sewing-tools-msg – 1/19/08
Medieval sewing tools, needles, thimbles.
This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.
This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org
I have done a limited amount of editing. Messages having to do with separate topics were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the message IDs were removed to save space and remove clutter.
The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make no claims as to the accuracy of the information given by the individual authors.
Please respect the time and efforts of those who have written these messages. The copyright status of these messages is unclear at this time. If information is published from these messages, please give credit to the originator(s).
Mark S. Harris AKA: THLord Stefan li Rous
Stefan at florilegium.org
From: mwolfe at epas.utoronto.ca (Menya Wolfe)
Subject: Re: Needles, information on creation
Date: 23 Mar 1994 22:32:44 GMT
Organization: EPAS Computing Facility, University of Toronto
In article <9403221451.AA19342 at milo.uucp> ayotte at milo.UUCP (Robert Arthur Ayotte) writes:
> I am seeking information on needle construction, period documentation
>to be exact. I am looking for both how they were made and what kinds were
>made over the period we all work with (Pre 1600). I wish to focus on metal
>needles but would also like information on the bone and thorn variety (and
>horn). I have had a devil of a time locating even photographs of such
Look for a book by Arthur MacGregor called _Bone, Antler, Ivory and
Horn_. _Artifacts_ by Henry Hodges may also have useful information
on working bone. If you need full references, contact me.
From: Phyllis_Gilmore at rand.org (Phyllis Gilmore)
Subject: Scissors, Thimbles, and Such: Books
Date: Tue, 11 Oct 94 09:34:18 GMT
As promised (and for once I deliver), the information on sewing tools
Massimiliano Manel, _Ciseaux [Scissors]_, tr. Joell Micheli and
Jacqueline Loubet, Cremona, Italy: PML Editions, 1991. This is a
French translation of an Italian original--perhaps there is an English
edition that I haven't seen. Lots of color photos, but not many in
P.9 shows a pair of iron shears from the eastern Mediterranean, 14th
century. The blades are "crossed" and pinned together in the manner
of modern scissors, the blades are very wide (especially relative to
the handles) and have the general look of hand-forged iron (how much
of that is due to the passage of time, I know not).
P. 11 shows two pairs of shears (specifically for shearing sheep "but
also for all other household uses," and notes that these were used
"from the 9th to the 19th century almost without alteration in
structure." A third pair is shown with a decorated metal case, and
both the handles of the scissors and the case are decorated in what
appears to be a typically Italian Renaissance relief design (your
opinion may vary). These are specifically for household use, Italian,
between 1550 and 1510. All three sheers are essentially two facing
knives joined together at the ends of the "handles" with a curve of
springy metal. (I've seen "designer" and Japanese style new scissors
that look very much like these in general design.).
P. 13 shows two candle-snuffers, Italian, 16th century. These are
essentially long-handled scissors with a little box attached to the
blade (presumably to catch the wick being trimmed off as you snuff
the candle). The long parts of the handles have a turned-wood look
to them, the "boxes" are decorated in relief.
p. 15 shows two "horloges" in the form of scissors. Since they don't
look a thing like Big Ben, I presume (perhaps wrongly) that these
are sundial bits. These artists' interpretations resemble, in one
instance, scissors-type toenail clippers (with a straight metal
"spring" between the handles) (16th century), and in the other, a pair
of pliers with blades instead of "jaws" (sorry, 17th century).
Estelle Zalkin, _Zalkin's Handbook of Thimbles and Sewing Implements:
A Complete Collectors Guide with Current Prices_, Radnor,
Pennsylvania: Warman Publishing Co., Inc., 1988. Caveats: This is
a guide for "serious" collectors (not the "oh, how cute honey! it's
a thimble that looks like Mickey Mouse" crowd). It doesn't have a lot
in our period; not everything has a date; and you have to look at a
lot of thimbles to find what you want (I found a 16th century example
on p. 26). While it focuses on thimbles, it does address most other
types of needlework tools. This is for collectors, not scholars, but
it does have a bibliography (e-mail if you're interested). It turns
out that most of the "interesting" stuff is 17th-20th centuries--or
at least the stuff you can expect to be able to buy. The earliest
dated scissors in the book (p. 162) are from a 1692 pair in the
Museum of London (oddly enough, the scissors I carry about with me
are a pewter reproduction pair from Gingher--me, split hairs?).
SCA: Philippa de Ecosse, Lyondemere, Caid
mka: Phyllis Gilmore, Santa Monica and Torrance, CA
My opinions are my own, unless donated. All contributions welcome.
From: rorice at bronze.ucs.indiana.edu (rosalyn rice)
Subject: CRAFTS: Medieval Sewing Kits
Organization: Indiana University, Bloomington IN
Date: Thu, 13 Oct 1994 11:43:12 GMT
Greetings from Lothar,
Actually, there are a number of interesting artifacts to be found
in the Excavations from Medieval London series. In, I believe, the Dress
Accessories book, there are several examples of iron or brass thimbles that
look a fair bit like the modern ones. There are also needle cases, one with
a needle still in it.
In the Knives and Scabbards book, there are a few examples of
scissors. But these are the "spring" sort which are made out of a single
piece of metal, rather than the hinged sort. (BTW, you can still get this
sort of scissor). I've seen pictures of medieval tailors using the hinged
sort of shear, so both sorts of scissors are period, though the handy little
stork-shaped embroidery scissors might be an OOP design.
That is all I know for fact. I've seen a Rev War period sewing kit
which looked pretty close to a modern one (being a small wallet with a piece
of cloth to stick needles in, an a pouch for buttons and the like), but
no documentation for anything earlier than that. Admittedly, I haven't
I'd be willing to believe that sewing accessories which couldn't
be carried on a belt, like scissors or a needle pouch, were likely
carried in a a pouch or just kept in a box like we'd do today, but I
don't know for sure.
From: b.woods6 at genie.geis.COM
Subject: CRAFT: Period sewing kit...
Date: 16 Oct 1994 01:43:02 -0400
Organization: the internet
On the subject of period sewing, I bring to the Rialto the
commentary of a friend of mine, Lady Sorcha:
To the good lady who inquired about having a period sewing case: there
are a number of items found in a modern sewing case that will sub for
period equipment. To begin with, needles are common, but were kept in
a needle case to protect them. Metal needles were expensive and were
often passed on to future generations as doweries and had great
monetary value. Bone and wood needles were common, but metal needles
were prized. Today's needles will suffice, but since there are so many
types to choose from, just keep on hand whatever you normally use.
Pins too, were highly prized. Bent pins were often given to servants
as "gratuities", taken to a tailor or metal smith, these pins could be
turned into cash or bartered for something (hence the term "pin-money."
Both of these items were kept in needlecases or a pin cusion of some
variety. Many of these cases were highly decorative as well as useful
and could be used to display ones' skills in decorative arts. This
continued into the Victorian age, as well.
Other items would include: wax (beeswax) for strengthening threads;
snips (precurser to scissors) or small decorative scissors in later
periods; a thimble of some variety, remember metal was precious so
perhaps a leather quilters' thimble that you can find in any fabric
store would be more common than the metal ones. And also there would
have been some threads or perhaps swatches to repair items.
It is difficult to really tell what the average lady would have had in
her kit. Most of these items accompanied here throughout her daily
duties. Carried in a small pouch or on a "chatellaine" at her belt.
From the items found at various archeological digs, we can assume that
the Medieval lady had many of the same items that we have now. The
materials that the tools are made from today may differ, but the use
was the same. Much of the "new modern utensils" are just adaptations
to older tools.
