Let’s make a Vintage Needlecase – Sew Pretty!

Use your imagination to turn 3 simple strips of calico into a pretty Vintage Needlecase

I was very fortunate to spend a day with Suzette Smart last week at one of her day workshops.  I was so inspired by her amazing creativity and relaxed style.  With a few simple materials and a little know-how, we were able to turn a few strips of cheap calico into a pretty Vintage Needlecase.

If you want to learn all the tips and tricks and be inspired by some of Suzette’s other beautiful work, then you will need to book your own workshop. In the meantime, I want to share my enthusiasm for her work and maybe inspire you to have a go at creating your own little masterpiece.

Vintage Needlecase

Whether you make a needlecase for yourself or to give as a gift, the process of creating it should give you hours of enjoyment.  Or – if you are feeling generous – maybe you could “Have a Heart” and make a vintage needlecase and donate it to your local charity shop to sell?

What You Will Need

Part of the attraction of this workshop for me was that a needlecase like this can be made with very cheap, easily available materials and is a great way of up-cycling bits and pieces that you may have been holding onto for years and never been quite sure what to do with.

To do free motion embroidery, you will need a sewing machine  which is capable of dropping the feed dogs.  You don’t even need an embroidery hoop or stabiliser!

Apart from that, all you will need is:

  1. 3 strips of calico 20″ x 14″ (allows for 1″ seams)
  2. 1 piece of batting 18* x 7″
  3. A piece of bondaweb
  4. A piece of baking parchment
  5. Oddments of lace, fabric, buttons, beads, ribbons etc.
  6. Felt – for the needle panels
  7. Co-ordinating thread – variegated threads give a nice effect
  8. A lead pencil
  9. A ruler
  10. Fabric glue is useful
Vintage Needlecase Bondaweb
Vintage Needlecase Ruler

The sewing “findings” were obtained from a variety of sources.  The little sewing machine is a Tibetan Silver Charm, which can be easily obtained on-line.  The scissors and mini cotton reels were purchased from Tee Pee Crafts.

How Long Will it Take Me to Make my Vintage Needlecase?

Suzette’s workshop was run over 1 day.  I took another day at home to completely finish my needlecase, but I added a lot of extra pockets and bits and pieces in that time.  So, I would say that if you have a whole day available, you should be able to complete this project from start to finish.  If you are lucky enough to have a couple of days though, allow yourself the time to fully explore your creativity.  Give yourself permission to play and create something that you can be really proud of.  What better way could there be to use your free time?  Go on – treat yourself?!

Designing your Vintage Needlecase

One of the things I really loved about my day with Suzette was her relaxed approach.  I have given some measurements above for the calico strips I used, but the fun of this creative project is that you can vary the size to suit yourself – there really are no rules here.

Suzette is very skilled at creating textile birds and I chose to decorate the front of my vintage needlecase using one of her robins as inspiration. Robins are my all time favourite bird.  They keep me company in my garden on the very coldest of long winter days and are the first to sing “hallo” when I admire the first snowdrops emerging in early Spring.

Alternatively, you could use a flower, or a vintage inspired picture for your inspiration?  

Vintage Needlecase Robin Inspiration Suzette Smart
Suzette Smart's Textile Robin - My Inspiration

You can see the level of detail that goes into Suzette’s work on this photo. My stitching was quite light in comparison.  With practice and time, I am aiming to be able to create a more textured piece of embroidery on future projects.

Suzette has a tempting variety of fabric scraps available in her workshop.  A happy few minutes rummaging through her stash will yield all sorts of creative possibilities for creating texture and colour in your design.  Hopefully, if you are making this at home, your own stash will give you some inspiration – or have a look in your local charity shop?  Heart Up-Cycling!

Vintage Needlecase - Cigarette Card
Vintage Needlecase - Cigarette Card

Suzette had a lovely selection of vintage cigarette cards available in her workshop.  I chose to use lupins as they are one of the flowers my daughter enjoys great success with growing from seed.

Suzette also makes great use of text in her designs.  The text in my needlecase was taken from a vintage book.  You can attach the text to the calico using bondaweb.  Attach it to the back of the text first then peel away the backing and simply iron it into place.

Vintage Needlecase - Text
Use Text from a Vintage Book
Vintage Needlecase Design Layout
Vintage Needlecase Design Layout - Four Quarters

Before you start, it is useful to spend a bit of time thinking about how you want your finished needlecase to look.

Think of it in four quarters – a Front, a Back and a Left and Right inside page.  Bear in mind that your inside pages will be upside down when you fold your book in half!

Also remember that you need to leave enough room for the seam allowance all around the edge!

