Small, multi-use tools are the epitome of human ingenuity and skill. Gizmos like the pocket knife make our lives much easier in certain situations and thus stick around through time.
Many of these contraptions can be found in Whangārei Museum and today's featured multi-function gadget is a small wooden "sewing help" or needle case donated to the museum in 1969 by Miss K Holmes.
The kit is contained in an ornately carved wooden container, standing 13cm tall and decorated with leaves and berries. Its size would have been perfect for tucking away in a larger sewing chest, as well as in luggage for travelling.
Much like travelling sewing kits today, this wooden tube could carry the essentials for some quick mending on the go.
The top opens to reveal the little treasures of a thimble resting on top of a spool holding three types of thread in basic colours - fawn, black and white.
Ingeniously, the knob at the top pops off, revealing a small hole for thread to wind through.
Evidently, the case had been passed through the family and reused, as the original thimble - which likely would have been made from metal or celluloid - has been replaced with a garish red plastic one before its donation to the museum in the 1960s.
Opening up again like a Russian doll, the top of the spool can be removed to reveal a space for keeping needles.
Sewing cases like this one are referred to as an etui or a sewing necessaire. Some were made in very specific shapes for housing items such as thimbles and small scissors, or were novelty shapes such as owls and walnuts.
A necessaire was usually bigger and sat on a tabletop, while an etui was a smaller portable case for holding personal items like sewing tools or perfume bottles.
European etui were made from mother-of-pearl shell, tortoiseshell, silver, bone or porcelain as well as carved wood, and often ornately decorated.
The style and form of Miss Holmes' etui is very similar to German cases made from carved wood. While the origins of this case cannot be confirmed, it is safe to say it is European in origin and likely dating to the mid to late 1800s.
The Holmes family originated in Worcestershire, England. The donor, Miss K Holmes, was the daughter of James E Holmes, who was Whangārei's mayor from 1925 to 1928.
As a teenager, Holmes travelled to colonial New Zealand aboard the sailing ship Inverallan. In 1876 at the age of 19, Holmes set out from Auckland to Mangonui, but eventually turned south to Whangārei.
He met and married his wife Marry D'Ath on a trip back to England, before the couple settled down in Whangārei around the turn of the 20th century and had three daughters.
Unfortunately, little information has been passed on to Whangārei Museum with the large Holmes Family collection but I imagine K Holmes inherited the sewing helper from her mother and used it throughout her time in Whangārei and, later, Taumarunui.
In 1913 Miss K Holmes won a prize at an agricultural show held at Kensington Park. She entered the under-16 group and won for her darned socks. Surely this thimble case was the instrument to help her with her perfect darning.
• Georgia Kerby is exhibitions curator, Whangārei Museum at Kiwi North.