The needle is perhaps the oldest "tool" known to mankind. Just how the first garment was joined together is open to conjecture, however. During the Paleolithic Age (26,000 to 20,000 BC) the needle took form and in all probability was nothing more than a bone splinter sharpened at one end, undoubtedly with a flint, and interestingly in a triangular shape.

The first real needles didn't have an eye, just a slight groove that was formed in the shank to hold firm the "whipping," which fixed a leather thong to the needle. Later designs improved the method of "tying on the cotton." An angular slot was cut at the end of the needle, rather like a crochet hook, so that the leather strip could be hooked on and then pulled through a hole in the skin or cloth, previously made by the pointed bone splinter or flint.


An early bone needle

Final development of the needle came with the use of a flint boring tool. Ancient people drilled holes in the bone through which the sinew or fiber could be threaded. Some of these early needles had three or four holes of different sizes. A number of these "Stone Age" needles are in the British Museum and are examples of the earliest needles made.

A Roman Bronze needle

With the coming of the Bronze Age and the availability of material other than bone or ivory, it meant that a metal instrument, thinner and stronger, could be made. Then in about 100 BC came the Iron Age. There was little or no change in shape and pattern with this alternative metal, and it is ironic to realize that because of the perishable nature of iron, no examples of them remain, since they have all rusted away. In Greece, other needles have been unearthed, made in a sort of porcelain known as "faience," that are quite thick and crude. Early Egypt also provided many needles and pins as the garment became more than a rude cloak.

From the start of the first century, with the so-called Dark Ages, until 1370 AD, there are no records of needle making. In 1370, however, we find references to needle making from what is now known as Nuremberg, in Germany. However, England would soon make an important step in the production of the needle. In the mid-1500s, Mary I, wife of Philip II of Spain, encouraged a Spanish Moor to set up business in England. When the Moor died, however, so did his secret, because none of his workmen had been allowed to learn any of the processes. Elizabeth I, who followed Mary to the throne, realized the importance of this trade to be established in England, and thus persuaded other foreigners to settle. Many set up businesses in London, and their industry soon became established in some of the old buildings on London Bridge and the surrounding district. Production commenced and the sale of needles made in London spread until the import of needles from Germany, France and Spain ceased, and England became an exporter.

Many of the buildings unfortunately succumbed to the Great Fire of London in 1666. This caused an exodus of workers to outlying areas, where a cottage needle making industry soon boomed. In some of their own homes, wealthy Catholic landowners of the district housed lay brethren from a recently destroyed abbey to continue manufacturing needles. Each separate family, under the tuition of the monks, became experts in one of the many different operations required to make a needle, and with the absence of machinery, every needle was made by hand. Packets of partly-finished needles was passed on to the next family for them to perform the next operation.

Two steps in the needle making process:
  • Left -- The cutter cuts the appropriat length of needle.

 

  • Right -- The flatter forms the points and straightens the eyes.

With the advent of steam power, factories and mills were built and the entire production would now be undertaken under one roof. The Victorian Factory system had been created, and although some of the processes remained a home industry, the gradual, but total, manufacture had become a reality, and so it remains today with a touch or two of modernization, such as electric motors and modern, high-speed machinery.

We have come a long way from the bone splinter to the modern needle. It is, I suppose, correctly described as a tool or an implement -- we like to look on it as an instrument for the precision that has gone into its manufacture. So, when you go into your department store or little haberdashery shop in a market town, remember that you are buying the oldest tool known to mankind!

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Even a small thing like a hand sewing needle has had a role in the history of humans. Some facts and history about the hand sewing needle:

  • The first sewing needles were made from bone and were used to sew animal hides together. The oldest known bone ones were found in what is now southwestern France and has been estimated to be over 25,000 years old.
  • Needles made from copper, silver and bronze were used in ancient Egypt.
  • The oldest iron needle known was found in what is now Germany, and dates back to the 3rd century B.C.E.
  • Bookbinders and shoemakers used ones made from hog bristles in the Middle Ages.
  • Native Americans used porcupine quills and the pointed end of agave leaves for sewing needles. The fibers of the agave leaf were also used for thread.
  • Metal needle making was perfected by Muslims in Spain in the 11th century. Spanish Muslims were some of the most knowledgeable medical doctors in the world at the time, and had perfected many surgical techniques that required needles for suturing.
  • When the Muslims were driven out of Spain in the 15th century, they took the knowledge of needle making with them to Arab lands. Muslims returned to making them, and Arab traders took them to Europe.
  • Europe learned the art of needle making from Arab needle makers, and it came to England in the 17th century. Before this time, metal needles were made in Europe by the local blacksmith, and resulted in very crude needles.
  • The knowledge of needle making was also used to make fish hooks in England. The country became well known for high quality fish hooks as well as sewing needles in the middle of the 17th century.
  • Metal needles were handcrafted before the industrial age. The process began with cutting wire long enough to make two needles. Then points were ground on either end of the wire, the wire was flattened in the middle and eyes punched out. The needles were then separated. This operation is still followed today, but machines now do the work instead of humans.
  • Around 1850 needle making machines began producing needles and turned needle making from a cottage industry into an industry done in factories. By 1866 there were 100 million needles being made in England a year.
  • The English town and district of Redditch in central England became the center of the world's needle production in the 19th century. The craftsmanship of the needles made there was so great that a foreign manufacturer sent a hypodermic needle to Redditch claiming that it was smaller than Redditch needle makers could produce. The needle was sent back to the manufacturer with a needle made by Redditch craftsman so small that it fit inside the foreign manufacturer's!
  • Needle making is still being done in the Redditch area and other places in England.

