Utility to Glorious Extravagance
April 17, 2015 6:35 AM   Subscribe

Adrift in a sea of digital apps for every imaginable function, we often feel our needs are met better today than in any previous era. But consider the chatelaine, a device popularized in the 18th century that attached to the waist of a woman’s dress, bearing tiny useful accessories, from notebooks to knives.
--Chatelaines: The Killer Mobile Device for Victorian Women

Hat tip to The Hairpin
posted by almostmanda (34 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
 
I have always secretly wanted a needlepoint chatelaine, which you can still buy from specialty shops. I think it is the miniature gadgets plus jewelry plus chiming sound. Same reason I love charm bracelets.
posted by Malla at 6:44 AM on April 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


I actually hate having anything on me that makes noise when I move. But I also love miniature things.

I want a chatelaine.
posted by jb at 6:50 AM on April 17, 2015


I too would like to have a chatelaine. Maybe updated to have a special decorative holder for my menstrual cup, a set of chopsticks, spoon and fork and an elaborately disguised usb charger.
posted by pipstar at 7:02 AM on April 17, 2015 [8 favorites]


You could make one with basic jewelry tools (cutters, round-nosed and flat-nosed pliers), some chain, whichever doodads you want, and some creative ingenuity. The doodads would be the fun part, browsing jewelry stores gets very quickly addictive as "oh that could work for the thing" ideas start sprouting.

This is a really neat post. I'm going to try my hand at a needlework chatelaine. Like a sewing book (pouches for scissors and thread ripper, felt for needles) but even more usefully portable. Having a wearable measuring tape is all sorts of practical. (And probably less expensive than doing what I ended up with: a measuring tape per creative area to always have one nearby.)
posted by fraula at 7:02 AM on April 17, 2015 [8 favorites]


De rigueur: Miss Chatelaine
posted by jim in austin at 7:18 AM on April 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


fraula, what a wonderful idea! I immediately started to look through Etsy, but all the prices were too dear (plus the styles too antiquated for me). Although, I do love this little case (even back then, someone was like "Put a bird on it!").
posted by mlo at 7:22 AM on April 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


The modern chatelaine is not a sea of digital apps. It is this Leatherman bracelet.
posted by apparently at 7:23 AM on April 17, 2015 [25 favorites]


What a lovely article! I had no idea. I particularly like the mix of utilitarian tools and purely demonstrative items.
posted by Nelson at 7:28 AM on April 17, 2015


There is a supporting character in Gibson's The Peripheral who wears a chatelaine, using it to hold weaponry and home medical units. She also has had her eyes surgically altered to have two pupils, but that's neither here nor there.
posted by ubiquity at 7:30 AM on April 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


De rigueur: Miss Chatelaine

I always thought it was kind of weird that that song should be so popular in places where Chatelaine is unheard of.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:43 AM on April 17, 2015


(And probably less expensive than doing what I ended up with: a measuring tape per creative area to always have one nearby.)

I try to get measuring tapes for free wherever possible. They're a weirdly common corporate swag item (I can only assume that whoever's stocking swag tables just thinks they're funny and cheap and ticks off a box on the order form.) I may not like my cable company much, but I happily use their branded tape measure.
posted by asperity at 7:44 AM on April 17, 2015


Ok, but these are all so tiny, they make my clumsy fingers twitch just looking at them. Perfect for a society that praised daintiness, but I like using tools that have some heft to them and are unlikely to get lost if I drop them.

I would have been more likely to rely on a "Housewife" or "huswife" (sewing roll with needles and such, or even a basket). But then my ancestors were probably not ladies of leisure.
posted by emjaybee at 7:52 AM on April 17, 2015


Apps aren't really a good comparison, try googling : Burning Man utility belt
posted by jeffburdges at 8:21 AM on April 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


I posted a photo of an antique silver English chatelaine to my knitting blog's Facebook page awhile back, and my readers did much ooohing and awwing over it. In the accompanying comment, I noted that I have a copy of a 1903 novel that describes such an item being worn by one character and used by her to note an address: "...and a dainty silver pencil and silver mounted memorandum was lifted from a collection of small nothings that hung on tiny chains at her belt...". There really is something so charming about the idea of having such extravagantly elegant yet useful little tools always at the ready. However, I can't see how I could possible stand the resulting clattering and tangling, and the closest I will ever get to sporting a chatelaine is to wear the antique Art Nouveau aide de memoire I have on a long silver chain around my neck. I was inspired by Mad Men's Joan Holloway's silver pen necklace and decided that I too wanted to wear a useful item on a long chain.

One of my readers pointed out that Downton Abbey's Mrs. Hughes wears a chatelaine.
posted by orange swan at 8:24 AM on April 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is fantastic.
posted by Mchelly at 8:24 AM on April 17, 2015


I ran across this article a while ago, around the same time that I ran across this other article on the keychain toolkit. What goes around comes around.
posted by adamrice at 8:27 AM on April 17, 2015


Isn't this just a fancy fanny pack?
posted by Ideefixe at 8:30 AM on April 17, 2015


I love them! Although I will admit that when I started thinking about which dresses I'd put one on, my next thought was "Oh, it'd probably drive me nuts and I'd end up sticking it in my pocket. Oh yeah, pockets!"
posted by looli at 8:32 AM on April 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


The modern analogue is those urban survivalist" EDC tactical paracord carabiner thumbknife 17- bicycle wrenches and a beer opener keyrings, no?
posted by casarkos at 8:37 AM on April 17, 2015


Isn't this just a fancy fanny pack?
posted by Ideefixe at 11:30 AM

No, because all of these useful things are instantly accessible. It's more like a stylish toolbelt.

posted by jb at 8:44 AM on April 17, 2015


I like the flagrant display of DIY capabilities. Fashion for Passions.
posted by nickggully at 8:51 AM on April 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Malla: "I have always secretly wanted a needlepoint chatelaine, which you can still buy from specialty shops."

