The object I have chosen to discuss is a Victorian needle case. This item was found about ten years ago in a box of old family photos belonging to my mother.
The case measures approximately 3 1/2″ across by 3/4″ thick. It was made from three hexagonal-shaped pieces of a rigid material (cardboard?) covered in burgundy velvet. Two of the pieces are sandwiched together with some type of soft material between, and edged in a strip of black velvet. A feather stitch pattern is embroidered along the edge in silk thread. The case in a closed position is shown in the first photo. On the back, there is a pocket made from black silk. It has a string gathering the top edge, with some type of bead on one side, as shown in the second photo.
The third hexagon is lined in off-white silk which is embroidered with green and pink flowers and the inscription: “Ruth Broadwell 1898” — obviously the signature of the maker. This section is stitched to the first double-hexagon piece along one edge, with three layers of fine wool fabric between the sections to hold needles; there are three needles and one straight pin still secured to the wool on the underside. Originally, there was a narrow black and red ribbon secured to both sections (which has frayed apart) so that the case would only open to the length of the ribbon.
The care in constructing this needle case indicates that it was a very special object; the stitches are nearly invisible, and the materials are fine velvet and silk, rather than muslin or homespun cotton. But by far the most intriguing aspect of the needle case is the small pencil note pinned to the wool swatches: “If I do not come back this is for Vern’s oldest daughter.” Vern is my great-grandfather, Lavern Buck Howe, and his oldest daughter is my grandmother, Nellie Estelle Howe. The fact that Ruth made the effort to bequeath this object to Nellie underscores the fact that this was, indeed, a precious item to her.
When I found the needle case, I was in the midst of a three-year obsessive genealogical search for my ancestry, and was aware that Ruth Broadwell was related in some way to my great-great grandmother, Amanda Lee Howe. When I chose the needle case for the first post assignment, I checked my database and Ruth was not included. I went online to rootsweb.com, and not only ascertained that Amanda and Ruth were sisters, but also discovered their parents and grandparents — and beyond — generations previously unknown to me! My research will continue for the next assignment in two directions: my own genealogy, as well as research into the history of needlework.
This assignment has reignited an interest in my own family history, a passion which has been on the back burner for ten years. In addition, I have decided to focus my BFA thesis on my ancestry/family tree and the significance of needlework as a connection between my foremothers and myself.