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Bone needles?

PostPosted: Thu Jun 26, 2008 2:53 pm
by sabrewolfe
Ok so as part of my latest attempt to do more living history I would like to be able to do some sewing as living history in front of the public. My big question is this since modern steel needles had not been invented what would have been used?

Bone needles perhaps, brass, tin ? What would have been used; and more importantly where can I get them. At the moment the two main periods I am doing is Viking / early Irish and 1250's Knights sergent so what period sewing implements were about and where can we get them from now.

Re: Bone needles?

PostPosted: Thu Jun 26, 2008 3:05 pm
by ciaranc
perhaps this may help

Making Bone Needles

The needle was probably discovered about 23,000 years ago and ranks with the wheel as one of the major inventions of mankind. Some inventive soul, tired of punching holes in leather for garments and then threading the holes with sinew or fiber thread, decided to combine the process by threading the thread through a hole in the awl. The needle was born.

The first needles were made of bone. Bone continued in use well into the Middle Ages by the lower classes. Bone needles are easy and cheap to make and will not rust or oxidize like some metals. With practice they can be made quite thin. Actually, my best so far looks like a large darning needle. I use them for expressly weaving and primitive embroidery.

The first thing you need to do is to find some bone. Beef ribs are easy to obtain and work well . Bone is easier to cut if it is fresh, not dried. Boil the bone until the meat falls away and then scrape off any remaining meat with a knife. You can bleach the bone with laundry bleach or lemon juice.

If you are a purist, take a flint flake and cut out a long wedge shaped piece of bone. I use a hacksaw (the Vikings had hack saws!) and cut wedge shaped pieces as shown in Figure 1. Split the piece in two and use a chisel or knife to remove the spongy interior. Use a sharp piece of flint, a glass shard, an Exacto knife, razor blade, or a file to scrape the sliver smooth. This is the time to shape the sliver and to sharpen the point. This stuff will make a surprisingly sharp point so be careful. When you have the needle approximately the shape and length you want, use a flint burr or an electric drill with a fine bit to drill out the hole for the thread. The size of the hole depends on the type of thread you plan to use. I use crewel yarn with mine, so I drill 3 small holes (see Figure 2) and then cut out the waste with my knife . You can smooth the inside of the hole with a rock sliver or cut emery boards into thin strips and force them one at a time through the opening until it is smooth. Finish your refining of the shape and point as above.

This same technique can be used to make fish hooks. Figure 3. You just need to change the shape of your blanks. In this case, slit the bone and scrape out the marrow section and then cut the fish hook shape.

You can also make hairpins (like making a needle, but without the hole, Figure 4), weaving implements and other small useful objects.


Dennell, Robin"Needles and Spear-throwers". Natural History, October 1986, pp.70-78.
Laing, Lloyd The Archeology of Late Celtic Britain. Methuen, London.

Re: Bone needles?

PostPosted: Thu Jun 26, 2008 3:08 pm
by ciaranc
believe it or not i got my bone needles from ebay

Re: Bone needles?

PostPosted: Thu Jun 26, 2008 8:49 pm
by the_power
I have a bone one for wool, and a bronze one for linen/leather. The big difference in older needles is that they are hammered flat from a sliver of stiff metal. Iron is no good, as it'll be damaged by damp fingers. You could make one yourself by hammering heavy brass or bronze wire flat, then using a trimmer to make it..pointy. is an example of what it should look like.


Re: Bone needles?

PostPosted: Thu Jun 26, 2008 9:09 pm
by sabrewolfe
How about 22swg enameled copper wire. Would copper have been used too make needles.

Re: Bone needles?

PostPosted: Thu Jun 26, 2008 11:37 pm
by RecycledViking
I found this site -
They have bone needles for £2.75 though I'm not sure if they ship out of the UK. I sure hope they do because they have a lot of neat stuff!

Re: Bone needles?

PostPosted: Fri Jun 27, 2008 6:19 am
by Cathal
I'm getting my bone needles from Christian Bruendl, Southern Germany. You can contact him by phone at +49-87 83-96 74 29 or - English shouldn't be a problem. As far as I know he's shipping europewide.

Bye, Stefan

Re: Bone needles?

PostPosted: Fri Jun 27, 2008 7:48 am
by wiblick
A plethora of UK & European suppliers do authenti needles (& needle cases). People I have bough needles & pins from include
lovely people, definitely do mail order, I'm talking to them about a lantern at the moment.
scroll way down to the end of the front page they have a copper needle case. (I have this set)
check out sewing aids in their haberdashery section. I have bone needles from chimera so they do post to Ireland.

And various others whose name I don't know because I just grab a few needles/pins every time I'm somewhere - or who only seem to sell at events like Kay Rouse

Re: Bone needles?

PostPosted: Fri Jun 27, 2008 10:34 pm
by Sinead
I will get around to making some needles this summer.

(if you see me in September and I don't have bone needles give out to me!)

While you're making the needles think about doing the case also, there's a scarily simple one here: ... -case.html

That should do from the ancient days of yore onwards really.

Re: Bone needles?

PostPosted: Fri Jun 27, 2008 10:57 pm
by Dave Mooney
I found this site -
They have bone needles for £2.75 though I'm not sure if they ship out of the UK. I sure hope they do because they have a lot of neat stuff!

They ship here!
We have shopped with the Fisher's, their stuff is pretty good. We bought brass pins (good but bend very easily- I reckon that's to be expected), Bone needles (Beth very happy with them-they come in different sizes), wooden combs (little rough in places but we caught them at a bad time and they made them in a rush for us), net needles (very good), bone ear scoop/tweezers (functional if only to gross people out), hand dipped beeswax candles (with twisted linen wick) plus stock of candles to sell (it was that type of gig), Net needle and instructions on 'Net making' beginners and next level, 'Lucet' and Nalbindning and unquantifiable amounts of information and help via e-mail. They are SO nice! Shop with them at least once!