For more information, there are a number of books that cover sewing
history that are available from the library. Many deal with Victorian
collectables but there are some good references in these. Look at art
history books as well, period paintings often show people doing
everyday tasks, perhaps this will show you some examples of period
sewing items. There are also antiques available, but unless you win
the lottery or are well-to-do, I suggest making do with modern copies
I hope this helps, I am not normally on this net, I only kibitz with a
friend, but if you want some further help, please write. I can try to
come up with a bibliography of some helpful books.
Yours in service, Lady Sorcha O'Branigain
Brent "messenger to the Net" Woods
INTERNET: b.woods6 at genie.geis.com
USNAIL: 1401 Medford Ave. / Indianapolis IN 46222-3043
MABELL: +1 (317) 231-9510
SCA: Barony of Sternfeld, Middle Kingdom
From: darrell.markewitz at ambassador.com (Darrell Markewitz)
Subject: Sissors, Thimbles,
Date: Thu, 20 Oct 1994 12:12:02 GMT
Organization: AMBASSADOR BOARD (519) 925-2642 V.32
the WAREHAM FORGE
Hamlet of Wareham
RR #2, Proton Stn
Ont, CDN - N0C 1L0
(519) 923- 9219
wareham.forge at ambassador.com
As an addition to your research base for sissors and shears.
Check out "Knives and Scabbards" by Cowgill, Neergaard & Griffiths, Her
Magesty's Stationary Office, London ISBN 0 11 2904440 8.
Despite the title, it covers cutlery in general, based on findings
within the Medieval city of London, about 1150 to 1450 AD.
Has 9 pages describing the shears and sissors. Also a section on use,
metal content and even more!
Most are shears, there are only 3 sissors shown, all early to late 14th
Hope this helps..
From: motto at usgp4.ih.att.com (-Otto,M.R.)
Subject: Re: Sissors, Thimbles,
Date: Mon, 24 Oct 1994 20:51:30 GMT
Greetings, good gentles of the Bridge from Rosaline Weaver, in the
Shire of Rokkehealdan.
I have a replica medieval thimble which I purchased on a trip to London.
It is a ring, open both top and bottom, with indentations along the
band, and a protective lip at the wider edge. It is made of pewter, I
believe. I have had it for about five years now. Quite functional, too.
(Also - I recently received the great news that my name has been passed
by Laurel, so I'm now "legally" Rosaline Weaver.)
From: Chris Laning <claning at igc.apc.org>
Subject: Search for Thread Winders
Date: Thu, 07 Sep 1995 00:57:51 -0700 (PDT)
I have searched high and low for a source of authentic--or authentic
LOOKING--"thread winders" at a reasonable price. These are (I'm told)
what sewing thread was wound on before someone invented spools, hence
correct for my Elizabethan persona who is an excellent needlewoman
(well, a conspicuous one, anyway, one must needs be modest).
They are flat, thin pieces of wood, bone, ivory, shell and perhaps other
materials, basically circular, perhaps two inches across, with an even
number (4, 6, 8) of round "bites" taken out of the edges to form notches.
Thread is wound around/across them, kind of like on one of those plastic
"daisy wheel" looms. I've succeeded in getting a *few* made for $2 each
(by local lumberyard's door shop) and I'm surprised how much thread one
will hold (at least half a large commercial spool).
Today I went to the local Plastic Merchant to inquire about having some
laser cut (which is a service they advertise heavily). They do have an
ivory-colored sheet plastic which looks acceptable (as long as you don't
touch it--it doesn't feel like ivory). But they said two inches is too
small, the edge (I showed them one of the fancier patterns) is too
intricate, they'd have to sent it to the Big Shop which charges $100/hour,
I am wondering if there are good gentles out there who can help. Do you
know if anyone carries *cheap* thread winders? Or could I barter/pay to
have some made?
Here's what I've already tried:
(1) Lacis, in Berkeley, has lovely $20 (each!) antique thread winders made
of mother-of-pearl. NOT in my price range as I do craft demos and could
really use about a dozen of the things. They also (I'm told) have modern
reproductions at virtually the same price. No help there.
(2) The aforesaid door shop, after some experimenting, was able to
produce ten slightly lopsided ones out of 3/16-inch plywood. The pattern
I gave them looks like a 4-armed cross: a 2-inch circle with four equally
spaced 5/8-inch circles cut out of it, with their edges 1/2 inch from the
center of the 2-inch circle (i.e. the holes "slop over" the edge of the
larger circle by 1/8 inch). I'm told they did it by drilling the four holes
first, then cutting the 2-inch circle. However the plywood tends to
splinter quite badly. I sanded the edges and stained them, and they look
okay (and are certainly usable) but -- $2 each for little slices of wood?
Affordable, yes, but ...
I am not in any way a woodcarver or woodworker; don't have the skills,
the tools or the experience. But I'd be willing to barter, and can do
quilting, needlepoint, knitting or embroidery.
Am I dreaming the impossible dream? Of course, just wait; five years
from now someone will be producing something that looks just like them
*en masse* for some totally unrelated purpose (the next "Power Rangers"
accessory or something...).
O Chris Laning
| <claning at igc.apc.org>
+ Davis, California
From: Kim Brody Salazar <kim.salazar at em.doe.gov>
Subject: Re: Search for Thread Winders
Date: 8 Sep 1995 13:59:32 GMT
Organization: U.S. Department of Energy
Chris Laning <claning at igc.apc.org> wrote:
> I have searched high and low for a source of authentic--or authentic
> LOOKING--"thread winders" at a reasonable price. These are (I'm told)
> what sewing thread was wound on before someone invented spools, hence
> correct for my Elizabethan persona who is an excellent needlewoman
> (well, a conspicuous one, anyway, one must needs be modest).
> They are flat, thin pieces of wood, bone, ivory, shell and perhaps other
> materials, basically circular, perhaps two inches across, with an even
> number (4, 6, 8) of round "bites" taken out of the edges to form notches.
> Thread is wound around/across them, kind of like on one of those plastic
> "daisy wheel" looms. I've succeeded in getting a *few* made for $2 each
> (by local lumberyard's door shop) and I'm surprised how much thread one
> will hold (at least half a large commercial spool)...
This is a lovely idea. I'd seen pictures of thread winders in
books on historical needlework, but I've never seen anything
like them in person beyond the modern cardboard thingies sold for
floss or the plastic bobbins used in entrelac and argyle knitting.
I also am trying to do my period needlework in a more historically
authentic manner. I'm currently looking for small "snips" rather
to replace my modern embroidery scissors. I'd be very interested
in finding thread winders, too. Perhaps if enough people get
together you will amass a quantity order large enough to make
commissioning custom work feasible.
I know very little about woodwork, and even less about manipulating
bone or horn. I suspect that thin wafers of wood, notched in the
manner you describe would require a very hard, fine-grained material
like the types of wood used to make hair combs; and lots of sanding
to get smooth enough to avoid snagging threads - especially fine
I did note several learned discussions about working horn here on
the Rialto. Perhaps someone skilled in that medium might be
interested in trying their hand at thread winders.
In any case, please keep us posted on your investigations. If you
are looking for kindred spirits to participate in a group commission,
please count me in.
-Ianthe d'Averoigne kim.salazar at em.doe.gov
From: Tim Beck <timbeck at ix.netcom.com>
Subject: Re: Bone sewing kit, who can help?
