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The Project Page: Needlecase

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— by Christian de Holacombe, Guild Chronicler

Knives have sheaths, scissors have cases or point protectors, and needles and pins need something that keeps them together, rust-free and safe from accidental stabs. Professional seamstresses may have a “non-aggression pact” with their pins and happily walk around barefoot on a pin-strewn floor, but most of us are not so lucky!

Michaela de Neuville’s needlebook A needlebook is a little period item that’s quite easy to make. Michaela’s is a 16th-century type which can be hung from a belt, with “pages” of fulled wool, a cover, and an outer case closed at one end. A length of ribbon is attached to the spine of the “book” and threaded through a hole in the closed end of the case, so that the book can be slid into the case by pulling on the ribbon, holding it securely shut. A tab or loop on the other end of the book makes it easy to pull the book out of the case and open it to take out and put away needles.

Michaela’s book is about two by three inches. To make one like it, wash some thin wool fabric to slightly felt it, and when it’s dry, cut four or five strips as wide as the book and twice as long (2 by 6 inches if you’re copying this example). Make a cover from a scrap of pretty fabric (Michaela’s is velveteen) and a scrap of lining the same size, with a piece of thin cardboard inside for stiffening.

(By the way, while people in the Middle Ages and Renaissance certainly didn’t mass-produce cardboard or use it in the quantities we do now, it’s quite easy to make for yourself by gluing several layers of paper together, and we do have evidence this was done.)

When the cover is stitched together all the way around and the pages are cut, lay them together, mark a line in the center for a “spine,” and stitch together through all layers with strong thread.

For the case, you’ll want two more rectangles of outer cloth a little larger all around than your needlebook — exactly how much larger depends on how thick your book is, but 1 /4 to 1/2 inch larger all around should be enough. Michaela’s are velveteen in her persona’s household colors. You also need a piece of lining for each, and more cardboard for stiffening; the case shouldn’t be completely rigid or it will grip the book too tightly, but stiffening helps the sides lie flat and look nice.

For this project, it’s best to make each side of the case and line it separately. Then stitch the two parts together along both long sides, and also across one end, leaving an open slit in the middle for the ribbon.

Sew a piece of ribbon to the spine of your book, and thread it through this gap in the cover. Add a small loop or ribbon “pull” to the open end of the book cover, and your needlebook is done!


While a needlebook really only needs a scrap of pretty fabric for the outside of the case, it’s a small enough project that a canvaswork cover can be finished in reasonable time. In fact, it’s small enough to make a good trial piece for working on really small-scale canvas, rather than the 8 or 10 stitches per inch many of us are used to. I have only just started mine, but here’s the pattern I’m using for the front. This makes a cover about 2 x 3 1 /2 inches on 18-to-the-inch needlepoint canvas. One strand of Paternayan-type two-ply needlepoint yarn covers this canvas nicely, as long as you don’t pull the stitches too tight but allow them to “fluff” a little.


West Kingdom Demi-sun patternA canvaswork front can be combined with a canvaswork back if you’re ambitious (mine will have my arms on it) or just a back of plain fabric. I’ll be sure to post photos of mine when it’s finished.


Pincushions are not at all hard to make. I’ve made all my own for years, and they’re wonderful for using bits of exotic fabric that are too small to make much else out of. The only practical restriction is that if the pincushion is actually going to be useful rather than decorative, you can’t use any fabric that the pins will catch in or have difficulty penetrating. Mine tend to be denim, velveteen or upholstery fabric.

Most of the ones I make are square or circular, with a fabric top, a cardboard- stiffened base the same size and shape, and a long strip of fabric to make the sides. Usually I use a strip that will finish 1 inch high after seams, to keep the pincushion from being so deep that needles get lost in it. Close hand stitching with sturdy thread is actually easier than machine stitching for this project.

Wool fleece makes a good traditional stuffing, and a pencil or knitting needle is a good tool to pack it in firmly. You can also use bran, or sawdust which you can get for free at a lumber yard (and which I sift before using). I learned to prefer sawdust after carpet beetles ate holes in my cushion stuffed with bran!


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