I have one! I have one! Just a little one, that I pin to my shirt near my left shoulder that holds my embroidery scissors and another necessary tool or two (usually a needle case and a tiny pincushion, for when I'm swapping out needles a lot, but I also have a small measuring tape, a laying tool, a thimble, a needle-book, and a variety of other embroidery tools I can attach to it). Mostly when I embroider I sit in a soft-armed couch with a side table where I can stick my needles in the couch arm and put my tools on the table, but sometimes when I sit somewhere else or take my sewing somewhere with me, I use my chatelaine instead. It is very convenient for travel! I don't use it all that often, but it pleases me to own it, and I do keep an eye out, when buying embroidery tools, for whether they have a chatelaine loop (lots and lots do) so I can attach it if I want.

Lacis carries a few options. But you can also very easily make your own (for utility if not fanciness) out of a piece of grosgrain ribbon turned in to a keytag with a keyring on one end and a pin on the other, and attach small clips or even jewelry chains to the keyring, with your tools on them. Sort-of like this, but just make a small 2"-4" piece of ribbon sufficient to attach a pin to one end and a key ring to the other, rather than making it around-the-neck length.

Lots on Pinterest.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:51 AM on April 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


Part of the appeal, btw, is that when you're embroidering, you're often switching between your needle and scissors (and maybe a third tool, depending on the style) quite frequently, and a chatelaine lets you pick up and drop your scissors without dropping your scissors because they're attached to you by a chain. You can always poke your needle into your shirt when you just need to let go of it for a second, but scissors are a trickier problem. That's why the one tool that appears on almost every chatelaine, and is often the "starter tool" that comes with it if you buy a modern one, is scissors.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:55 AM on April 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


New for your chatelaine: scissr

Disrupts any length of string!
posted by Hairy Lobster at 9:06 AM on April 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


Are onions available for these things?
posted by megafauna at 10:41 AM on April 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


jeffburdges: Apps aren't really a good comparison, try googling : Burning Man utility belt

My ten-year old son wanted "a satchel" for Christmas (like Indiana Jones, we think), but I bet he would go ape if he saw that page of pictures!
posted by wenestvedt at 11:03 AM on April 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


jeffburdges: "Apps aren't really a good comparison, try googling : Burning Man utility belt"

That is heck of cock rings on that first image.
posted by boo_radley at 11:21 AM on April 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


TIL: Vinaigrette, a small container with a perforated top, used to contain an aromatic substance such as vinegar or smelling salts, especially popular for women in the Victorian era to combat the aroma from the waste products common in cities.
posted by Splunge at 11:30 AM on April 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oh, thanks Splunge. I was just about to ask about the vinaigrette.
posted by severiina at 12:21 PM on April 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


This kind of makes me want to do a costume design for a Victorian Batwoman. Why wouldn't there be knock-out dust, magnesium oxide, hydrochloric acid, a set of lenses and fingerprint powder, a couple blades… ooh, that would be fun to make. What else would a Victorian lady crime fighter need? Maybe some sort of extensible cosh?
posted by klangklangston at 2:03 PM on April 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've been lusting after an egg-shaped chatelaine ever since I read about one in an otherwise negligible novel. This is the closest (to my imagination) one I've found, but it seems incomplete!
posted by julen at 2:30 PM on April 17, 2015


try googling : Burning Man utility belt

My ten-year old son wanted "a satchel" for Christmas (like Indiana Jones, we think), but I bet he would go ape if he saw that page of pictures!


I'm pretty sure that search term is just what someone types into google when they're too ashamed to google 'show me all the butts', but I may also have the mind of a ten year old.
posted by FatherDagon at 2:36 PM on April 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


julen: "egg-shaped chatelaine"

eBay has a pretty brisk trade in chatelaines and etuis (you're after an "etui"). Not a large volume, but the stock turns over reasonably quickly. If you bought an antique one, you might have to replace the "soft" parts of it, which isn't too difficult. (Lots of those egg etuis have the case intact, but are missing the insert because those would have degraded.)

I personally am obsessed with "bullet" or "lipstick" etuis, which look like this, and the thimble forms a screw-on cap for a little lipstick-sized tube that contains a couple spools of thread and, inside the spoons, a couple needles and pins. The only thing they need to be PERFECT is a little notch in the metal somewhere that can be used to cut the thread. They were often given away free in the 40s-60s from laundromats and dry cleaners, but they are REALLY HARD TO FIND because they were so low-value that people didn't save them. Anyway, I finally have one in my purse and I am SO HAPPY.

The manly version of an etui is called a "soldier's friend" and is usually made of wood. (Civil War Reenactment suppliers is where to find these.)

Also popular, although for sitting on a side table, is a "falling down etui" or "exploding box" ... when you remove the lid all the "sides" fall open, displaying your tools nicely. They're not TOO hard to make (cardboard, fabric, and glue is all you need, no sewing if you don't want to), and you could make one to suit any set of small tools.

The hardest tiny thing to find for your chatelaines and etuis is the scissors. It's hard to get much below 3" for scissors (I have a good 2 1/4" pair but it took me MONTHS to find them ... they had to fit in a small box), and most have big, finger-sized loops. It's hard to find little-bitty snips or ultra-tiny scissors to fit in a tiny sewing kit.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:47 PM on April 17, 2015 [7 favorites]


PS, my husband is going to be SO MAD at you guys that you got me shopping for embroidery tools again. He thought I had reached saturation.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:59 PM on April 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


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