Date: Sat, 23 Aug 1997 05:31:59 GMT
Sekhmet <Sekhmet at rosa.demon.nl> wrote:
>I recently decided I wanted my whole take-to-events-sewing-kit as period
>as I can get it. I decided I needed a box made out of bone to keep my
>needles in. I'm still looking for information on boneworking, both
>mundane and period, and I was wondering if anyone has come across what
>an actual period sewing kit consisted of? I'm thinking 12th century, but
>information about any time period is welcome.
>Gerbrich de Fries
>Sarah de Vries
You might want to check out the Museum of London _Dress Accessories_ book. They have several drawings and descriptions of period needle cases. Among them is one made from a section of bridie leg bone. What kind? I have no idea...don't have the source arround right now. But it seems to me with proper prep a chicken leg would do just fine. As I recall the ends were both cut off and it had a plug in one end and probably had a stpper in the other. Hang it from a belt on a cord. Also one of the needle cases they have contained an iron needle made of stiff wire that had been slightly flattened then pieced.
Date: Tue, 26 Aug 1997 10:51:13 -0500
From: Gunnora Hallakarva <gunnora at bga.com>
To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Sewing Boxes
Vikings and Anglo-Saxon women seem to have carried small metal "capsules"
(round boxes, pull-off lid, usually bronze, lid attached to body via hinges
or chain, the whole suspended from the brooches on a chain).
These were big enough to hold thread, maybe a needle or two, and little
bits of cloth. We don't know if these bits of cloth were weaving samples
to show what you'd done in the past. pattern examples for future weaving,
or ready-to go patches to be used for clothing repair. Others interpet
these as amulets or talismans of some sort.
Then there's also the famous needle cases, which held needles and often
thread looped figure eight style around the needles.
Meaney, Audrey L. Anglo-Saxon Amulets and Curing Stones. British
Archaeological Reports British Series 96. Oxford: BAR. 1981.
pp. 181-189, with good line drawings in 1:1 scale on pp. 182, 183 and 185.
Date: Tue, 26 Aug 1997 11:39:42 -0500 (CDT)
From: Lorine S Horvath <lhorvath at plains.NoDak.edu>
To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Re: Sewing boxes
On Mon, 25 Aug 1997, MRS RONDA K MORGAN wrote:
> When did they come into use? Ladies of esteam must have had some
> rather nice ones to keep all their supplies in. I would like to make
> a wooden one with a stitch sampler for the top. I have tried to find
> information on the Rialto but didn't turn up anything. Thanks for any
> help you can offer.
Hi, sorry, I don't haave my references with me here at work, but I
clearly remember seeing several examples of small bronze boxes containing
sewing supplies in several 5-7th century anglo-saxon graves. Thus, I
would think that sewing boxes go way back!
Date: Tue, 26 Aug 1997 16:07:56 -0500
From: Gunnora Hallakarva <gunnora at bga.com>
To: Lorine S Horvath <lhorvath at plains.NoDak.edu>, sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Needlecase Construction
>Tarrach Alfson here. This thread reminded me of a question I have had
>for some time concerning early anglo-saxon bone needle cases. All of
>the example I have seen show small square shaped tubes with a bottem,
>but no appearant lid. Goose leg bones are sort of square shaped, so I
>have assumed that was the reason for the unusual shape, but I am at a
>loss as to how they were capped and hung from the belts. Have you seen
>any examples complete with lids? Just curious.
The ones I have seen have a D shaped cross section and are made of reindeer
leg, which naturally has that shape. Other fairly narrow hollow bones
could be used, as well as elder wood stems, which are simply hollowed by
removing the thin, cork-like pith.
The two I've seen in museum contexts were capped on one end, with a
smallish hole in the cap. The other end was open. To hang them, you need
a knob of some kind larger than the open end... Often a ring of the same
bone that the body of the needlecase is made from, though a button or bead
larger than the opening will work also..
You next need a piece of leather, 28" long or so? that has a solid tab
about the length of the needlecase, a round hole punched near the end of
the tab, and two thongs coming off the top.
This is hard to describe. Hmm. Go look at the illustration I just whipped
OK, to do the thongs, wet that part of the leather and twirl the end
through the slit as shown in the diagram. This should make the thong part
a round cord.
Cut two rings from the piece of bone you'll be using for the needlecase.
They should be about 3/16" wide or so, use your best judgement. I have
also cut slices from antler and bored holes in the middle for the same use.
Thread the tab through one ring, and the thong ends through the hole in the
tab. You have a flat area near that ring, and you can either thread your
needle through it directly, or you can sew a strip of felt to it to hod the
OK, you have one end of the needlecase tube closed, especially if you used
a bone that has the end know still on. There should be a hold drilled
through the "closed" end, about 1/2 the diameter of the inside of the tube
Feed the thong through the open end of the needlecase tube and out through
the hole in the capped end. I usually feed a piece of wire down through
the smaller opening to use to hook the thong and pull it back through.
Once you have the thong fed through, attach the other bone loop to the far
end, again with a clover hitch. To get to the needles, pull on the bottom
ring. To store the needles, slide the tube down over them until it touches
the bottom ring.
I've jumped rope, played tug-of-war, and run across camp with mine and
never lost or broke a needle.
Date: Wed, 27 Aug 1997 17:39:23 -0400
From: karen at georesearch.com (Karen Green)
To: sca-arts at raven.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: References (was Re: EARLY PERIOD EMBROIDERY?)
By the way, anyone looking for information on period sewing kits should
check out http://www.needleworkbooks.com/tools.html for an interesting
list of sources ... I have "Bags and Purses" but I got that from
Historically Yours :)
Barony of Ponte Alto, Atlantia
From: Tim Beck <timbeck at ix.netcom.com>
Subject: Re: (Bone sewing kit, who can help?) Iron needles
Date: Thu, 28 Aug 1997 17:17:37 GMT
powers at woodstock.cis.ohio-state.edu (william thomas powers) wrote:
>>But I do disagree as to the availability of iron needles. In the twelfth
>century there was already a booming market in knife/shear production as well
>as iron buckles &c. It really isn't that far a stretch to believe that the
>people using these materials could have spared the small amount used to
>produce needles. Besides iron needles would be a whole lot easier to use on
>any tight weave.
>>Just a thought,
>Milord Timtohy; I have not seen the documentation for iron needles; but
>I would hazard a guess from my wrought iron working experiences that iron
>needles of small size would be a royal pain to make. In addition iron
>*rusts* when exposed to human hands. Bone on the otherhand is easy to
>grind down and is self lubricating and so would probably be superior to
>a rough surfaced (rust) iron needle. However I would bet more on the
>existance of silver and gold needles---easier metal to work, less likely
Well hazzard if you must, however in the MOL _Dress Accesories_ book there is one example of an iron needle. This was made with *drawn* iron wire which is pieced at one end and sharpened at the other. But it is dated to the 14th century. Here is where I climb out on a limb: They had iron wire, they also had drawplates in common use. Theophilus give them about a four line chapter in _On Diverse Arts_ suggesting he only felt the need to mention them. He talks at some length concerning locking drawtongs. This is in the first quarter of the 12th century.
But even if they did not draw iron wire, there were any number of people making rolled iron wire from flat sheet which was then bent, the ends flattened and pieced, and a small rivet driven through it, these were combined in the manufacture of mail. Now I really don't think that it is too far a stretch to think, if someone could master this skill, that someone or two others could manage to develope the far less troblesome skills required to make basicly the same item, with one sharp end and no rivet. I'm sorry I don't have access to the full archilogical record here but I am really quite sure iron needles can be dated to pre-12th cen.