Hand sewing needles come in a variety of types/ classes designed according to their intended use and in a variety of sizes within each type.

Sharps: Needles used for general hand sewing; built with a sharp point, a round eye, and are of medium length. Those with a double-eyed head are able to carry two strands of thread while minimizing fabric friction.
Appliqué: These are considered another all-purpose needle for sewing, appliqué, and patch work.
Embroidery: Also known as crewel needles; identical to sharps but have a longer eye to enable easier threading of multiple embroidery threads and thicker yarns.
Betweens or Quilting: These needles are shorter than sharps, with a small rounded eye and are used for making fine stitches on heavy fabrics such as in tailoring, quilt making and other detailed handwork; note that some manufacturers also distinguish between quilting needles and quilting between needles, the latter being slightly shorter and narrower than the former.
Milliners: A class of needles generally longer than sharps, useful for basting and pleating, normally used in millinery work.
Easy- or Self-threading: Also called calyxeyed sharps, side threading, and spiral eye needles, these needles have an open slot into which a thread may easily be guided rather than the usual closed eye design.
Beading: These needles are very fine, with a narrow eye to enable them to fit through the centre of beads and sequins along with a long shaft to thread and hold a number of beads at a time.
Bodkin: Also called ballpoints, this is a long, thick needle with a ballpoint end and a large, elongated eye. They can be flat or round and are generally used for threading elastic, ribbon or tape through casings and lace openings.
Chenille: These are similar to tapestry needles but with large, long eyes and a very sharp point to penetrate closely woven fabrics. Useful for ribbon embroidery.
Darning: Sometimes called finishing needles, these are designed with a blunt tip and large eye making them similar to tapestry needles but longer; yarn darners are the heaviest sub-variety.
Doll: Not designed for hand sewing at all, these needles are made long and thin and are used for soft sculpturing on dolls, particularly facial details.
Leather: Also known as glovers and as wedge needles, these have a triangular point designed to pierce leather without tearing it; often used on leather-like materials such as vinyl and plastic.
Sailmaker: Similar to leather needles, but the triangular point extends further up the shaft; designed for sewing thick canvas or heavy leather.
Tapestry: The large eye on these needles lets them to carry a heavier weight yarn than other needles, and their blunt tip-- usually bent at a slight angle from the rest of the needle-- allows them to pass through loosely-woven fabric such as embroidery canvas or even-weave material without catching or tearing it; comes in a double-eyed version for use on a mounted frame and with two colors of thread.
Tatting: These are built long with an even thickness for their entire length, including at the eye, to enable thread to be pulled through the double stitches used in tatting.
Upholstery: These needles are heavy, long needles that may be straight or curved and are used for sewing heavy fabrics, upholstery work, tufting and for tying quilts; the curved variety is practical for difficult situations on furniture where a straight needle will not work Heavy duty 12" needles are used for repairing mattresses. Straight sizes: 3"-12" long, curved: 1.5"-6" long.

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Patchwork Merchant Mercenaries had its humble beginnings as an idea of a few artisans and craftsmen who enjoy performing with live steel fighting. As well as a patchwork quilt tent canvas. Most had prior military experience hence the name.

 

Patchwork Merchant Mercenaries.

 

Vendertainers that brought many things to a show and are know for helping out where ever they can.

As well as being a place where the older hand made items could be found made by them and enjoyed by all.

We expanded over the years to become well known at what we do. Now we represent over 100 artisans and craftsman that are well known in their venues and some just starting out. Some of their works have been premiered in TV, stage and movies on a regular basis.

Specializing in Medieval, Goth , Stage Film, BDFSM and Practitioner.

Patchwork Merchant Mercenaries a Dept of, Ask For IT was started by artists and former military veterans, and sword fighters, representing over 100 artisans, one who made his living traveling from fair to festival vending medieval wares. The majority of his customers are re-enactors, SCAdians and the like, looking to build their kit with period clothing, feast gear, adornments, etc.

Likewise, it is typical for these history-lovers to peruse the tent (aka mobile store front) and, upon finding something that pleases the eye, ask "Is this period?"

A deceitful query!! This is not a yes or no question. One must have a damn good understanding of European history (at least) from the fall of Rome to the mid-1600's to properly answer. Taking into account, also, the culture in which the querent is dressed is vitally important. You see, though it may be well within medieval period, it would be strange to see a Viking wearing a Caftan...or is it?

After a festival's time of answering weighty questions such as these, I'd sleep like a log! Only a mad man could possibly remember the place and time for each piece of kitchen ware, weaponry, cloth, and chain within a span of 1,000 years!! Surely there must be an easier way, a place where he could post all this knowledge...

Traveling Within The World is meant to be such a place. A place for all of these artists to keep in touch and directly interact with their fellow geeks and re-enactment hobbyists, their clientele.

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