English Needles from the 1850s

Wow, what a great, interesting follow-up to my simple post about needles! Take a look at Gwen the Textile Ranger’s post about her packet of English needles, circa 1857. Thanks, Gwen! (Please leave comments and Likes at her post!)

Deep in the Heart of Textiles

Melanie at Catbird Studios just did a post on needle facts, and she mentioned, “By 1847 with the introduction of specialty machinery, more than 50 million needles were made each week in the Redditch district of England.”  She also mentioned that she was having a hard time finding out about needle history in the US.

I knew I had a packet of needles from 1857, and when I looked, sure enough they were from Redditch!

When I followed the link Melanie gave to the article by Kate McLaren at National Gallery of Victoria, there was a lot more history of Redditch and their needles, and one quote piqued my interest: “The eye of the Redditch needle was apparently so small that a modern day thread is not fine enough to pass through, other than specifically fine Sutures.”

Although they apparently made finer needles, a modern thread goes through the…

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Needles

I ordered longarm needles the other day. It was so easy to do that I could take for granted the availability of sewing needles. But needles have not always been so common.

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Last summer a needle was found in a cave in Siberia. It was a little more than 7 centimeters long (about 3″,) made of bird bone. It is the oldest complete needle found and was made some 50,000 years ago. The maker was not homo sapiens, or even Neanderthal. It was Denisovan, a contemporary species of hominid! Other ancient needles have been found in places ranging from southern Africa to China to eastern Europe.

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Elias Howe, an inventor of the sewing machine, developed the needle with the thread hole at the pointed tip. According to legend, “He had the idea of a machine with a needle which would go through a piece of cloth but he couldn’t figure out exactly how it would work. In his dream, cannibals were preparing to cook him and they were dancing around the fire waving their spears. Howe noticed at the head of each spear there was a small hole through the shaft and the up-and-down motion of the spears and the hole remained with him when he woke.” This dream led to his contributions to the modern sewing machine, circa 1845.

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By 1847 with the introduction of specialty machinery, more than 50 million needles were made each week in the Redditch district of England. These needles were for hand-sewing tasks, and Redditch still specializes in them. (I’ve been looking for information about needle production in the US during the 1800s, but so far haven’t found any.) During the US Civil War, sewing needles became hard to acquire by Southern civilians. The North’s blockade kept most imported supplies from reaching southern ports. Soldiers’ uniforms and bedding took priority for the supplies that could be purchased or made. The lack of needles for civilians meant that repairing old clothing and bedding was difficult, if not impossible.

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On the American frontier, settlers faced deprivations of many kinds. In 1855 the community of Pass Creek Canyon in Wyoming was visited by a peddler named Aaron Meier. He brought his wares to the remote settlers, including fabrics, tools, and candies. But the item they needed most was darning needles, as it had been months since the last one broke. With Christmas coming, the Jewish peddler made a gift of all the needles he had to the women of the community. Aaron Meier later founded Meier and Frank department stores in Portland, OR.

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While England still dominates the production of hand-sewing needles, Germany makes the majority of machine sewing needles. Groz-Beckert and Schmetz are two brands you may know. Here is a fascinating video by Schmetz showing how needles are made.

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Needles are not scarce anymore in the US. There is no reason not to replace them when they’re due. When a needle is dull, it needs to punch its way through fabric layers, making a popping sound. When it is sharp, it doesn’t make that noise. In addition, your machine motor needs to work a little harder with a dull needle, and you may hear the machine laboring.

Experts recommend changing the needle every 8-10 hours of sewing (machine time, not cutting, pressing, and pondering time). That may not sound like a lot, but if your machine stitches 1,000 stitches per minute, that’s actually about a HALF MILLION stitches! While you’re stitching, you may sew through several layers of fabric and batting, and occasionally hit pins. (I do!) Your needle takes a lot of abuse.

Take a look at some great photos by Schmetz Needles USA of a needle that looks sharp. Once magnified with increasing power, you can see the burr on the tip. A dull needle doesn’t do your machine or your project any good.

And please dispose of your needles carefully. I use an empty yogurt cup with a hole poked through the lid. When I get rid of needles, bent pins, and dead rotary cutter blades, they go in there. And the cup is always safely out of reach of children!

Happy Holiday!

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In my last post I mentioned I’ve been busy. 🙂 Besides doing a lot of guild work, I’ve also taken four classes so far this year. Two of the classes were for quilting. I took a paper piecing class through a local quilt shop, Cotton Creek Mill. One of the owners, Tara, gave a one-on-one lesson that taught me enough I could paper-piece the triangle border on a red and white quilt. The other class was a workshop offered by my guild by a visiting presenter. I made two blocks using her pattern and am using one of them as part of a fidget quilt for a dementia patient. (Mine is not as pretty as the one in the linked post.)