As to your question of rust, a needle could simply have been waxed, that is something which isn't likely to be evident on archiological finds but quite possible in period. Or like many other iron item these could have been tinned. They would have been quite nice.
Being a comparitivly cheep metal then and now as well as durable iron would have been a good choice. I think it would have replaced bone rather quickly, since bone has a tendency to break... point breaks off in the fabric, the fine eye breaks off if you turn your wrist when you draw the thread up. I made my wife a bone tatting shuttle once, it begged to be broken with the slightest drop.
Did bone needles exist? Sure they did. Did iron needles? Yes. I'm sure that gold and silver were also arround, they would be easier to make and yes, they would not rust. Just because we can't point to 20 different examples of these things doesn't mean they weren,t EVERYWHERE. After all they are not that interesting to the general public and probably haven't been over published. And hey, it's really not like finding a needle in a haystack to find one in...oh say, the Thames.
From: powers at woodstock.cis.ohio-state.edu (william thomas powers)
Subject: Re: (Bone sewing kit, who can help?) Iron needles
Date: 28 Aug 1997 14:10:22 -0400
Organization: The Ohio State University, Department of Computer and Information Science
Milord Timothy; *please* use carriage returns! I'll spend more time
editing your post than writing my reply.
De Re Iron Needles and my contention that *wrought iron* was a pain to
make needles from:
>Well hazzard if you must, however in the MOL _Dress Accesories_ book
>there is one example of an iron needle. This was made with *drawn*
>iron wire which is pieced at one end and sharpened at the other. But
>it is dated to the 14th century. Here is where I climb out on a limb:
>They had iron wire, they also had drawplates in common use. Theophilus
>give them about a four line chapter in _On Diverse Arts_ suggesting he
>only felt the need to mention them. He talks at some length concerning
>locking drawtongs. This is in the first quarter of the 12th century.
Your limb is bending a little; if Dress Accesories is anything like
Knives & Scabbards it will contain little early medieval period objects;
perhaps we have a temporal gap here, I am thinking of early medieval
and you perhaps of later medieval.
Drawplates for *non-ferrous* metals were in common use *much* longer than
for wrought iron. Wrought iron just doesn't work like non-ferrous
metals---in fact it is actually more of a composite material than an alloy.
Two sources on the history of technology I have mention that use of
drawplates for iron dates to the 12th cent. That leaves a lot of the "middle
ages" out of the drawn iron wire period.
I am familiar with Theophilus and have tried several of his methods with
>But even if they did not draw iron wire, there were any number of people
>making rolled iron wire from flat sheet which was then bent, the ends
>flattened and pieced, and a small rivet driven through it, these were
>combined in the manufacture of mail. Now I really don't think that it
>is too far a stretch to think, if someone could master this skill, that
>someone or two others could manage to develope the far less troblesome
>skills required to make basicly the same item, with one sharp end and
>no rivet. I'm sorry I don't have access to the full archilogical record
>here but I am really quite sure iron needles can be dated to pre-12th cen.
I think that the arguement was originally for iron needles for sewing
finely woven cloth, not if iron needles existed at all. I will posit
as an iron worker that making a *fine* iron needle is much more difficult
than making a mail ring. Why do you consider it "far less troblesome"?
Please read carefully; I do not believe that I claimed that iron needles
did not exist; but that they were harder to make---especially as you reach
the finer sizes and so may not have been economical when compared with other
>As to your question of rust, a needle could simply have been waxed, that
>is something which isn't likely to be evident on archiological finds but
>quite possible in period. Or like many other iron item these could have
>been tinned. They would have been quite nice.
A good point though wax will be quite transitory if you are sewing an
"abrasive" fabric like linen and iron staining would show up easily.
Theophilus discusses tinning---look at his instructions for tinning
>Being a comparitivly cheep metal then and now as well as durable iron would
>have been a good choice.
I would be careful about relative costs without more information.
What about bronze? Easier to work, fairly inexpensive, less abrasive than
wrought iron, bends rather than breaks but can be work hardened.
> I think it would have replaced bone rather quickly,
>since bone has a tendency to break... point breaks off in the fabric, the
>fine eye breaks off if you turn your wrist when you draw the thread up.
Would not bronze have replaced bone then several thousand years before iron
became generally available? I don't find this argument very telling as
we still find bone needles several thousand years after bronze was available.
So perhaps we can refine this as to: What were the preferred materials for
needles based on time, place, type of sewing, and economic level?
I'll do a bit of digging and report back on examples I find; how about
some other folk too?
>Did bone needles exist? Sure they did. Did iron needles? Yes. I'm sure
>that gold and silver were also arround, they would be easier to make and
>yes, they would not rust. Just because we can't point to 20 different
>examples of these things doesn't mean they weren,t EVERYWHERE. After all
>they are not that interesting to the general public and probably haven't
>been over published. And hey, it's really not like finding a needle in a
>haystack to find one in...oh say, the Thames.
wilelm the smith married to a spinster whose needleworking histories he
From: Tim Beck <timbeck at ix.netcom.com>
Subject: Re: (Bone sewing kit, who can help?) Iron needles
Date: Fri, 29 Aug 1997 06:18:06 GMT
>Drawplates for *non-ferrous* metals were in common use *much* longer than
>for wrought iron. Wrought iron just doesn't work like non-ferrous
>metals---in fact it is actually more of a composite material than an alloy.
I must say I agree with this 100% But the *original post* was in regard to
the 12th century, so I responded to it. It was not just a period question.
Also if you noticed the point about making mail versus needles, to make
a mail ring you make wire from sheet by twisting it , then hammering
it into shape; it was done by the early Irish and just about everyone else
to make wire before drawplates. So even if they did not draw iron wire at
this period (12th cen.) they had a means by which to make iron wire sans drawplate and produce iron needles.
I believe it would be easier to make a needle than a pierced and riveted
ring because there are many fewer steps involved, no rivet, no ring twist,
just a piece of wire made by a centuries old technique with one sharp end
and one pierced end. This to me sounds far less troublesome. But consider
ancient iron fish hooks--these can be found in coin shops in England.
>Two sources on the history of technology I have mention that use of
>drawplates for iron dates to the 12th cent. That leaves a lot of the "middle
>ages" out of the drawn iron wire period.
I agree, please note original post.
>I am familiar with Theophilus and have tried several of his methods with
>I think that the arguement was originally for iron needles for sewing
>finely woven cloth, not if iron needles existed at all. I will posit
>as an iron worker that making a *fine* iron needle is much more difficult
>than making a mail ring.
Well this is interesting, actually the original arguement ran that the iron needles in period were large and made of a wire that was doubled over to create the eye and were only functional for leather and grossly loose weave material. This is off base in my opinion. This tool sounds like a cobbler's needle, *not* a sewing needle. I contend that iron sewing needles also existed in the 12th cen. and were not "only for nobles", as was argued originally.
>Please read carefully; I do not believe that I claimed that iron needles
>did not exist; but that they were harder to make---especially as you reach
>the finer sizes and so may not have been economical when compared with other
Hmm... that wasn't how it occured to me when I read it. With this I agree. But I also think that silver and gold would be less available than
iron needles. I still think bone has a durability problem that would cause
it's popularity to wane as an alternative became readily available.
>>Being a comparitivly cheep metal then and now as well as durable iron would
>>have been a good choice.
>I would be careful about relative costs without more information.
In Spain (c. 700ce) the catalan forge was developed using water power to
create wind power. These forges have been rated at 140lbs iron/hour.
