The One That Got Away: The Sewing Caddy

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Sometimes being practical is a bad idea.

Sometimes being frugal comes back to bite you.

Yesterday was such a day. I was practical and frugal and now . . . I am repenting.

It was Saturday—garage sale day. My mother and I went off on the byways of upstate New York, to see what treasures lurked.

Not too many treasures, as it turned out, but there was one . . .

In a driveway, in a small village, a beautiful sewing case.

I’ve written about these cases in the past. They were offered, apparently as a project from the Cooperative Extension, for men to make for their wives. I’ve seen probably 20 of these over the years and have ended up owning most of them, at least for a while, before passing them along to others.

This one, though, is the prettiest and most unusual I’ve ever seen.

The fabric on the outside is a wonderful winter scene, and in great condition.

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The inside, though, is what sets this apart. All of these cases were customized by the makers, probably with input from their wives. Some have pin cushions built in, or little drawers. Many have the jars with the lids attached to the box, to collect buttons and pins, and the nails to corral spools of thread.

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But never have I seen one with the fabulous decorative cutouts evident here. The words “This ‘N That,” the initials “LC,” and the shapes of scissors, large and small, were all carefully pierced into the wood.

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And all those pierced panels are constructed to tip out, on hinges, for easy access.

So, I looked at it and I drooled. I coveted it.

The practical persona sat on my shoulder and whispered, “You already own two pretty cases like this.”

The frugal persona asked the price . . . and offered $5 less.

The seller declined that offer.

And the third persona, known forever after as the bereft, disappointed one, walked away.

I got in my car. I drove away. And I haven’t stopped thinking about this treasure since.

Manly Hands at Home: A Gift for Her

sewing cases-6We all know a handmade gift is different, right? The idea that someone took the time to create something just for me makes a person feel special and valued.

When I first saw these sewing cases, I couldn’t believe how neat and perfectly designed they were. But then, when I heard their story, the cases were elevated to a “whole nother level,” as we say at my house.

I came across five or six of these, all within a couple of years, at garage sales. They were all made of wood and designed to hold and organize sewing supplies. Some were large, some smaller. All had handles on top so the cases could be carried. Some had fabric panels on the outside, some fake leather, and one a heavy, sort of coated cardboard. They were very similar but customized in special ways.

Finally one of the garage sale women told me the story—that the pattern for the cases had been a project offered by the Cooperative Extension and designed for husbands to make for their wives.

The Cooperative Extension Service system was created by the U.S. Congress as a means of educating the average citizen of rural America in skills needed for farming, household, and community work. The system was formalized in 1914 and, in addition to providing resources for farm men and women, instituted 4-H programs.

Much of the work of the Cooperative Extension has been directed to providing people with the skills and information to make the things they need and do for themselves. They’re still very active today, even though the rural population has dropped dramatically; they provide information for gardeners and do-it-yourself-ers, in addition to farmers.

So, apparently, one set of plans that was made available in the 1950s was for these compact sewing cases. Men made them as a gift for their wives, daughters, or girlfriends to stow their sewing supplies. They all have little dowels to store spools of thread; on one of these the shelf with the dowels tilts out for easy access.

sewing cases-3 sewing cases-4They all have pockets in which to tuck scissors and other tools and some of them have screw lids attached to the underside of a shelf so that jars of buttons or pins could be attached. Several of the ones I got had old sewing paraphernalia still in them.

sewing cases-1sewing cases-2 I just love the levels of “loving hands” represented in these cases—a man making something for a woman, to make it easier for her to make items for the family and the home. A man and woman, working together, to customize the case so that it is both attractive and as fully useful as it can be. How cool is that?

I kept only two of these cases, thinking I’d find more. But, weirdly, after that flurry of finding several in a couple years, I’ve not seen another. Have you ever seen one of these before? Wouldn’t you love to have one made just for you? I’m still searching, to see if I can find those old plans—if I find them, I’ll be sure to share them here!