Lysy: Repurposing in 1903

Repurposing old or unwanted items into new gifts is certainly not a new phenomenon – or so I found when reading copies of women’s magazine Home Notes from the start of the twentieth century last week. This was under the title ‘A Use for Sea Shells’ in issue 514 of 1903:

‘The summer holidays are over and most of the bairnies who have been at the seaside have brought home a plentitude of shells which seem rather an encumbrance at home. However, Christmas is approaching and with it calls upon our charity, and by those who give presents to the hospital Christmas trees, these seemingly useless shells can be turned into useful and pretty gifts.’

Let’s put aside the slightly dated attitude to charity and just revel in the fact that this was a time when the word ‘encumbrance’ could happily be used in a women’s magazine article. The first idea is for ‘a handy pincushion and tape-measure combined’ which can be ‘contrived from a whelk, or sea snail shell – in fact any shell that is spiral and provided with an oval or round aperture.’

The real thing: antique shell pincushion, image from Carter’s Price Guide to Antiques

Do you want to know how to do it? I bet you do! You mark out a ribbon in inches and sew it round a thick pin which becomes the handle for unwinding the tape. The rest of the tape is rolled up and one end passed through a slit in the shell.  The cavity of the shell is filled with a cushion made from a scrap of velvet or brocade, glued in. I was so taken with this project that I paused in my work to copy out the illustration for you (please forgive my artistic handiwork). Another suggestion was for a ‘pilgrim satchel’ made from a big scallop shell (these shells being the symbols of pilgrims), and another was a needle case of scallop shells with flannel inside them. I must return to the good ladies of Home Notes to conclude:

‘I daresay in these artistic days some of you will exclaim: “How old-fashioned!” but I can assure you that poor people appreciate a little home-made trifle far more than any cheap novelty, however striking it may be. ‘ So say we all.


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