Vintage sewing items are highly collectible, showcasing the history of fashion and the evolution of the art of creating garments. Collectors of vintage sewing items run the gamut from those who appreciate the engineering of early machines to style-oriented folks who just want to sew. Collectibles range from sewing machines and spinning wheels to patterns to hand-sewing tools, such as boxes and baskets, thimbles, pin cushions, and scissors.
Sewing needles were originally hand-made using bones or horn (animal sinew was used for thread). Iron needles were introduced in the 14th century, and needles with eyes were developed in the 15th century.
For centuries, people stored their needles in ornamental needleboxes made of wood, bone, sterling silver, or pewter, or in embroidered needle books. Pins were kept in small boxes until the 15th century, when pin cushions were introduced. By the 1800s, pin cushions were a common sewing accessory, crafted in a variety of ornamental shapes and designs. Other sewing items were stored in sewing baskets, often made of wood decorated with inlaid stones or carved patterns.
Sewing baskets held other necessary items such as scissors and thimbles. Steel scissors were introduced in the late 1700s, and sewing scissors are recognizable by their smaller blades and handles. Thimbles, worn on the finger or thumb to protect from needle pricks, were mostly made from gold, silver, and bronze, but other materials (such as porcelain) were also used.
Many people also collect antique sewing machines in addition to sewing tools and accessories. The first conceptual sewing machine was introduced in the late 1700s, but a functional machine wasn't actually produced until the early 1800s.
The first sewing machine in the U.S. was developed by Walter Hunt, and later patented by Elias Howe. But Isaac Singer released the first mass-produced, commercially successful sewing machine in the 1850s. Where previous machines were hand-cranked, Singer sewing machines used a foot pedal. Previously used in garment factories, it wasn't until this practical innovation in 1899 that sewing machines became commonly used in the home.
Vintage sewing patterns have also become a popular collectible. Patterns became commercially successful in the late 1800s and many fashion magazines (e.g. Vogue, McCalls) included patterns of popular styles with each issue. Vintage patterns in good condition are rare, as most were made of paper or cardboard, and destroyed during use.