This made iron readily available. It was desirable because it was strong
and reletivly easy to obtain. This was a huge export industry.
>What about bronze? Easier to work, fairly inexpensive, less abrasive than
>wrought iron, bends rather than breaks but can be work hardened.
Sure the celts had bronze and silver dress pins, dress ornaments and
components. It seems likely that bronze would have eventually been used
for needles. But at this time metal was more scarce and costly and bone
was in wide use. I have not seen any bronze needles but they are probably
>Would not bronze have replaced bone then several thousand years before iron
>became generally available? I don't find this argument very telling as
>we still find bone needles several thousand years after bronze was available.
Actually iron has been extracted from ore since long before our period too.
I have seen nothing to suggest that bronze did not in large part replace it
But we are not talking total extinction. These things change in areas at
different rates, and of course new items would be possessed by wealthier
people first. The original post was regarding what belonged in a 12th cen.
sewing box. I believe that to be an iron needle for most people of fair
means. A needle case hung from the belt would tend to denote *some* status
since the muck scraping, field gleaners wouldn't have one. But someone who
had time to do needlework would. This doesn't mean they were rich. There
were plenty of craftspeople who could afford one.
Bronze, iron, and bone coexisted. We find all sorts of bone items in period
at the same time as metal ones. Bone buttons, mirror cases, hair pins.
>So perhaps we can refine this as to: What were the preferred materials for
>needles based on time, place, type of sewing, and economic level?
>I'll do a bit of digging and report back on examples I find; how about
>some other folk too?
Timothy, a jewelry maker, married to a webbestre
From: Sekhmet <Sekhmet at rosa.demon.nl>
Subject: Re: (Bone sewing kit, who can help?) Iron needles
Date: Fri, 29 Aug 1997 13:06:48 +0200
The original poster here, joining the discussion on needles. I got the
idea to get my sewing case in order when I bought a packet containing
three reproduction medieval pins and a needle. I bought them at the
dutch archeological/living history themepark Archeon (lots of fun, check
it out!) they're handmade and reproductions from specimens found in
Amsterdam. (Amsterdam area inhabited since about the year thoussand, of
the top of my head. It was probably swamp before that. I still have to
pay a tax to maintain dykes to turn the water:) ) It doesn't say which
specimens or give a date except "middle ages" but you might like to know
that they're made of yellow copper. The pins are interesting: a long
thin piece of copper bended back on itself to coil around it self a
couple of turns to form the head of the pin. The needle is quite as thin
as a modern needle, with one flat end with a perfectly round small hole
in it that looks a bit fragile. I plan to really sew with this and I'm
wondering how long it will last. They were handmade. One set (3pins & 1
needle plus tiny leaflet) cost five guilders. I bought two.
Just my three pins worth! ;)
Sarah de Vries
Gerbrich de Fries
From: powers at woodstock.cis.ohio-state.edu (william thomas powers)
Subject: Re: (Bone sewing kit, who can help?) Iron needles
Date: 31 Aug 1997 23:30:31 -0400
Organization: The Ohio State University, Department of Computer and Information Science
>>What about bronze? Easier to work, fairly inexpensive, less abrasive than
>>wrought iron, bends rather than breaks but can be work hardened.
>Sure the celts had bronze and silver dress pins, dress ornaments and
>components. It seems likely that bronze would have eventually been used
>for needles. But at this time metal was more scarce and costly and bone
>was in wide use. I have not seen any bronze needles but they are probably
"The History of Needlework Tools and Accessories", Sylvia Groves
mentions that documenting iron needles is difficult since being
so small they will rust away; however "On the other hand, those of
bronze, a metal much more resistant to corrosion, have survived in
some quantity"...."Until the Tudor period at least, the bronze
needles used in England were made by individual craftsmen in various
parts of the country. One of the patrons of the Inn that Langland
describes in his poem is 'Hughe the nedeler'"
Spain, especially Cordoba, was renowned for its steel needles in
period times---the skills having been brought over by the Moors.
>The original post was regarding what belonged in a 12th cen.
>sewing box. I believe that to be an iron needle for most people of fair
>means. A needle case hung from the belt would tend to denote *some* status
>since the muck scraping, field gleaners wouldn't have one. But someone who
>had time to do needlework would. This doesn't mean they were rich. There
>were plenty of craftspeople who could afford one.
And I hold that a bronze needle maybe just as likely---if not more!
John Stow in his "Survey of London and Westminster" 1598 talks
of the introduction of steel (spanish) needlemaking as being first
taught during the 8th year of Queen Elizabeth's reign. (a dubious
chronology--though a period source)
>Timothy, a jewelry maker, married to a webbestre
wilelm, a smith, patternwelder, founder married to a spinster
From: Robin Carroll-Mann <harper at idt.net>
Subject: Re: 16th Century Needle Cases
Date: Fri, 24 Mar 2000 18:09:42 -0500
> I'm working on a needle case from the 16th Century England. What I'm finding
> is that I only have one source and that's from Herbert Norris's Tudor Costume
> and Fashion. Any documentation would be so greatly appreciated be it
> portraits, papers... Anything at all.
It's been a while since I looked at it, but "Old-Time Tools and Toys
of Needlework" by Gertrude Whiting has a chapter on needles and
needle-cases, and has some illustrations. Most of them are 18th
century and later, but I *think* some of them are late period. You
might want to get it through inter-library loan and take a look.
Lady Brighid ni Chiarain *** mka Robin Carroll-Mann
Settmour Swamp, East
From: zuben at home.com (Anselm the Bald)
Subject: Re: 16th Century Needle Cases
Date: Thu, 30 Mar 2000 06:30:46 GMT
Check this page:
On 24 Mar 2000 19:34:25 GMT, mellandrws at aol.com (MellAndrws) wrote:
>I'm working on a needle case from the 16th Century England. What I'm finding
>is that I only have one source and that's from Herbert Norris's Tudor Costume
>and Fashion. Any documentation would be so greatly appreciated be it
>portraits, papers... Anything at all. I'm looking for webpages mainly just
>for the fact that I lack library references, what a pity, hm?
>This is my first thing that I am making for an A&S competition and later, when
>I move kingdoms, it will be given as a favor to my best friend. So it really
>means a lot to me that I find documentation so that I can do it all correctly.
Date: Fri, 13 Apr 2001 10:53:21 -0400
From: rmhowe <MMagnusM at bellsouth.net>
To: Stellararts at yahoogroups.com
Subject: Re: [Stellararts] EZ bone needles -Was Chicks!! Now Legbones
Thank you for the answer. I was hoping to hear that geese
might have leg splines as Turkeys are probably very late
period in Europe. I don't know how common peacocks were
to the ordinary folk, but I figured Geese might have even
better splines in their legs than turkeys. When I was a
child a neighbor had peacocks that often escaped to the
roof of our house, and I must say they were screechy things
(very much like court heralds), I've never eaten one though.
I have had ring-necked pheasant.
It's been many years since I've had duck or goose. They
are too fatty for my present consumption and cause me a few
problems, though I enjoyed both thoroughly when I could eat
them. Duck was my birthday dinner for many years when my
mother was alive. This may explain why I couldn't recall.
My presumption was that Geese _might_ have them and that
our forebears would obviously have taken advantage of the
easy shape to make needles with. You avoid a whole lot of
trouble that way, when you can simply clip them to length,
scrape off the soft tissue, drill, and file to shape.
