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The Seamstress at Work: Tools of the Trade

There were a number of items that a woman or seamstress needed to keep in her sewing box. Remember, items of clothing in Tudor England needed to be able to do multiple jobs – protect from the weather, withstand wear, and be socially acceptable. Hence, they needed to be in good repair at all times. Let’s then take a peek into the Tudor sewing kit!


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Pins made by hand from wire, brass and bronze were a valuable luxury by necessary for sewing and for holding various items of clothing together. Tudor women would keep small amounts of money in their bags called “pin money”. They could also be made of fish bones, wood, thorns, irvory and shell. Wealthy women used longer “dressing pins” for their clothing which were blunt-ended with decorative heads. We know about the use of pins from illustrations and descriptions and manuscripts, paintings and archaeological finds – particularly along the banks of the Thames.

Brass and Bone Needles:

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Brass needles were hand made from wire, brass and bronze and used with linen or silk thread on fine linen and silk and for embroidery. Brass and bronze pins don’t rust and are hard enough to keep their shape while in use. Rich and middle-class women embroidered as a pastime, but there were also male and female professional embroiderers who made their living by doing the work for others. Bone needles are thicker than their brass counterparts and were used to sew courser woolen fabrics and leather with wool or linen thread. Ordinary people could make these needles at home.

Needle Case:

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Needle case, 17th c. silk and silver thread. Part of a private collection.

Rich people and professional tailors and embroiderers carried leather needle cases to keep their pins and needles safe. A wool lining was added to keep the pins and needles lubricated with lanolin. It’s hanging cord could be used to hang it from a belt or girdle or embroidery frame.


Made of steel, embroidery scissors were used to cut thread with sewing and embroidering. A looped case could be hung from a belt or girdle.


Cast in pewter, thimbles (which were called “thymels”) were used to protect the fingers when pushing in brass and bronze needles. They were also made from leather or wood for use with bone needles in fabrics and leather.


This tool, made from wood, was used for making woven cord and braid as well as decorative edgings. They could be made from bone, horn and ivy and create braids in simple or complex patterns. Yarn is wrapped around the prongs in a figure eight and each new wrap is pulled up over the previous wrap and the lucet. Cord made in this manner didn’t fray when cut and was used to lace clothes together.


Buttons were made of pewter (for the wealthy), brass, wood, bone and cow horn. They were used to fasten and decorate clothing. Early buttons were used as decoration from at least 3,000 BC. Buttonholes for fastening buttons first appeared in the 1400s in Germany. In Tudor times, buttons were still being used as decoration – especially on rich men’s clothes, but most clothes were still being fastened with laces. Pewter buttons were expensive and only used by rich and middle-class people.






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