Tools of the Textile Trades

I thought it would be fun to share the sewing tools I saw in museums during my tour of Colorado.


Many basic hand sewing tools have not changed much over the past few centuries.

In Gunnison, I was pleased to find a brass thimble that was as intricately decorated as the silver one I brought back from Turkiye a few years back. Also shown here are a needle case (date unknown), and the emory-filled strawberry that would have been attached to a tomato-shaped pin cushion, possibly dating to the Victorian era. A pattern tracing wheel with a package of Singer sewing needles that you might have in your collection. The orange card in that photo shows some small metal fasteners.

In the corner of a general store at a museum in Montrose, I peered into a case to see spools of ribbons which I assumed were for millinery but could also have been used for dresses, or for dressing hair. A counter full of bolts of thread for crochet or embroidery, and a traveling basket of similar threads at a museum in Silverton. I’ve got a few spools of those threads in my collection, in more muted colors, and a similar basket I have used to transport my needlework projects in. I suspect this basket may be missing its lid.

In the Gray House at the Pioneer Museum in Gunnison, the docent asked me about this tin, measuring 14-16″ across, with a dial in the lid. I informed that it was a sales case from a mercantile. The clerk would turn the dial to the selected item, and slide open the door, and retrieve the small wooden case containing the sewing machine needles or bobbin. I was allowed to demonstrate…


The tripod device in the first photo was issued to homemakers during WWI, along with 10 pounds of wool yarn, to produce socks for the armed forces. Those who volunteered for this duty were allowed to keep the machine after the war. This machine in Gunnison used to be threaded. If you know how to thread it, drop me a line in the comments, the museum docents would love to be able to demonstrate it again.

The other two photos are paddles for carding raw wool to make into roving, which would have then been spun into yarn. There was a two wheel, multiple spindle spinning wheel which I failed to get a photo of. Also shown in this glass case were a pair of fingerless mitts, resting on top of a pair of red mittens, also at the Pioneer Museum in Gunnison.

I did not see knitting needles, which would have been wood or perhaps steel, and crochet hooks, which I have seen in bone and ivory for the turn of this century. A household of this period may also have had tatting needles, which I’m sure were safely tucked away in a drawer.


Fabric would be pressed, and knit pieces would be blocked, with some form of iron. These are some of the more unusual irons I have seen. The first one was unusual to me because I had only ever seen this style of iron with a wooden handle, rather than this twisted metal one which would have been hard on the hands. It would have been heated on top of a woodstove. This iron was marked “25”, another one nearly twice the size was marked “50”. I hope that did not indicate its weight…

The second photo is a steam iron, if you look closely you will see my accidental self-portrait in the balloon-type water receptacle.

The last three photos are of a Chinese iron from the laundry cabin at the Museum of the West in Montrose. The pot was filled with coal, which would have kept the iron hot for an extended period of time. The handle is wood, the bottom is brass, and as you can see, the exterior of the iron is ornamented with continuous diaper patterning and Good Fortune symbols. I did not expect to be handed the iron when I asked to take a photo of it, and in my haste to give it back, I did not clearly note the design on the socket, which was secured to the wooden handle with a large copper rivet. The design might be fish or a dragon.

This final shot is of a General Store at the Museum of the West in Montrose. The sewing supplies and counter for ladies shoes and underwear were to the left of this counter. It hails back to the day when a clerk fetched your items, and you might even have them delivered to your door. Amazon does that now.

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