Because of food allergies associated with my disability
(advanced fibromyalgia/chronic pain syndrome/other weird mess)
I eat primarily Turkey (legs) and on occasion, very simply
Having been a working craftsman in diverse trades for many
years previously, I had looked at Turkey splines and wondered
why people did not try to make needles of them. A while back
I got rather bored and tried both splines and bone for needles.
The process is not particularly good for the disability,
(it raises my pain level considerably and knots up my hands
and muscles pretty badly for days) however it does produce
quite usable needles. For ordinary people with patience it
should be no problem at all. If you are going to carve or
engrave bone you'd better have patience. It comes off in
very small bits with each cut.
Basically, it requires only a few simple tools, an exacto
knife with a #11 ordinary blade to drill the holes, something
to clip the splines to length, and as little as an emery board
to shape them. They dry quite rapidly as you work them. Drill
the hole from either side meeting in the middle. (You cannot
work them wet with an emery board, it will dissolve the glue
on it holding the grit. Steel files with smooth cut teeth will
also work on bones or splines, I've done it. However, these
can also rust.)
It varies from bird to bird apparently how many workable
splines you can get, somewhere between three and ten per leg.
You might get as many as twenty bone needles if you don't mind
the curves. Some birds are more bow-legged than others.
Earlier killed birds seem to have thinner splines or undeveloped
ones more similar to cartilage than bone.
In practice, I have found drilling the hole to be the first
thing to do - holing it by twisting carefully with the knife tip.
I use an EZE Lap red (fine) diamond hone on my tools to keep them
sharp ($7.50). It helps to sharpen the back edge of the blade for
a short distance, it will cut faster and easier.
I have tried punching the tiny holes with a very adaptable
(rare) punch pliers I have but have found that punching tends
to split them, even if the punch itself is reverse tapered.
I'm fairly certain that an ordinary drill bit is going to
split them. If they made glass and ceramic drills that small
it might be more ideal in shape for this particular material.
But it only takes a minute or so to make the hole anyway with
the knife blade. If your first hole should split the piece
merely clip the end off and start further down. Have patience,
I have tried using a specially reground Bernzomatic metal/plastic
cutting tool to split the turkey bones lengthwise, which takes
a ribbon of bone out of them, losing some in the process. This
has a central jaw blade section that I ground fine enough to go
inside the small lengthwise hole in the bone, and a jaw on either
side of it to support the central jaw blade section. These come
with several cutters for metals and plastic/laminate.
I have also tried a jeweler's saw frame and blade,
finding that it was not the best tool for the purpose.
A wood bladed bandsaw tends to make fractures in the thin turkey
bone, even when I've clamped it lengthwise in a wooden jawed
Jorgenson clamp to hold it more safely with my hands away from
the saw blade.
I've come to the conclusion that a Zona or Exacto saw with very
fine teeth, which is a small model maker's metal/wood backsaw
like a woodworker's backsaw is practically the best for cutting
the turkey bone into needle blanks, generally using the
straightest 2-2 1'2" of the leg bone. You can get more out of
a leg, but basically, in my case I have more bone than I have
time or ability to use. The leg bone averages about 1/16th inch
thick in section.
Splines may often be gently twisted straighter - before they dry.
Even the short fat splines will work, the ones that look
like feathers, you just have to trim them carefully with the
bone grain. Most of these will make needles about an inch to
an inch and a quarter long.
A diamond file is easily cleaned and cuts down on the dust
as you can work the bone wet with it. One thing you might
notice is that it is much like flour paste once the organic bone
dust and water combine on the file. But I believe I prefer this
to breathing it. I wear a mask anyway though.
One shapes the needle to the hole and to the point on the
other end. A diamond file and a diamond hone are not the
same thing. The file has coarser diamond particles on it.
Try Lapidary Journal, a Rock and Gem, Metalsmith, or Beading
magazine for sources. Rio Grande is on the web and probably
sells them. I bought mine at gem shows near my home.
I have furthermore found that using a 3" diamond tapered Bead
Reamer is very useful for putting thread grooves in the end of
the needle along both sides of the eye, and also for rounding
the hole's edge. In this case you hold the material between the
thumb and forefinger of your off hand and slide the bead reamer
along the length of the end where the eye is. It works quite
nicely and you'd have to do a lot of this before it wears
through your skin.
Splines are lighter in weight than the bone, but compare in
toughness fairly favorably to it. Either will pierce most
fabrics except really tightly woven material like heavy linen.
As far as most wools it is no problem at all. A bit of fine
sandpaper and you can easily restore the point if they dull.
I've done more than enough of these to establish an opinion.
I believe you will find that you take about ten-twenty minutes
to make a spline needle, and a bone needle will require closer
to twenty to thirty minutes working time. You can soften the
bone somewhat by soaking it for a couple of days in a water
container. I put a bit of chlorox in mine to kill any bacteria.
If you don't you will notice a gas coming up in little bubbles,
this happened even when I initially mixed in some anti-bacterial
soft soap. I pour out the old water several times every few days
and add new water and chlorox to the container.
Or you can work the bone immediately. I push the marrow out with
a small tool, and use a plastic bristle brush meant for cleaning
the holes in a steam iron to scrub the inside of a bone hole
under running water. Previously I scrape the outside of the
turkey leg bone clean with a knife and saw it to the length I desire.
I own quite a few articles and books on Antler, Ivory, Bone and
Horn work, and a number of archaeological books that also include
things like bone and metal pins, and dress accessories,
etc. You may have seen a recent posting of mine on the subject.
I've acquired more since then.
Over the years I've carved by hand in bone, antler, ivory, horn,
various plastics and woods and quite a few metals, and done some
lapidary as well. Most recently I've done a bone Anglo-Saxon /
Viking period spoon after one from Winchester and a Jelling Style
bone pin by hand. With the FMS it's pretty crippling but I get
bored not making things at times anymore. Bone is less hard than
ivory generally I think, so it would make a good practice material.
For carving I use engraving burins by hand, and generally scrape
to near finish with a few sharpened dental tools. The most used
engraving burin I use is a square edged one like a less acute
angled chisel than you would use on wood, it allows me to inlet
lines by tipping it on its side, carve the outside of round
shapes, intertwine knots, etc. I find it much easier than a
diamond, lozenge, or knife-edge shaped burin for most
applications, and I only use round bottom radiused or smaller
width chisel tools for details where nothing else will work.
If you want a burin or two, Brownells.com has some you can
find by searching under chisels. Some fine wet-dry sandpaper
will complete the finish on bone. On occasion I have used a
plastic sanding stick with tiny sanding belts on it or a sanding
bow frame with a small belt on it for rounding or polishing details.
For smaller holes I find I can slit the 1/4" wide bow frame belt
or cut it to width. Micromark.com sells these tools.
Dental tools can be ordered from many dealers but I generally
go through boxes at shows. You can find them at flea markets,
gem and gun shows. Over the years I suppose I've picked up
close to 150, and about thirty burins of varying shapes. I'm
partial to the chisel or dovetail ended dental tools.
I reshape them to flats, inside and outside curves of various
dimensions and radiuses. Even to the cusp where two arcs join
for double round details.
You could probably also make engraving tools from the rectangularly
cut masonry nails, mounted in a mushroom shaped handle with a
flat on one side. They work fine for punches, even for coin die
punches. Just be careful not to overheat them and ruin the temper.
Keep dipping them in water as you grind, for hollows like C shapes
I use the edge of a powered sanding belt. Friends here make
coins and I've ground some punches for them out of the nails.
They are hard enough to punch impressions in ordinary mild steel.