Vintage Needlecase - Inside Pages
Vintage Needlecase - Inside Pages
Vintage Needlecase
Vintage Needlecase - Back Cover
Vintage Needlecase - Back Cover
Vintage Needlecase - Left Inside Page
Vintage Needlecase - Left Inside Page
Vintage Needlecase - Right Inside Page
Vintage Needlecase - Right Inside Page

Step by Step Instructions

When you have roughed out your design, you can start creating your needlecase:

  1. Take two strips of calico and create the front and back pages of your needlecase.  Two strips are needed to give sufficient stability to stitch through.  Stitch through both layers.
  2. The robin can be created by tracing an outline onto bondaweb with a lead pencil.  Have the rough, sticky side facing up as you trace.  
  3. Cut out your image, leaving a narrow border all the way around.
  4. Place the image pencil side down on your calico and place a piece of baking parchment over the top to protect your iron.  The image can be transferred using a hot iron.  Leave it for a little while, then peel off  the bondaweb to reveal the robin’s outline.  
  5. The surface you are left with is actually glue.  When you have placed your fabric pieces onto it, you can secure your collage in place with a hot iron before stitching them firmly into place with free motion embroidery.
  6. Continue to add lace and decoration to your heart’s content – either by machine or hand.  It is helpful to complete as much of the stitching as you can before you sew your needlecase together.  The back of your work will all be covered in the finished book.
  7. When you are happy with the decoration and design, place the batting on the back of the Front/Back covers and the inside pages face down (right sides together) on top.  Remember to get your work the right way up before you sew!
  8. Now sew the two long sides together, enclosing the batting to stop it from moving around inside the finished needlecase.  Using a ruler to pin your seams is useful to help you get a straight edge.
Vintage Needlecase - Inside Covers
Vintage Needlecase - Inside Covers
Vintage Needlecase - Batting Layer
Vintage Needlecase - Batting Layer

Now – turn your needlecase inside out through the open ends.

To complete the needlecase,  stitch the open ends closed using an invisible ladder stitch remembering to sew in a closure (e.g. a ribbon or loop) if you want to.

You can hand sew the centre seam or sew it on the machine. I chose to attach some pretty bias tape to my case.

Then – it’s time to stand back and admire all your hard work.

Vintage Needlecase - Turning Inside Out

Tips and Tricks

I always like to include lots of tips and tricks in my posts to help you complete your own project.

  1.  Think about how you can make best use of your fabric scraps to create your design.  Suzette helped me to identify useful shapes in the fabric when I created the robin’s tail which I hadn’t noticed until she pointed them out to me.
  2. Look for fabric that will add texture to your project.  Fraying fabric can be a blessing as well as a curse!
  3. Last – but not least – remember to bring up your bobbin thread (foot up, needle up and down) before your start free motion embroidery to avoid an ugly “bird’s nest” on the back of your work.
  4. I chose to embroider two panels to make pockets for my needlecase.  I created these using designs freely available in the Bernina machine pattern library.  They reduced to 48% of the original size beautifully.  You could also use free machine embroidery.  I though about embroidering the lupins for example?

Vintage Needlecase - A Place for Everything and Everything in its Place

Apart from the thrill of learning new skills and spending a lovely day with like minded people, I had a very practical reason for attending the Vintage Needlecase Workshop.  I have been slowly building a growing collection of needles.  The more crafting I do, the more I realise that having the right needle for the job makes life so much simpler and the finished work so much neater.

I have long wanted to organise my needle collection to avoid wasting valuable time rummaging through my sewing box in search of the right needle for a task.  This was the perfect opportunity to make one for myself.

Vintage Needlecase - Doll/Ribbon/Bead Needles
Vintage Needlecase - Doll/Ribbon/Bead Needles
Vintage Needlecase - Sharps/Wide Eyed Needles
Vintage Needlecase - Sharps/Wide Eyed Needles
Vintage Needlecase - Self-Threading/Tapestry Needles
Vintage Needlecase - Self-Threading/Tapestry Needles

I now have a place to keep my various needles in perfect order:

  1. Long doll needles
  2. Extra fine beading needles
  3. Ribbon Embroidery Needles
  4. Sharps
  5. Wide-Eyed/SHeavy Duty Needles
  6. Self-Threading Needles
  7. No point Tapestry Needles (for Cross Stitch)

Heart Up-Cycling!

Heart Upcycling Logo

New Life for Two Old Purses

Vintage Needlecase UpCycling an Old Purse
Vintage Needlecase -UpCycling an Old Purse

Two old purses were just perfect for up-cycling into my Vintage Needlecase.

With a bit of effort, I managed to pull the metal clasp off the first and cut a couple of pieces of the silk and ribbon embroidery to make pockets for my new needlecase.

The corded closure in the second bag was the perfect size for fishing off my new case – although I wanted amore glamorous button.

The remnants from both bags went back into my stash for future use.  Seeing Suzette’s wonderful work makes me all the more appreciative of just how useful saving tiny scraps of beautiful fabric can be.

Vintage Needlecase UpCycling an Old Purse
An Old Purse Yields the Perfect Loop Closure

The pretty pink and blue organza flower panels were saved from a curtain that used to hang in my bathroom.

The vintage lace trim around the embroidered panels was given to me by the two ladies that joined me to “Sew Britannia” and make their own Tilda Doll earlier this year.

The bias tape around the centre of the case, the sparkly button and sequinned flower embellishments were all given to me by my friend and neighbour Marion.  Thanks again Marion!

The lace trim around the lupin cigarette card was cut from doilies donated to me at the St. Mary’s Hospice stand at the Harborne Village Fete last year.

Would you like your own Vintage Needlecase?

If you like these needlecases, but don’t have time/resources to make one for yourself, then consider favouriting my Etsy Shop.  As I write, I don’t have any for sale, but I am aiming to adapt and replicate the style in future projects – so watch this space!

I also accept commissions for custom orders, so Contact Me if you are looking for something special you can’t find in the shops.

Working with up-cycled fabrics means everything I make is unique – you will never find another like it.  When they are gone, they are gone!

I donate all my profits to support the valuable work at Birmingham St. Mary’s Hospice.

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