Victorian Tools

I love Christmas. Almost every culture is represented in song, decoration, food, or gifts. Between my husband’s family, my family, and our children, we have an international heritage including English, Irish, German, Swedish, Hispanic, African-American, and Native American. Throughout the years we have tried to honor those ancestors by carrying on some of their traditions. One of my favorite periods of time is the Victorian Era. It is named after Queen Victoria (1819-1901) of England. I especially am reminded of the Victorian traditions at Christmas with all the beautiful reproduction ornaments and decorations. In this issue, I would like to introduce you to several Victorian traditions which impacted the needlearts.

Victorian Stitching Accessories

Chatelaine is a French noun, the feminine derivative of chatelain meaning "mistress of the castle". In her role, she would need to carry items such as a time piece, keys to the pantry, note paper, and scissors. Some garments had pockets; however, it was not considered feminine to carry bulky items. Only delicate hankies resided in the lady’s pocket. Some items such as her time piece or scissors were expensive, so it was important to keep track of them. Chatelaines were born of this necessity.

While the chatelaine is often thought of as Victorian, it actually was essential in much earlier times. If you go to a Renaissance Festival, you will see a lot of the costumes (male and female) with essential items attached to chains which hang from belts. During this period of time, the correct terminology was equipage ( This is Archaic for a set of small household articles (such as a tea service) or a collection of small articles for personal use. It’s fun to note this word also can mean a horse-drawn carriage with attendants!!

Fundamentals Made Fancy

Another term associated with the equipage was etui, pronounced (-tw), which means an ornamental case for holding articles such as needles. The style I am most familiar with is a small box with a fitted lid. When you remove the lid, the sides fold down to reveal eight panels with a pin cushion in the center. The panels may have a band of some sort to hold scissors and tools or a cloth panel to put your needles in. In Janice Love’s Fundamentals Made Fancy book (11206) she has designed an etui adorned with Hardanger embroidered panels. Notice the beautiful chatelaine she has in the photograph!

In time it appears that anything which held small items such as needles or scissors became known as an etui. Today we call them needle books or scissors cases.

Fast forward a couple hundred of years. The word "chatelaine" really came into use in the 1800’s, so perhaps that is why it is associates more with the Victorian era. The chatelaine was attached to the wearer’s belt either with a clamp of some sort or simply folded over the belt. There was some sort of chain, rope, or sturdy ribbon that hung from the chatelaine. Attached to those chains were appendages (Merriam Webster). In time, they became known as accessories. Often you could tell the occupation of the wearer by what she or he had attached to the chatelaine, such as a crucifix, tools, or household items.

Because the chatelaine was part of everyday apparel, the items became elaborate and ornate. Depending on the owner’s wealth, they may have been made by artisans from silver, brass and steel, or homemade from wood, tin and fabric scraps. Around the turn of the 20th century, patterns were published in the United States for ladies’ chatelaines. A very popular design consisted of rings and ribbons, where the ribbons were woven in through the rings, creating a very sturdy chain of sorts.

Something happened in the late 1800’s and the ladies no longer wanted the items hanging down their skirts for all to see. Perhaps as personal wealth increased, they wanted to carry more items, including money purses. Another article suggests the fashion-conscious desired something to match each outfit. The chatelaine purse became popular as an accessory, still being clipped to the lady’s belt. These purses were made from many materials including leather and silk. Some were crocheted with embellishments such as glass beads. The ladies had very elaborate purses to wear to social events, sturdy ones called "shopping bags" for going into town, and plain ones for around the house. One peculiar style was popular in the 1890’s known as the finger ring purse. A smaller version of the purse was attached to a ring which the lady wore on her finger.

Chatelaines have evolved into the modern-day purses, fanny and back packs. Today when someone mentions a chatelaine, most people associate it with seamstresses and stitchers. The modern chatelaine version may be a pin attached to the shirt or jacket with accessories attached. Another popular type is like a stole worn over the stitcher’s shoulders with items attached along its length with ribbon or in pockets (see Rhapsody in Red-Part 4 – 105-275-0301).

