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sewing needles and thread

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  • Nikki Prive
    ... One of the better sources that I have seen on period textile implements is _Textile Production at 16-22 Coppergate_, from the Archaeology of York Series,
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 14, 2005
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      > For the 14th century what was a period needle? I have seen
      > information stating an iron but eyeless needle. I have also seen
      > bone. Being a bit new to all this I am just looking for some good
      > experienced guidance. (And the name/website of a good merchant if you
      > have it.)

      One of the better sources that I have seen on period textile
      implements is _Textile Production at 16-22 Coppergate_, from the
      Archaeology of York Series, V17f11, by Penelope Walton Rogers. The
      book is of course focused on finds from York, but covers the 9th-16th
      centuries.

      Quoting from the above text (but omitting most references from within):

      on Iron Needles: " There are two types of needle, one with a round eye
      which has been punched, the other with a long eye made by welding
      together the tips of a Y-shaped shaft. The round-eyed needles become
      increasingly common over the 10th to 11th centuries and have almost
      ousted the long-eyed needles by the medieval period. It is difficult
      to establish whether this is a general trend, as relatively few iron
      needles have been recovered from other sites, but the same two methods
      of manufacture were noted in twelve iron needles from 8th to 12th
      century Fishergate, York; only punched eyes were recorded in the iron
      needles from medieval Eastgate, Beverly.

      The Anglo-Scandinavian iron needles from Coppergate are 23mm to 73mm
      long and 1mm to 5 mm at their widest, the majority being 40-60 mm long
      and 2-3mm wide. The medieval needles are similar, with the addition of
      four unusually large needles, 110-175 mm long. There is also a
      fragment of an especially fine needle from the 12th century levels,
      comparable with two copper allow needles of similar date."

      on Copper alloy needles: "Copper alloy needles are less common at
      Coppergate than iron, but make an increasing contribution in the
      medieval period. They have been made in the same way as the iron
      needles, with round or long eyes. Again, the round eyes are more
      common in the later material, although eight of the twenty medieval
      needles are still long-eyed. The small collections of copper alloy
      needles from medieval Winchester and Bryggen include both round-eyed
      and long-eyed, with the round-eyed form predominating.

      The copper alloy needles from Coppergate are a little longer and
      thinner than the iron, most being 50-80 mm long and 2 mm at their
      widest, with two medieval examples 138 mm and 158mm. Two needles are
      unusual shapes, one c.94mm long from Period 4A (late 9th/early 10th),
      having a flattened leaf-shaped tip known as a bayonet point, and the
      other, c.105mmlong, from Period 6 (later11th-16th), a triangular
      cross-section. There are also two especially fine examples, dated to
      the later 12th or 13th centuries. They are 27-28 mm long and 0.8 to
      0.9 mm at their widest and have blunt tips and tiny eyes."

      On Uses of Needles: "The needle with a triangular cross section and
      the one with a bayonet point, would have been used for leatherwork.
      Needles such as these still form part of a cordwainer's kit, although
      a longe form of the bayonet point is also used in upholstery. The six
      especially large iron and copper alloy needles from medieval levels
      could not have been used to sew clothing either, but may have been
      for stitching canvas 'sarpers' or to thread gathering cords through
      eyelets or hems. In contrast, the three very fine, blunt-tipped iron
      and copper alloy needles from 12th and 13th century levels must have
      been for exceptionally delicate work. Blunt tips are used on fabrics
      such as silk, where the needles has to part the filaments, rather than
      split them.

      The rest of the needles represent a typical range of medium and coarse
      sewing needles. Such a collection could have been predicted from an
      examination of the seams and hems in the Coppergate Anglo-Scandinavian
      textiles. These were worked with sewing thread which in general
      matched the fabric being stitched, wool on wool, linen on linen, and
      silk on silk. Most sewing thread was plied, although some silk was
      used singly. The larger needles could have been used for wool thread
      and the medium needles for linen, silk, and the finer types of
      wool..........No needlework was found on the medieval textiles, but
      evidence from elsewhere suggests that there was a change-over to the
      use of waxed linen thread on wool fabrics in the medieval period
      (Crowfoot et al 1992, 151). This change coincides with the increase in
      fulled and teaseled fabrics, the rise in tailoring as a specialist
      craft and with the transition to round-eyed needles, although it would
      be difficult to explain the connection on technological grounds. "

      -Nikki
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