Saturday, March 14, 2015

Lady with a Needle

Lady With a Needle

It might be said that using a needle is in the genes of the Lady-of-the-House. Her great-grandmother, Helen, (born in the 19th century) was a widow with children by the early 20th century. She never remarried. To care for her family she worked as a seamstress. Custom dresses and alterations kept her household in milk and bread. And coal was needed in winter. In her leisure Helen crocheted lace.

This photograph taken in 1966 shows the Lady-of-the-House, sitting happily with her "Nana" Helen. (Oh my, how short bangs were cut on little girls then).

Following household chores and writing, the Lady-of-the-House picks up a needle. An easy chair is strategically placed where the window-light is at its best for stitching.

In the dark of the night, after closing a book, when she lays her head on the pillow the Lady-of-the-House unconsciously lets her mind drift onto the next handmade item she would like to make. It's soothing to imagine what you'd like to do. Dreaming up a likable list that welcomes creativity is a way to de-stress. It is as soporific as counting sheep.

huswife needle book

Last summer she saw some of her likable list realized. Purchasing what is known in the quilting world as "fat-forths" she assembled fabric for making needle books that roll up and fasten. These needle books are portable pockets to store little scissors, embroidery needles, safety pins, cable-needles for the knitter, and the sticky-sided thimble dots - that the Lady-of-the-House goes through by the dozens while sampler-stitching.

She was able to present female family members with a huswife in time for Christmas. "Huswife" is the old-fashioned term for needle book. The terms huswife and needle book are used interchangeably by Jane Austen in Sense and Sensibility. Needles and pins were expensive items then. They were kept securely so that they wouldn't be lost. In chapter 36, condescending Fanny Dashwood gives the sisters Steele a token of friendship - a needle book each. By chapter 38 the class-conscious Fanny is hysterically upset with Lucy Steele. Later, when Lucy's sister sees Elinor in the park she breathlessly chatters away about the latest commotion of frightful hysteria. Humorously, Miss Steele includes a mention of her reluctance to part with Fanny's recent gift. She says,
"And for my part, I was all in a fright for fear your sister [in-law] should ask for the huswifes she had gave us a day or two before, but however, nothing was said about them, and I took care to keep mine out of sight."

needle book roll-up

The Lady-of-the-House enjoys making things in batches and in an array colors. When given a choice, her married daughters each chose a red huswife. 


Here is a photograph of her daughters when they were of high school age. They model the jumpers the Lady-of-the-House sewed them. Flannel petticoats added a layer of warmth needed in the high-ceiling-ed house rented in Rockland, Maine. The house, a couple blocks from Rockland Bay, was built in 19th century by a ship captain who commissioned the somewhat ostentatious oak staircase. (He would never have guessed what would - in future years - be kept under the staircase - a computer.)

A dainty huswife can be slipped into a skirt pocket. This is where Miss Austen's Emma kept hers. Balancing on the arm of an easy chair is where the Lady-of-the-House keeps her green huswife in readiness.

huswife - Jane Austen

A friend crafted the Lady-of-House a bird atop a brass candle stick - an unsuspecting place to safely store needles to never be at-a-lose for one. It is treasured by the Lady-of-the-House.

Rumford Fireplace

Needles are kept under the felt-lined wings of the bird that the Lady-of-the-House says is an Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea) after excitedly spotting one last spring (for the first time).

Through the kitchen window, the Man-of-the-House captured this secretive male bird on camera. His wife will be on the look-out for a another Indigo Bunting at the woods' edge this spring.

Indigo Bunting male

The brown-feathered female Buntings blend with the browns of the woods and will not be lured by any means to venture outside it. This week, the snow has melted off the roof. Hearing a few birds' melodies at dawn is a welcome sound.

The tiny felt strawberry, dangling from the beak of the Indigo Bunting is practical. Here a mending needle can be sharpened. This tiny practical-embellishment took many tries before it was finished to satisfaction, it was admitted to the Lady-of-the-House, who understands because she also must rip out stitches and start again, in spite of the inherited genes from great-grandma Nana Helen.

Yolanda Andreola, Sophia Andreola 1998

Post Script
To see an earlier post on this blog with Nana's beautifully crocheted clothes hangers, click here.

If you can't abide a traditional thimble while hand-stitching you might like the Thimble Dots. Because the Lady-of-the-House has a nickel allergy she is very appreciative for the Gold Tapestry Needles by John James.
Brittany Birch Cable Needles are a favorite. Available in a pack of three.
Nice to have you visit with the Lady-of-the-House,
Karen Andreola


  1. A lovely post. I enjoyed the photographs, too. Your needlebooks are charming, and I love the bird! What a clever hiding place.

