This very special project has been cooking in my mind for a number of years, ever since I found a deserted bird’s nest in my garden with little scraps of embroidery thread wound through the twigs. I guessed what had happened… I had been stitching in the courtyard garden at our old cottage and had a little box of left-over scraps of thread on the garden table – you know the odds and ends that you snip when finishing off a thread. I went indoors to check on my son, who was having his nap in his bedroom upstairs, and when I came back to the table all my thread scraps were tipped up and all over the floor. Either someone had been curious and tipped over the box, or a breeze had caught it. When I discovered the nest months later, I was thrilled and now always leave little bits of thread near or on the bird table.
The next part of the plan fell into place when I discovered some rather interesting Liberty lawn at the factory where the fabric is printed. It must have started life as William Morris’s famous ‘Strawberry Thief’ design but luckily for me, some of the colours weren’t printed correctly and rather a generous quantity was available as seconds, just because the design was not quite as Mr Morris intended. I was at the till before I could change my mind. I now had the perfect fabric to create an unusual ‘hussif’ and the deed was done.
The idea of making fabric sewing kits or pocket samplers is not new, as you will see from the following extract from Hands across the Sea Samplers:
“The pocket sewing kit originated in the middle of the 18th century. Most soldiers and sailors included a ‘hussif’ in their gear, especially when on campaign, often a gift from their mother, sister, sweetheart or wife. The term ‘housewife’ refers to a sewing kit, but housewife was not the only term used. They were also known as ‘huswife’, ‘hussive’, or, most commonly, ‘hussif’, which appears to be the contraction of the word housewife.
“By the beginning of the Regency period, hussif was the term most often used to refer to these small pocket sewing kits by nearly everyone, though pronunciation of the word would vary from region to region across Britain. Hussifs made for men tended to be constructed of very sturdy fabrics, usually linen throughout, as linen would stand up better to heavy usage than cottons or silks.”
I knew what my project would be and what it should be made from, so I set about creating the counted stitch designs to adorn it. As I worked, the name came to me – The Thread Thief – to combine both the story of the nest builder and the fabric name. (Titles are very important to me when I’m designing. I often need to have the right title in my head long before the needle is inserted into fabric.) There was a bit of head scratching while considering which way up some of the designs should go, but I was soon thrilled with the result. Alphabets and traditional sampler motifs now mingle with flowers and satin-stitched fruit – and, of course, the Thread Thief himself appears on both the closing flap and the tiny token I’ve had specially made to add to the fastening.