Sewing Needles

A set of bone needles from the Cave of Courbet in the Aveyron Valley, near Toulouse, France. Believed to be over 13,000 years old. A set of bone needles from the Cave of Courbet in the Aveyron Valley, near Toulouse, France. Believed to be over 13,000 years old.

A  (sewing) needle is a small, slender and usually rounded tool used to carry a thread of some kind through a piece of cloth or related material, while carrying out plain (structural) or decorative sewing. A needle normally has a hole (eye) at one end and is shaped to a sharp or blunt point at the other.

The use of needles goes back thousands of years throughout the world and it is likely that it originated as a small tool used to stitch hide or leather together. A series of small holes were probably made in the skin with a sharp flint or thorn, then a sinew thread of some kind was attached to a thorn or bone sliver. These were passed through the holes in a specific order.

Over time a specialised tool, the needle, with a point and eye developed. These have been made of a wide variety of hard, yet slightly flexible substances, such as bone, ivory, metal (including copper, gold, iron, silver and steel), shell, thorns and wood. In England the first steel needles were made in 1545, reportedly by a native from India. His successor was Christopher Greening, who established a workshop at Long Crendon, Buckinghamshire, in 1560.

A variety of different needle types have been developed throughout the centuries. In 2014 the main types of commercially produced needles used for decorative needlework are appliqué needles; beading needles; betweens/quilting needles; bodkins; chenille needles; darning needles; embroidery/crewel needles; leather needles; nǻlbindning needles; sharp needles; straw or milliners needles, and tapestry needles.

There are also a range of items associated with needles, including needle cases. In addition, there are various rituals around the world linked with needles, such as the annual Japanese needle rite (hari-kuyo) where damaged or broken needles are taken to a local temple where they are disposed of.

See also the Japanese takaburi needle, and the early sixteenth century comedy, Gammer Gurton's Needle.


  • BEAUDRY, Mary C. (2007). Findings: The Material Culture of Needlework and Sewing, Yale University Press.
  • COATSWORTH, Elizabeth (2012). 'Needle', in: Gale Owen-Crocker, Elizabeth Coatsworth and Maria Hayward (eds.), Encyclopedia of Medieval Dress and Textiles of the British Isles, c. 450-1450Brill: Leiden, p. 381.
  • GROVES, Sylvia (1966). The History of Needlework Tools and Accessories, Feltham: Country Life Books., pp. 17-28.
  • Shorter Oxford English Dictionary: 'Needle'.

Digital source of illustration (retrieved 9 July 2016).


Last modified on Wednesday, 05 October 2016 10:36
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