Highlights from the History of Needham in 100 objects
Chinese Sewing table.
c. 1855
Wood, lacquer, gilt, ivory, velvet, steel, cotton, silk
This splendid Chinese worktable was brought by Captain Gorham Burkitt to his daughters in Needham sometime before 1867, after one of his voyages to China. The nearby port cities of Boston, and especially Salem, were hubs of the United States' trade with China in the 19th century. The major American export was furs, which were abundant in the northern parts of the new new country. In return, the clippers brought back tea, silk, spices, and porcelain.

The sewing table contains all of the tools that women needed for their household sewing. Unlike the usual domestic workbasket, however, the table is also an elegant piece of furniture. The compartments are covered with fragile perforated ivory lids, and contain needles and needle-cases, pins, thread, bobbins, and thimbles. The table has a lacquer finish, decorated with scenes delicately painted in gold. It was intended to be placed where it could be seen and admired - a lovely and exotic work of art - and not hidden in a workroom.

Either grand or plain, sewing tools were an essential part of a women's domestic equipment. Until the end of the 19th century, women made most of their family's clothing and other household textiles. Their needle-working skills were also used to endow these goods with decorative beauty. There were few other opportunities for women to show their creativity and skill, and to enjoy attractive accessories instead of simple utilitiarian items.

"This work table which our father, Capt. Gorham Burkett brought home on one of his voyages before 1867 is given by Mrs. Charles. W. (Gertrude) Woodbury and Nellie C. Burkett." Capt. Gorham Burkett (Sept. 1818-Jan. 1905) moved to Needham in 1867 and lived in a house on Highland Ave.

Nellie Burkett and Mrs. Charles Woodbury
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Chinese Sewing BoxChinese Sewing Box
Chinese sewing boxChinese sewing box
Chinese Sewing tableChinese Sewing table