Linking your favorite traveling artists across the globe
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.
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:
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!
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:
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.