The spoon has an animal head on it, the Jelling-style dragon dress
pin took me about four-five days of work vs. 1 1/2 for the spoon,
this was mostly because of the detail on every side of the
dragon head. Jelling dragons also have long tapering curved
eyes and snout which are nearly as difficult as the dangly
tendrils that come from atop the nose and behind the eyes.
I've never seen one on a bone pin before, but I have seen
them on rock and wood and antler engravings, re-created viking
ship bow figure heads, and much metalwork.
The bone pieces each have a very lovely color to them, somewhere
close to ivory, but more manilla colored and without the double
radial lines. You can discern layers in the bone, and the
pin has a few tiny 1/4" length-wise fracture lines like wind
shakes in wood I can see. The spoon bowl, which is very shallow,
is about .085-.100" (about 3/32") thick in most of the bowl.
This is all the bone would allow, and it was enough to simulate
the bone spoon in size I was doing a near copy of. The handle
and the head carving were thicker. Rotary tools were not used
in the process. I own several dremels and a Foredom, but dislike
the lack of control and the bone dust. That must await a time
when I have better venting than now.
I did use a bandsaw for cutting the large cow bone I used and
for ridding it of a lot of calcareous (spongy) bone tissue.
Practically speaking it helps to saw partly into a board
and use it as a base to cut the bone on rather than try to saw
it unsupported over the wide hole in a throat plate around the
blade. In ridding oneself of the calcareous tissue the bone
blank is set on edge and one rests a part of the item to be
sawed against the blade side in back of the teeth to support
it for cutting with the edge of the teeth - gently feeding as you go.
I initially took a half inch deep slice of the best face of the
bone before I started to shape it. This allowed me to check it
for optimum thickness before I drew my cutting lines on the
outside. You will probably find that your cow leg bone is much
thicker at one end than the other, and that other end may
contain more calcareous tissue in it. The end with the thicker
bone is more hollow inside. Wear eye protection and a dust mask
at the very least. In places the bone is 3/8 of an inch thick, and
we're talking a seriously large cow leg bone here.
I expect to do the engraving on a Fishtailed Viking pin not too
far off, and may do some bone buckles or strap-ends. One from
York was stained bright green, I'm not sure of the method, but
I suspect a copper chemical was used, usually most green copper
chemicals are poisonous that I've heard of.
I obtained some rather nice cow bones from a local Pets Warehouse.
These were quite clean inside and out, having had a 3/8' pressure
washer hole drilled in one end. A $6 bone can produce quite a
number of artefacts.
Magnus Malleus, OL, GDH, Atlantia / R. M. Howe
***Please do not repost this to an open newsgroup, especially the
Rialto, or to the Universitas list. (To other _closed, subscriber-
based_ SCA or reenactor lists I don't have a problem with your
reposting or putting in your local newsletters.) Why not those
particular lists as I asked? Too many arguments, trolls and too
much spam for my taste. I like craftspeople, not debaters.***
Marcus Loidolt wrote:
> Cousin Magnus,
> Right away comes the answer, PEAFOWL!!! Peacocks
> were raised for food as well as ornaments and have the
> same basic structure of Turkeys, both being Gallacious
> Ostriches also have these splits in their legs which
> serve to strengthen and anchor the muscles of the legs
> for running, scratching etc...
> All Gallacious birds have them, chickens et all,
> because they all live on land, and forage for food by
> sratching and chasing.
> Waterfowl such as ducks, geese and swans do not have
> these bones, there is no need for them.
> I hope this helps, what are you doing with them?
> BTW, I will not raise either turkeys or peafowl, they
> cost too much in either sanity, or money or both!
> Johann OL-elect
> --- rmhowe <mmagnusm at bellsouth.net> wrote:
> > Monsieur Chickenmeister Johann,
> > Perhaps you can answer a question for me. No one
> > else I ask seems to have the answer. Alas, I've been
> > asking other Laurels. This may be my downfall I suppose. :)
> > You do far more actual barnyard research so I suppose you
> > may know.
> > Since you raise and consume these feathered fowl perhaps you
> > can tell me what breeds have splines in their leg bones as
> > larger turkeys do.
> > Geese? Anything else you might recall.
> > Also are these splines as large or larger than the
> > American Turkey?
> > I have a definite need for this answer.
> > I may be writing a short craft article concerning such.
> > I need to know if splines are period in regards to birds
> > in Europe. If splines are the wrong word, I could stand
> > some correction on that too. My observation is that these
> > things start as a soft cartilage and harden with age.
> > Magnus, OL
> > A Southern Cousin
Date: Wed, 09 May 2001 14:01:42 -0400
From: rmhowe <MMagnusM at bellsouth.net>
To: - Medieval Leather List <medieval-leather at yahoogroups.com>
Subject: Re: Bone Needles
>From a long time ago in a list address we're no longer at, then
Lady - now Meisterina Anarra Karlsdottir, OL / Terry L. Neill wrote:
> > Talon Graymane wrote:
> > What about the use of quills and "needles" made from horn
> > or antler? These have been said to have been documented
> > by costumers, do you have any knoledge of shoemakers or
> > other leatherworkers using them as well? Talon
> I've worked with bone needles for sewing. I agree with
> Marc (?) that to make them small enough for leatherwork,
> they'd be rather fragile. But it can be done, and bone has
> more strength than I initially thought, especially if it's
> fairly fresh. If you use an awl to make your holes, then
> all the needle is doing is passing the thread.
> The bone 'needles' you all are likely to see in books (at
> least in the Viking books I look at) are far, far too large
> to be used as sewing needles for leather OR cloth. They
> are most probably either A) nals for nalbinding or B) actually
> hairpins that have been mis-identified. Needles small enough
> to be used for sewing tend to decay more readily than the
> larger ones for hair or nalbinding.
> Regards! - Terry/Anarra
I think it depends on what bone you start with. Obviously
cutting needles from cattle bone or antler is going to be a
lot more work than starting with some from an appropriately
size bone to begin with.
I have made quite a number of needles from turkey leg bone.
Some are fairly tough, but you need to keep in mind to push/pull
with the shaft - not the eye end. They go through most things
fairly easily if it's not tightly woven like high thread count
linen. And the holes generally close well behind the needles.
I haven't tried making a bone triangular glover's needle yet
- mostly because I hadn't thought of it before.
They can be easily resharpened on some fine sandpaper at any
time. If you've pre punched your leather with an awl it should
be no problem to use them at all.
I started out with the splines, which Johann Chickenmeister (tm) ;)
tells me are common to scratching birds but not swimming birds.
He suggested Peacocks. (I don't have any of those screechy /
noisy things. I remember them too well from my childhood.)
Eating a lot of turkey due to food allergies I often wondered
why someone did not try this in Europe. The splines are an
appropriate size to start with. Since Turkey is a New World
bird I decided to ask Master Johann if Geese had them.
Apparently they don't as they don't need them for scratching
or running. Johann raises exotic fowl in the Middle
Kingdom I believe / North Central US/Canada for those of you
The average turkey leg may give you somewhere between three
and ten workable pieces from it's splines. These are somewhat
flexible and I worked them immediately after dinner.
They dry quickly as you work them. It will also give you
about fifteen actual bone needles or a needle case shaft.
The splines are lighter and more porous than the bone.
Immature bird's splines will be more like cartilage than
bony like the older birds. Some are short, a bit twisted
and thick at one end. These may be gently twisted straight
when fresh. You'll have better luck with splines with
the biggest turkey legs you can find, not the smallest.