  2. Dear Karen,
    I had a good chuckle about the bangs! Lydia had just unearthed a picture of me at 6 years with the same "issue". I shall have to scan it and share it with you so you, too, can have a good chuckle. What a lovely gift your friend gave you-the fabric is just darling! I was gifted , by a friend a needle felted rooster atop an old glass candle stick, I treasure it. I have just discovered the world of punch needle embroidery. Have you ever tried this craft? I can't wait to dive into it! The numerous folk art designs out there are simply beautiful. I do hope this finds you feeling okay, know I still pray for you and Nigel daily and your in my thoughts frequently.

  3. Karen,
    I loved reading everthing here! Never heard of thimble dots; I had to follow your link to even imagine what they looked like. Your needlebooks, huswives, are lovely for any lady to possess. The bluebird needlecushion is wonderful, a candlestick base...

    And lastly, in reading what you said, it brought me back to when my grandmother was in the hospital, seriously ill(of which she did not recover). I walked in, her eyes were closed and I asked her how she was. Her reply, "Just lying here hemming a handkerchief." This is the story of a lifetime seamstress.

  4. This post made a lovely Sunday afternoon reading for me. I too like to think about the next handmade project--and then try to bring it into existence. I'm working on rolling cloth strips for the next handwoven rug. Your cloth Indigo Bunting is a treasure!
    Sue R.

  5. What lovely projects, Karen. I too like to dream a bit. My grandmother used to say she was an expert seam ripper!


  6. A wonderful and heartfelt post as usual. I love the way your daughters are dressed, so feminine and beautiful.

  7. I am planning another embroidery project this Summer. A stronger pair of reading glasses is making it possible! ;)

    Currently I am immersed in paper crafting. It is one of those creative endeavors I have done off and on through the years and it was the introduction (if I remember correctly by my daughter, as has so many good ideas) of Japanese Washi Tape that sparked it all. Obsession may be too hard a word but then again, perhaps not.

    Although I love how God brought the new ideas into my creative world at the same time He was nudging me to write people real letters again. Except I include them in cards I've made just for them. I started out making the blank cards but soon realized I can purchase them at such a good price already made (and with envelopes) that the time making my own was not necessary. Especially when I cut out a Michaels coupon!

    I always love when you have a new post but I could not comment due to my recent (and ongoing I think) modem troubles. Someday we must "bite the bullet" and purchase another one. But this one still works when we tweak it!

  8. Dearest Karen, What a lovely and inspiring post (as usual!) Where could one find a pattern for the 'huswife?' Something simple, of course! Blessings for your day!

  9. Oh Karen, what a lovely post! I too come from a very long line of needlewomen! I also like to dream of projects to help me relax and drift off to sleep. :-)

    I have just started reading S&S for this year's reading. I love that reference of Miss Steele worried about Fanny taking away their huswives! :-)

    Your huswives are so beautiful! Did you use a pattern or make it up?

    I love your bird and remember admiring it when I visited. :-)

  10. Intuition told me that my blog friends had creative and relaxing day-dreamings and that needlewomen are also part of your heritage. The "hemming a handkerchief" is so sweet. My Nana crocheted handkerchiefs and I haves some still. I didn't do much sewing for my girls but I did enough to feel the "part." My mother sewed "all" of my dresses. Yes, I've done some punch needle pictures. It is the craft that my busy sister-in-law likes most. The needle book roll-ups I make are a modified version of something from old magazine articles - Early American Life and also Sampler & Antique Needlework - vol. 34 - 2004. I was thinking of making it into another kit. We'll see.

    Isn't it interesting how you can share the sense of humor of someone who wrote two hundreds years ago? Jane Austen makes good bedtime reading for this reason.

    So nice to hear from you,
    Karen A.

  11. you should sell these huswife thingies..they look delicious :)

  12. Dear Karen,
    Was such a treat to see your sweet comment earlier today -- it's been far too long since I've had time to post on my blog, and I see that you've been away from your spot, too. Life is full, is it not? I'll be updating my knitting next week, Lord willing. :) Sorry to keep my projects such big secrets! I always enjoy your posts, and leave here encouraged. Will you be creating kits for your huswifes? I would love to create something for you in trade for one (or would buy one from you!!) if you are willing. :) Hoping spring is evident daily in your it is full swing, and we are loving it! Many blessings to you and yours,
    xo Lisa

  13. Thinking of you this Eastertide, Karen. Hope all is well.