Bargello pocketbook

close up modern bargello

Remember this? Last October, I stitched this bargello – a modern, multicolored, aspiring-to-be-Jonathan Adler bargello. After I posted it, I tucked it away for later, not quite sure what to so with it. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I had a vague vision of a clutch purse type of bag, but it turns out, I don’t need a fancy needlepoint clutch. (Already have one and I’m not fancy enough to use it very often.)

Wool needlepoint pocketbook.
Wool needlepoint pocketbook from colonial williamsburg.

Only when I revisited my photos from a summer trip to colonial Williamsburg did I know why I had this idea was lodged in my brain. Look at this hand-stitched 18th century pocketbook (photo above), used by the ladies of colonial Williamsburg to store scissors, needles and other sewing notions.

That was when I knew I had to make my own 21st century version. As someone who typically throws an extra needle and a pair of scissors in the bottom of a canvas tote bag, drops her needlework on top, and then periodically struggles to untangle metal bits from thread, I found the idea of having an organized case for the small notions deeply appealing.

needlepoint bargello pocketbook

I particularly liked the idea of stitching it entirely by hand and using all natural materials, as in the 18th century, so I used wool twill tape to bind the edges, and 100% wool felt to line it. The only place I cheated was in using a lighter, thinner rayon to form the gussets that allow the pocketbook to open a bit wider. (I was hoping they would fold in more easily for closing.)

opened up sewing case

When it came time to engineer a method to keep it closed, I hemmed and hawed again. In other projects, I have used magnetic snaps or velcro. I like the convenience of both of these closures but each has their drawbacks, too. (Velcro obscures a large area of the needlework and can also snag threads if not carefully placed; Snaps sometimes open too easily.)

So, again, I consulted the work of the Williamsburg ladies and decided to try twill tape ties for closure. They are certainly not as convenient, but they leave no mark on the needlework and can always be removed and replaced with some small miracle of the 20th century like velcro.

There it is, tied up and ready to go. Now, I am excited to put this pocketbook to use and move on the new projects. The first of which might just have to be a needlecase, so I can get rid of the plastic bag I’m currently using to store my needles.

tied up needlepoint pocketbook

 

Williamsburg Embroidery

my favorite patriot

If we’re connected on social media, you’ll know that I recenty visited Colonial Williamsburg with my favorite eight-year-old patriot and one of his older brothers, who prefers to remain more anonymous.

George Wythe House
George Wythe House

In case you’ve never heard of Colonial Williamsburg, its a non-profit organization and outdoor living history museum consisting of 18th century shops, homes, gardens, out buildings, taverns, government buildings. As capitol of the Virginia colonies in the 1700’s, Williamsburg was a hot bed of political activity before, during and after the American Revolution. Yes, George Washington undoubtedly slept there. Thomas Jefferson too.

Capitol building, Williamsburg
Capitol building, Williamsburg

Today, Colonial Williamsburg is populated with a staff of historically attired re-enactors who work, play, and intrigue in the 18th century style – discussing politics, cooking meals, forming militias, selling 18th century goods in shops, and crafting all manner of 18th century essentials, like wigs, tin cups, and wooden barrels. Every day, at 10am, they storm the Governor’s Palace, and there’s Revolution in the Streets at noon.

My little patriot got to try his hand at kitchen chores, military training, and 18th century children’s games. We all got to see shoes constructed by a cobbler, spoons hammered out by a silver smith, and watch an outdoor performance of Moliere’s Scapin that was so inventive and silly that it held my 8 year old’s attention.

work in progress at the milliner's shop
work in progress at the milliner’s shop

Above all, my favorite Williamsburg activity was our trip to the Milliner’s shop, where they were working on embroidery projects. I dragged my little patriot there early one morning, while his elder brother slept in.

Thankfully, even 18th century stores are prepared to keep children entertained while their mothers browse. A kind seamstress (milliner’s apprentice?!) pulled out a basket of historically correct children’s activities. They embarked on a reproduction puzzle of the monarchs of England, from William I (1066 -ish) to George III (1770 -ish).

I was so busy asking questions and gawking at the embroidery projects, that I didn’t take nearly enough photos, and neglected to document the good ladies’ names.  Yet here are some of the hand made needlework projects I saw there.

A wool pocket book, suitable for 18th century men and women, edged with wool tape, and lined with linen, with rag paper in between to add structure and stiffness. I love the scalloped edge of the top flap and the way it closes with ties.

Case for spectacles, line with wool and leather and hand-stitched with a awl.
Case for spectacles, lined with wool and leather and hand-stitched with an awl.

Likewise, this spectacle case is edged in wool tape and closes with ties, but it was made with a leather inside to help hold the shape and prtect those precious spectacles.

I also learned about bone thread winders, knotting shuttles, and a lucet. I negleted to take photos of the beautiful crewel works in progress, the embroidered silk handbag on display, or how to use the lucet to make squared silk cord. But I did emerge with an book recommendation: 18th Century Embroidery Techniques by Gail Marsh

18th century embroidery techniques

I’ve just borrowed a copy from my local library and I’m enthralled. Who knew that “pattern-drawer” was an occupation in the 18th century? Doubtless the ladies of the milliner’s shop did, but now I do too. I don’t plan on stitching any spangled waistcoats, but if I do, I’ll have the Colonial Williamsburg staff to thank, and you’ll be the first to hear about it.