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Weekend: The Way Sewing Used to Be

the way sewing used to be (1 of 3)

When I received a box of sewing notions from a coworker, one of the first thoughts I had while going through the goodies was, “how come sewing notions are not made like this anymore?” The designs, the colors, the illustration – all seemed to be considered as much as the actual product and its function. I take on that mentality when I create each posts. I spend as much time and effort on the aesthetic as I do the content, because I believe they work hand-in-hand to offer a great “product,” which in my case is a piece of information to share with other sewers.

The snap fasteners, the wooden bobbins, the zipper – they were so pretty that  I had to take a photo, and I even started an Instagram series with the hashtag #thewaysewingusedtobe. Korny? A little, but hey, I’m korny. Nowadays, packaging is so bland and I want to capture the way sewing used to be.

So, if you have any vintage sewing notions, I encourage you to upload a photo to Instagram using the same hashtag. Come on, it will be fun!

In the meantime, what are your thoughts on the packaging of sewing notions then and now?

the way sewing used to be (2 of 3) the way sewing used to be (3 of 3)


  1. Reply


    I live in Israel. I buy fabric and notions at the textile district of Tel Aviv, a pedestrian mall with tens of small stores. They have no websites, no instagram, no facebook. The tiny crowded stores have nothing but fabric covering the walls. Most stores have no air-conditioning; they don’t cell a product, they don’t sell an experience, they only cell fabric. Good quality fabric in low prices, as they don’t have to spend anything on marketing.

    With notions, you have to sort through buckets of fasteners, zippers, and buttons. nothing is packed or beautifully advertise, nor I think it needs to be.

    When I buy supplies I don’t need packaging, because it will get thrown away anyway, causing more waste and will increase the prices. I also don’t need fabric to be presented in an aesthetic manner, as I have my imagination for that. I see it as a part of the challenge, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      I see your reasoning, and I agree with it, but as someone who cares about the aesthetic of something as much as the function, I wish more attention was paid to the packaging, even if it costs more and will be thrown away.

  2. Reply


    I agree with roni I think we live in such a wasteful society _ why package something that doesn’t need to be? Yes the card indicators on the ends of zips are useful but in a shop full of tape measures what’s the point really? There’s also something quite satisfying about delving into a large box of bobbins to pick out the few you want. Yes the packaging of old is pretty however I think the times are moving on and in terms of packaging it should be kept minimal.

  3. Reply

    Ingrid W

    I so agree with this. I dove into the treasure coves that are my mums sewing drawers a few months ago. She doesn’t really sew much, so most of the stuff were from my grandmother, great aunts etc. I love the fact that I’ll be using what they bought once upon a time – and yes, that it won’t go to waste. I blogged about it if you’re curious about what Swedish vintage sewing bits and bobs looks like. http://wethesewing.wordpress.com/2014/04/05/mother-gatherers-vintage-finds/ ps: any tips on what to use vintage silk thread for, please do share

    • Reply


      If you have vintage buttonhole twist, then they’re perfect for hand sewn buttonholes!

    • Reply


      Silk thread is wonderful for basting! If it’s old and breaks easily, who cares!

  4. Reply


    My main complaint is how poorly made the notions are compared to the ones my mom had. I had a needle threader from a box of hers that lasted for months with heavy use the one I bought didn’t even last three uses. The needles I bought at a chain sewing store start to bend after a few uses whereas the needles from my moms stash just keep on going. They were made to last not so the ones we buy today. The packaging I haven’t paid much heed to just the quality of the product

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      Seems like products are made nowadays to break, not to last.

  5. Reply


    Another in agreement with Roni. I don’t need cutesy,quaint, or clever packaging.

  6. Reply


    this is something i love in terms of indie patterns vs big 4– the attention to presentation really speaks to what’s inside.i mean, i ADORE the simplicity PR line– but i often have to get past the envelope!

    i’m also a vintage notions/patterns fan. i find myself picking these beauties up for display rather than use, though. and to me, if something is beautiful or useful, it is not wasteful.

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      Same! I could use some of items I found in the box, but I might keep it just for display and memoir. Like I’m preserving the history of sewing.

  7. Reply

    Sarah @knityorkcity

    This is such an interesting question. And those old notions are so gorgeous. I love that indie companies are really putting thought into what they put out. Indies really have to appeal aesthetically since they aren’t household names. I wonder if the bigger companies consider their packaging an afterthought or if they’re just slower to adapt to trendier design. Maybe we just like that vintage style now since trends are cyclical.

  8. Reply


    my mother sewed for us all during my growing up years. She is now 84. Back in the day there were all kinds of small, quality fabric stores. Sadly, nowadays there only seem to be JoAnn’s or other similar big box stores. I agree that it is sad when all you can buy are items from China that are so cheaply packaged.

  9. Reply

    Amanda Russell

    As a packaging designer and illustrator, I couldn’t agree more, however, times have changed and some of the comments you received are proof of that. If packaging is overdone or wasteful, it only degrades the consumer’s opinion of that product. The challenge for companies, and their designers, is incorporating today’s modern sensitivities about the environment in a tasteful, cleverly designed way, which is absolutely possible 🙂

    Packaging can be minimal, as well as beautiful – we just need more companies willing to invest in both form and function 🙂 That said, I do wish catalogues and ads were still illustrated 😉

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