Sunday, 24 November 2019

Making a modern hussif - part 1

This project has been on my 'to do' list for several months, but the impetus to get on with it came from finishing the University Centre Shrewsbury banner. When I delivered the banner to the campus I thought that I had best take a small emergency sewing kit along as well, just in case any last-minute fixes were required. They weren't, but as I hunted round for something suitable in which to carry pins, needles, thread and scissors I thought, "I really need to make that hussif".

Make a what? A hussif, or housewife, is a small, portable, roll-up sewing kit, as explained in this article by The Dreamstress. They were often carried by men who were away from home for long periods, such as sailors or soldiers, to enable them to carry out repairs to their clothing.

A basic soldier's hussif with needles, thread and darning wool, Imperial War Museum collection

A fancier example, also military, image from WorthPoint

Women used hussifs as well. I first came across them at the Wedding Gown in a Weekend event in June, where all the mantua-makers who were involved in making the dress had their own. In this photo of Peryn Westerhof Nyman at work on the back of the dress her hussif is in front of her, there is another one between the two reels of linen thread to her right; and a third one rolled up on the table by the window.

Hussifs galore!
All of these were of course historically accurate to the eighteenth century, there are lots of Victorian and more modern designs out there, often featuring embroidery.

Hussif by Draffin Bears

There are also numerous tutorials on how to make your own, such as this one.

Hussif by Julia's Place

The great thing about a hussif though is that there is no right or wrong; you can make whatever design, to whatever size, suits your requirements. I've seen examples with loops for silk skeins for embroiderers, and others with rotary cutter pockets for quilters.

My thimble dates from 1905, and my original idea was to make a hussif decorated with Art Nouveau embroidery to complement it. Thinking about it was as far as I had got until the Shrewsbury trip, when something rare happened - realism set in! It dawned on me that if I wanted a hussif to actually use, at some time within the next decade, then I would have to scale back my plans.

As I was going to Shrewsbury anyway, it seemed only sensible to pop into Watson and Thornton while I was there, and buy some fabric (because obviously I had nothing suitable at home!).

My fabric choices from the Tilda Candy Bloom collection

The dark fabric is for the outer layer, and the lighter ones for the inside. On the train journey home I made a list of what I would want the hussif to contain. I came up with: pincushion and pins, needles, scissors, thimble, tape measure, seam ripper (because, realism) and a pocket for threads. Plus a few more pockets for the things I'd forgotten to add to the list.

When I got home I laid out these tools on an A2 sheet of paper. Once I had some idea of the arrangement I wanted, I drew out the various pockets and other elements, and added seam allowances. The end result was longer than the paper, so I had to draw it in two parts. Because the drawing is in pencil it doesn't photograph well, but here goes.

Click to enlarge for a (slightly) clearer image

The lining is to be a little smaller all round than the outer layer, so that some of the dark fabric shows on the inside. I cut out both the outer and inner pieces from a stashed piece of plain white cotton, somewhere between a craft weight and duck or twill. These pieces were cut to the finished sizes, with no seam allowance. Then I cut the outer shape, with a 1" /2.5cm allowance all round, from the dark fabric. This was folded around the white cotton outer piece, and the corners mitred. To get the curved end smooth I cut a template from scrap card, gathered the blue fabric over it, pressed it, and then removed the card. The raw edges of the blue fabric were then stitched down onto the white, taking care that the stitches didn't come through to the right side.

The completed outer layer
So progress is being made, but what about the Stashometer? It's not looking good. I guessed (correctly) that the hussif would require the full width of the fabric, so bought fat quarters of the light fabrics, and half a metre of the dark.

Oh. Dear.

I may have to sew non-stop from now until the end of the year to fix this!


  1. I just love you stashometer and the hussif.

    1. Thank you Joanne. I have high hopes that the Stashometer will look better this year!