They may need a bit of further smoothing after drying.
I have gone to making needles almost strictly from the
bone now. This may be 1/32" (1mm-) to 3/16" (4.7mm)
thick in places. In general it produces needles about
1/16" (or a bit more) in diameter (about 1.5mm diameter).
It's denser, and having worked larger bone I've gotten
to like the material. Even mild bleach weakens it.
David Horvath / Tarrach suggested hydrogen peroxide
treatment. Personally, I just let it dry as it is having
experimented a bit with the other stuff and wash appropriate
utensils I may make.
In practice I cut the bone (after scraping the outside clean
with a sharp knife)to about 2" lengths (5.08cm), push /
scrape out the marrow with a long tamping / spatulate dental
tool I have, use a round wire brush like a gun barrel brush
or steam iron cleaning brush inside the length of the shaft,
then I take a small hacksaw and cut them tapered to width
lengthwise, meaning I produce needle blanks. I've tried a
variety of cutting methods, and I've decided this is the best,
least dangerous, and most accurate method. I've cut them on a
bandsaw, with a special tool I adapted that cuts ribbons
out of the bone, and tried jeweler's and model maker's saws.
I cut them on a small board that I simply clamp to the table
edge, and put a tray in my lap underneath when I saw, then
I transfer the tray to the table to catch trimmings from
The little board is about 2" (5cm) wide, four times that long,
with a cross-dado near center for the C clamp (cramp) top
to lower it from the blade edge, and is 3/4" (1.9cm) thick,
reduced to half that for the first two inches (5.4cm) - meaning
I have a shelf with a low wall I can push against - either
cross-cutting the bone or length cutting it. I have sawn a
slot about 2mm wide to set the bone over and guide the blade
through in the middle of the shelf lengthwise. The little
hacksaw with it's small blade and the 2" (5cm) space between
the blade and it's frame allows me to get my fingers in to
hold the bone easily. The blade itself has about twenty teeth
to the inch in a slightly wavy pattern. My favorite saw for
this is an Eclipse 675 mini hacksaw. But an x-acto or zona saw
would also work, they just don't have an open frame.
At this point I trim them a bit with a green leather worker's
skewed knife and then use the point of a #11 xacto knife
blade to pierce the eye hole. It helps if you have also made
a bit of a reverse edge on the back of the blade (I use a fine
red eze-lap diamond hone to do this) but it's not necessary.
Once the point goes through also work it from the other side.
The knife is simply twisted carefully between your fingers in
a vertical mode to do this. Personally I use the top of a
-wide- pill bottle to do the drilling on. It's less likely to
tip, especially if weighted with water, and the top will not
dull your tool. Working the eye over a tiny center depression
or hole you drill in the pill bottle top helps.
The needle can then be shaped to the eye and to the point
with a file or finger-nail board dry. I highly suggest using a
diamond file and doing it wet, as this does not produce dust
and the grit will not come off as it will with a finger-nail
board. The diamond files are fairly cheap and last forever
Wet working does turn the fresh bone into a glue-like paste which
I rinse off in a foot wide low pet dish bought for the purpose
of carving and working materials wet. I do the work over it.
Mine has a special rubber bottom so it won't slide. In practice
it's much more efficient to file diagonally to the shaft as
you go up and down it. You erase any cross shaft grooves this
way instead of leave them.
For making the eye's thread grooves I use a diamond tapered
bead reamer about 3" (8cm) long. I also use it to clean out
and lengthen the eye hole itself. The grooves are made by
sliding the tapered bead reamer down the eye end of the shaft
while held between the fingers. The bead reamer will not hurt
your fingers in the process of sliding between them as you
hold the needle in your off-hand fingers. (That sounds like
an oxymoron doesn't it? Well, be careful with that knife.)
You could use a small round needle file for the same purpose.
(I made a special tiny punch pliers from an iron needle shaft
for doing eyes with but found it generally splits either
splines or bone, even when reverse tapered, so punching does
not work well at all. But it works marvelously for anything
else apparently, except maybe with glass or stone, I have not
tried that yet for some reason. ;) )
Ideally, if one could find a really tiny carbide glass drill
to work with it would be a very good shape to drill bone holes.
I've used larger ones on dress pins from cattle bone.
I've since reground some tiny knife blades like arrow heads
and placed them in a revolving head pin vise or tiny
screwdriver handle you put your index finger on top of
and twist with the other fingers and found it works fairly
If working from splines the time to make a needle is about
10-20 minutes, if working from bone it's twenty to thirty.
The difference is you only have to trim the splines to length
and scrape them clean. A few of the splines have a natural
curve to them and will flex a bit.
If you cut off the small companion bone's end and push
the marrow up in the hollow end you also end up
with something similar to a suture or mortician's needle.
With a bit of water soluble white glue you could make it
reusable. They curl as they dry and need a bit of sanding
/ filing to smooth them.
Larger bones may be had at Pet centers like Pets Warehouse,
Pet Smart, etc. Some are already cleaned inside and out.
A $6 cattle leg bone will get you enough for a number of
projects from spoons to buckles to dress pins. Bone that
big I slap the sides off of on a bandsaw. In places it's
3/8" (9.5mm) thick bone - usually at the smaller end of
Diamond files and bead reamers may be had from
http://www.riogrande.com/ or other jewelry supply
Magnus Malleus, OL, Atlantia, GDH. / © R. Howe
** Not to be reposted to the Rialto, any other open newsgroup list,
or the SCA-Universitas elist please **
From: "celia" <c_a_blay at hotmail.com>
Subject: Re: Das Hausbuch der Mendelschen Zwlfbr derstiftung
Date: 24 Jul 2006 11:46:36 -0700
Uwe Mller wrote:
> "erilar" <erilarloFRY at SPAMchibardun.net.invalid> schrieb im Newsbeitrag
> news:erilarloFRY-5CCB69.10082624072006 at news.airstreamcomm.net...
> > "Uwe Mller" <uwemueller at go4more.de> wrote:
> > > If you compare the instruments of the crafts and the technics used. you
> > > can see some changes happening, for instance with the thimble makers
> > > (Fingerhueter)
> > I don't see that on the index? But there are certainly plenty of others.
> I must confess I have not checked the site, if it shows some of the thimble
> makers. (compare Wilhelm Treue (Ed.) Das Hausbuch der Mendelschen
> Zwlfbrderstiftung zu Nrnberg. Munich 1965)
> Since each of the brothers is shown at his trade during more than 100 years,
> I had used the pictures to illustrate differences in technics of thimbles
> found at an excavation. The pictures show the differences in 'raw materials'
> and how to work it.
> The older thimbles are cast, and than concentric rows of small depressions
> are punched/drilled? into the corpus. The surface is often a little rough,
> the wall is between 2 and 3 mm strong.
> The developed technic uses button or coin shaped 'ingots'(?, Rohlinge),
> which are hammered into a cylindrical depression to give them the overall
> form (Treiben oder Gesenkschmieden). The depressions are arranged in a
> spiral and are punched into the surface with a multi pointed punch. The
> surface is usually smoother, the wall is only up to around 1 mm strong.
> As the book is from Nuernberg, center of trade and technology in the latest
> Medieval, it is not unimportant for the history of crafts.
Interesting information, thank you.
I saw a collection of about forty thimbles picked up
by a metal detector from near where the Anglo Saxon
embroiderers worked, as far as I could tell the oldest was
about 15th c., a thick bronze cylinder. Most were 18th c.
I would guess. One silver one was so tiny that it could only
have fitted a very young child.