Friday, February 4, 2011

V1C2 The Sewing Machine, The Iron, Needle, Thimble, and Thread Part 3

The Sword and Shield 

Throughout history, In order to sew a seam, the very basic  tools needed are a needle, thimble and thread.  While the need to sew all seams by hand has remarkably decreased with the sewing machine available as a power tool allowing much more speed in constructing garments, the need for sewing by hand has not been eliminated.  You might want to use hand sewing if you are interested in period correct historic costume or couture construction.

 In the 14th and 15th centuries, good needles were prized possessions.  They were difficult to source and found at festival times when peddlars traveled to the villages and towns to sell their wares.  Most households had only one needle.  Most people only had one outfit to wear (unless they were wealthy).  These bronze needles were somewhat crude and often bent to prevent them from sliding out of the fabric being sewing when put aside.  Legend has that the steel needle was developed by the Chinese soon after the silk fiber was discovered by the Empress (how soon after is in question as there was no steel in China at that time).

As the finer steel needle developed and was available into the reign of Queen Elizabeth from the metalsmiths of the Middle East, needlework became even more elaborate and detailed.

The needles developed then and are now needles we still use today-- Sharps  are what we use most often in our households; Straws, or Milliner's needles were often used to make straw hats, thicker blunter needles called Blunts, used for skill-building young women in embroidery and by tailors and cobblers to sew with leather and heavy fabrics.

click to enlarge

Needles today are available in 24 sizes. The higher the number, the smaller the needle.

Thimbles were also developed in the earliest centuries. The Art of Sewing Volume 1 shows a picture of a bronze thimble found in Syria dated to 300 BC. The correct way to wear a thimble is on your middle finger of your needle or sewing hand. I'm left-handed so it would go on my left second finger. Your thimble should be lightweight and have deep enough ridges that your needle will not slip. The use of the thimble is to push the needle through the fabric using the side of the thimble, not the tip. There are a variety of thimble types available.


  1. Your blog is truly fantastic. Many thanks for the concise and precise instructions. Plus I love the historical aspect of it all.

  2. Oh thank you! If there is anything you would like me to expand upon, please let me know! I hope you continue to visit and gain some value. I feel like these sewing books have so much to offer but they likely languish unopened to decorate shelves. Sometimes opened but to look at the period graphics (which for photographers and graphic artists must be interesting).