REMINISCENCE OF AN OLD NEEDLEBOOK.
I “’spect I grow’d,” in the city of Chicago, in 1849, under the deft fingers of Mrs. Pierce, a very estimable lady of the Presbyterian Church, though she usually attended the Sewing Society of the Canal-Street Methodist Episcopal Church. If I could, I should love to tell how the little old Canal-Street Church graduated into the Jefferson, and from that to the present splendid, commanding Centenary; but I leave that for some one better posted in Church history.
In those days sewing society and prayer-meeting expressed what we meant, just as well as the “circle,” which is now so much in vogue; and for my part I think it sounded quite as religious. There are so many circles—”circles around the moon,” “select circles,” “spiritualist circles,” and “political circles,” that I feel like discarding the word entirely, only when speaking of those things. But pardon this digression.
I was composed of the best material—light-blue enamel cloth and deep-blue satin, neatly bound with blue silk, though I do not know as I need to mention my color, as this is not as essential to respectability now as it used to be. My center was a roll about two inches in diameter, covered with the enamel and satin, and a band around each end, to hold the scissors. My leaves were white flannel, edged with a neat stitch; in one end a porte-monnaie, and the other a satin pocket, shirred with a blue silk cord. I was very nicely stitched by hand, not with one of those painfully accurate machines which leaves no room for complacency at your own handiwork.
I remember well when I was finished off and passed round to the ladies for inspection. I was greatly admired, and pronounced as pretty as I could be, until some one suggested that if there had been a thimble-sink in the roll I should have been perfect. Alas! thus early I learned we are not to look for perfection either in feature or form.
I can even recall the names of many of the ladies who were present, and whom I often met during my stay in the city. After a whispered consultation, they decided to make a present of me to the wife of their pastor. I need not say that our admiration was mutual, and neither of us has ever regretted our intimate relation as mistress and servant. I shall not attempt a pen-portrait of her. She would not allow it; she would shake her finger at me deprecatingly
if I were even to tell you her name was, for she is naturally retiring, and does not like her name to appear in print too often. She feels it is presuming too much on the magnanimity of her friends. For many years I was favored with a place by her side or in her reticule, wherever she went, whether for an afternoon visit or a month, and I never failed to attract attention and excite admiration. Indeed, I do not know but my vanity was a little stirred by such expressions, “Perfectly beautiful!” “How convenient!” and the like. But after a while “a change seemed to come over the spirit of my dreams.” I could scarcely define what it was, only I felt there was something wanting, until accidentally I observed a change in the tense of the ladies’ remarks, who noticed me particularly. Instead of as formerly, it was “What a pretty needle-book this has been— to which my mistress would reply, sometimes with a sigh—for I think she sort of analyzed my feelings—”Yes, it has been a beauty, and I cherish it still for the sake of the dear friends who gave it me.”
Ah, my friends, there are none but old folks and old needle-books who know the sorrowful grief that comes to our hearts when, conscious of our own failing energies, we hear such remarks as “she has been a splendid woman,” or “he has been a giant in intellect.” Happy is it for us if we may take to ourselves the “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I think I may take this much to myself, without arrogance—if I have not always carried the best needles for my mistress, it has not been my fault, but she seldom used any others. My needles were always ready for every good work, either at home or abroad, from making the ”dainty dresses” to garments for grandpa and grandma, and the snowy shroud in which the little loved ones were tenderly infolded as they were laid to their last sleep, as well as the wedding trousseau of my young mistress; and, too, many of my needles, like Dorcas, have gladdened the hearts of the poor. My young lady was a baby when I came to live in the family, and she was such a darling, just as all babies are. Her little blue eyes would dance at sight of me, especially while I was a forbidden object for her inexperienced fingers, and it was really amusing, as she grew older, to see with what womanly dignity she would select a needle, for she “must go to sewing.” It was not uncommon, after this, to find needles on my leaves as crooked and pointless as an infidel’s argument.
At length my last great trial came and passed, as they will with all old folks and old needlebooks. It happened on this wise. Last Christmas my young mistress made a beautiful new needle-book and sent it to her mother, with this message: “Now, mother, I do hope you will not use that old thing any longer!” She did not mean to be ungrateful to an old family servant, but only had a thoughtless way of speaking, as young ladies often have. Accordingly, to indulge her, as mothers love to do, my mistress removed my needles to the new needle-book, but I noticed her eyes grew humid as she carefully brushed and rolled me up, to lay me away with other cherished mementos of the past. Doubtless the power of association brought familiar forms and faces vividly before her, many of whom still live…while others have crossed the flood and found their promised reward. I comfort myself with the thought that not one of my companions in this “old folks’ retreat” will awaken more sacred, loving memories than myself.
The Ladies’ Repository, Volume 32, 1872
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: In the days when needles were dear and needlework was an important domestic skill for clothing one’s household as well as the deserving poor, a needle-case was an essential part of a lady’s equipage. Some were shaped like books or pocket-books, while others, like this one, had pincushions or compartments, were rolled up, and were often called “huswifes.” Although this particularly garrulous specimen did not have a “thimble sink,” it had a porte-monnaie, which is a coin-purse or wallet. Dorcas was a New Testament disciple “full of good works and almsdeeds,” known particularly for her skill with the needle. When she died, women showed Peter (who then raised her from the dead) the many garments she had made. (Acts 9:36-38)
Here is another pretty specimen:
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.