Patterns and Resources:

While not traditional eight-sided etui boxes, these kits will help you keep track of your scissors, needles and small accessories.

Chatelaines and Accessories:

There are many styles of chatelaines available today, along with accessories. There are far too many to be able to show them all. Here is a taste of some we carry.

Here is the 21st century version of the chatelaines, designer retractable reels:

Tussy Mussy: Victorian Paper Cone Ornaments

Sue Williams, Adams County, Pennsylvania, Master Gardener, wrote an article entitled "Tussie-Mussies: Talking Bouquets". She said "The Victorians turned flower giving into an art. It was common practice at the beginning of a courtship for suitors to give their intended a tussie-musssie. Floriography, the art of sending messages by flowers, brought a new dimension to tussie-mussies. Dozens of floral dictionaries were published listing the meanings of each flower and herb."

The tussy mussy also existed long before the Victorian Era. Flowers were worn in the hair, on clothing, or carried to help mask personal body odors. The idea continues today with nosegays and bouquets. The traditional wedding flowers carried by the attendants are descendents of these earlier practices.

The Victorians adapted the tussy mussy for home using a sturdy paper cone, changing the contents to dried flowers or treats such as hard candy. They were hung on the Christmas tree, used for wall decorations or given out for special occasions. I can remember making tussy mussies to hand out on May Day. Louisa May Alcott wrote about the May Day tradition in “Jack and Jill” (Chapter 18): “The job now in hand was May baskets, for it was the custom of the children to hang them on the doors of their friends the night before May-day; and the girls had agreed to supply baskets if the boys would hunt for flowers, much the harder task of the two…" However, my favorite use of the paper tussy mussies is for decorating at Christmas and giving out with little gifts.

See how you can make and decorate with Hardanger embroidery in Seasonal Samplings (0204)

If you want to try a Victorian Cone Ornament, check out the instructions on this website:


Sachets were an essential part of the Victorian home. Not only were they a way to showcase the stitchers talents, but they helped add a sweet aroma in the house. You would find them most often in the bedroom scenting drawers of clothes or in the box of handkerchiefs. They were also used as a small gift tucked into correspondence. Sachets are easy to make and require very little supplies. It is a great way to use up some of your scraps.

Punched Paper Embroidery

The Vintage Needleworks Company works hard to keep this Victorian style of needleart alive. Here is a bit of the history from their website at

"Victorian era mottos…were printed on heavy punched cardboard and became known more commonly as perforated “card work”. Because the paper was more affordable than linen, this made the needlework a luxury that all women could now afford. The text was usually a Christian value, Scriptural quotation, or an otherwise important ideal worthy of constant view in the home – hence they became known as “mottos”. Motto patterns could be found in the popular woman’s magazines of the day, such as Harper’s Bazaar, Godey’s, Leslie’s and Peterson’s . Mark Twain and Laura Ingalls Wilder both reference mottos or perforated card work in their books. Because this new method of needlework was affordable to all, many affluent Victorian women would look down on this form of needlework as the “needlework for the uneducated”, or only for children. Wouldn’t these “nose in the air” Victorian elites be surprised now to see these common, “uneducated” pieces commanding the same money as needlework on linen in our antique stores today?"

You can create your own antique heirloom with their beautiful kits which include the 14-count punched paper, embroidery floss, needle, and the gold foil paper to back the finished motto.

You can also create your own ornaments with the Tokens and Trifles 20-count perforated sewing cards. Here are two of the styles available:

There are several pattern books for Christmas ornaments using perforated paper:

For a quick ornament or gift, try the Mill Hill bead and cross stitch kits:

We hope these "helpful hints" make your stitching easier and more enjoyable!

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“The following article was written by Debi Feyh of Nordic Needle and published in their weekly e-mail newsletter. Permission was granted by Nordic Needle to share this article in (name of your publication). For information on subscribing to their weekly e-mail newsletter, visit A free mail-order catalog is available to you upon request if you live in the USA or Canada.”

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