Sunday 11 June 2023

Sewing cushions and baskets

 Depictions of women sewing in the 16th and 17th centuries often show them with a sewing cushion, something to rest their sewing on. Figure 1 shows the title page of Johann Sibmacher’s Newes Modelbuch, published in 1604 (Met Museum). Some may recognize the three women, indicating learning (sophia), industry (industria) and idleness (ignavia), as they were used again, hardly altered, on the title page of the 1631 book The Needles Excellency, for example to of the ruffs have been replaced with standing bands. Industry, seated on the ground, rests her work on a sloped box with a sewing cushion on top, this cushion may have been separate from, or integral to, the box. 

Newes Modelbuch in Kupffer, Johann Sibmacher (German, active 1590–1611), Etching
Figure 1 Title page from Johann Sibmacher, Newes Modelbuch, 1604


A similar box with cushion can be seen in the image of ladies in a garden embroidering in the Album Amicorum of GervasiusFabricus which dates to the early seventeenth century. 

A surviving sewing cushion is in the collection of the Rijksmuseum, (Figure 2) they date it to 1580-1620. Closed it is approximately 22 cm by 37.5 cm by 11.5 cm. It is covered in green velvet, with green silk covered acorn shaped tassels at the corners. The cushion is filled with unspun flax.  As you can see it opens to show storage inside. The interior is of wood covered with red silk, and divided into compartments, the covers of which are brown leather with gold leaf decoration. There is also a mirror, this is very expensive item. Most of these cushions would have been very plain, and without storage.