Weavers use needles to repair broken warp ends, hemstitch cloth on the loom and to hand finish hand woven articles.
The first sewing needles were made from bone and wood and were used to sew animal hides together. The oldest known bone sewing needle was found in what is now southwestern France and has been estimated to be over 25,000 years old. The oldest iron needle known was found in what is now Germany, and dates back to the 3rd century BC
Needles have also been made from from copper, silver, bronze, porcupine and agave leaves. Now days they are made from steel.
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 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. Europe learned the art of needle making from Arab needle makers thereafter. Before the 17th century, metal needles were made in Europe by the local blacksmith, and often resulted in very crude needles. I once watched a video of a Japanese craftsman hand making a needle for a silk embroiderer. He carefully put a slight burr on one side of the eye to stop the silk from slipping out of the eye.
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 but the mechanical process is essentially the same for hand made needles. 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 a year made in England.
- The raw material is a high quality steel coil which is drawn down to the required size
- From the coils the wire is straightened and cut to the length of two needles
- Each length of wire is sharpened to a point at both ends
- Pairs of matching dies stamp the eye impression in the centre of the wire
- A hole is punched through the two eyes at the centre
- The wires are broken into two separate needles
- The waste metal around the sides and the top of the eye is clipped or ground off
- So far the wire has been soft, but it is now tempered to ensure the correct amount of spring in each needle
- The needle is scoured which both cleans it, makes it completely smooth and highly polished
- The needles are usually nickel plated
Sewing Needles and Pins
EFT: European Federation of Sewing Thread Industries
The Hand Sewing Needle – History and Facts
How Needles Are Made, Needles by John James