snips, linen thread in red and white, silk thread in white, three different types of spool for winding thread, a thimble, a lump of wax inside parchment paper, two bone bodkins, a yellow wool pouch for snips and bodkins, handmade pins and needles inside a wooden needlecase, all inside a painted bentwood box from an Emilia-Romagna reproduction artist.

 

If you were to assemble a modern sewing kit you’d probably think of scissors, needles, sewing pins, thread, and an awl. Let’s see what pictorial evidence of those in period looks like. Larsdatter has an annotated list of sewing kit links which is a great place to start. In the photo below of sewing kit finds from London at the Victoria & Albert Museum you can see scaps of silk fabric, a silk pouch, snips, two needles, needlecases, and thimbles.

 

Sewing kit Thames 14th C VAM
1380-1450 Sewing Kit finds at V&A Museum: Scissor snips made of iron, silk pouch, silk fabric remnants, thimbles, needles, needlecases.

 

Starting with scissors, there are 14th-century snips (shown above from V&A) or 14th-15th-century scissors like these:

 

For needles, sewing pins, and thimbles there are 15th-century examples:

Costanza Caetani 1480 by Domenico Ghirlandaio sewing
Ghirlandaio portrait of Costanza Caetani showing pins, a needle, and thimble ring, circa 1480

And there are 14th-century examples (including this thimble from Novgorod):

 

There is also this bronze needle circa 1350-1480:

Sewing bronze needle 14th or 15th c Threave Casle National Museums Scotland Site 47mm

You’ll want to put them in a needlecase. The case can be silver, wood, bone, or leather, like this 14th-century one:

Sewing leather pin case 14th c

 

I like to wind my thread on spools. You can use flat ones like these 2-4 notched ones, or cylindrical ones like this circa 1320 fresco of women winding silk thread:

 

Sewing a woman winds linen thread Kanonikerhaus in Constance, Germany, c. 1320
1320 Fresco – Women winding flax or silk thread

The blogger at medievalpurses.blogspot.com put together their kit by purchasing from Gaukler Medieval Wares, Lorifactor of Poland, and Historic Enterprises – all known for making very good historical replicas:

 

sewing brass needles from gaukler bown awl and thread reels from historic enterprises and brass thimble from lorifactor
Pictured above are a pair of brass needles from Gaukler Medieval Wares, Canada; a bone awl and one thread reel from Historic Enterprises, USA; and a very nice brass thimble from Lorifactor, Poland.

 

 

You’d want to put all your sewing supplies in one place. A bentwood box, used across Europe over the past thousand years for storing all manner of things, could be that place. Here are two 15th-century depictions of bentwood boxes holding yarn or thread:

 

So, your kit could contain all the following that we have historical evidence for:

  • Scissors/Snips for trimming threads
  • Needles
  • A needle case to keep your needles safe
  • General sewing pins
  • Thimble or thimble ring
  • Thread of wool, flax (linen), and silk
  • Thread spool or winders to keep your threads neat and tidy
  • A cube of beeswax for waxing thread
  • Bone stiletto or metal awl for opening eyelets

 

Historic Enterprises offers a “Deluxe Kit” with the following:

 

Screen Shot 2017-11-18 at 8.28.37 PM.png
Historic Enterprises replica kit

 

Below are Mary Rose finds that are bit late for our purposes but I love the similarities.

sewing mary rose
Early 16th-century finds from the Mary Rose. A bit late for our purposes!

 

 

SOURCES

Beaudry, Mary. Findings: The Material Culture of Needlework and Sewing. Yale University. 2006.

Egan, Geoff. Medieval Household Daily Living 1150-1450. Boydell Press. 2010.

http://www.larsdatter.com/sewingkits.htm

London finds from the Thames River at the Victoria & Albert Museum

http://medievalpurses.blogspot.com/2013/01/tools-of-trade.html

 

 

 

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