The other two classes were through the community college continuing education group. One was a linoleum block printing class and one was block printing on textiles. Besides learning some techniques, this was the most fun thing I did in those classes:

Jim and I will be hiking on Saturday and spending Sunday with family. I hope you have a great weekend, too!

Kim’s Bright Garden

It’s been a while since I’ve written, and I’ve missed reading a lot of your posts, too. But here I am, finally with a day unscheduled and more flexible. In some ways I feel like I’m finally coming up for air. Whew!

Today I’ll start with Kim’s Bright Garden, a quilt finished on March 31 and opened Monday by Kim, aka Son’s girlfriend.

I started this project late last year after imagining a border built from variable stars on point. The imagined border had a pale yellow background for the blocks, with blue or lavender setting triangles. The star centers would be pieced, and centers and points would be from chalky pastels. The feeling would be floral, though without actual flowers or floral fabric. However, after I made 16 star centers and cut much of the rest, I felt unfocused and uncertain. As it turns out, it’s often wiser to begin a medallion quilt with a medallion or central motif. The center creates context and direction for what comes after.

After that rough start, I refocused by choosing a center block design and fabrics. I chose first borders and middle borders. After extensive puzzling, I designed and made the final borders. In March I quilted it and bound it. The binding is the same saturated yellow as in the center block.

Kim’s Bright Garden. 71″ x 71″. Finished March 2017. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

Son has been traveling a lot for work. We finally had a chance to visit with Son and Kim Monday evening. After he unsealed the box, he handed it to her to open. She was very touched and pleased, to say the least. It was a good gift, made with love and received with generosity. 🙂

For Guild
Part of my busyness lately has been projects for guild. In the last few months I quilted 10 projects, two of which I did early this year. Each has required more prep work than I anticipated, so I’m putting more of these on hold for now.

Besides that I’m on the program committee, the guild’s group that sets up speakers and presentations for upcoming meetings. Currently we’re working on the 2018-19 year. It’s a big responsibility, as programs is where the majority of the annual budget goes, and we want to make sure members get their money’s worth. I’m newish on the committee and still learning the ropes. Fortunately, it’s a good group and I’m learning a lot.

We have a quilt show in early June, and I’m working on a couple of parts of the planning. The big contribution I hope to make is with a Powerpoint slideshow outlining the value of a quilt. Our show is held on the same weekend as the local (big, regional, juried) art fair, and many people attending won’t have quilting backgrounds. If my slideshow can explain what makes a quilt special, by the process and the value of time and materials, it might add to attendees’ appreciation of the quilts they see. And it might increase the bids they are willing to make on our silent auction offerings.

Besides the efforts for the benefit of the show, I’ve also worked on two quilts to enter. (It is non-judged, simply an exhibit to share the beauty of our work with others.) We’re having a special “red and white” exhibit and I’ve made two quilt tops for entry. Both still need to be quilted, bound, and labeled before our show.

More to come in the next few days, as I get back in the swing of writing some. Good to be here again! If you’re still reading, thanks so much!

More Delectable Mountains

As you might remember, I carried on quite a debate with myself about making a red and white Delectable Mountains quilt. After a mildly disappointing experience with the pink and brown one (and finish photos still to come,) I decided to move on. Next up was the red and white Ohio medallion from the early 1800s. And after that I quilted the happy quilt you saw in “Unstitched.” (I’m sewing the binding down now, so you’ll get a finish photo of it soon, too.)

But I couldn’t shake the idea of making Delectable Mountains again. This time I wanted to use red and white, to enter in my guild’s special exhibit at our upcoming show. And I wanted to try it using the “modern” technique for making blocks, rather than the “traditional” method.

Though I purchased a reproduction red print earlier this year, I decided to update the quilt not just with method but also with fabrics. In my stash were a few pieces of red with similar background color and a more upbeat vibe. One has long been a favorite. It’s a Hawaiian-style print I bought at a guild auction a few years ago. There were several yards, and I’ve used it in various ways over the years. Another was a quilt shop purchase and used in other favorite quilts.

I did have one glitch as I began this project. I made the first set of Delectable Mountains blocks using Kona solid “Snow.” I started making the corner blocks from Kona solid “White,” pieces of which were in my stash from a long-ago project. I thought they were the same color, but they’re not, and that became all too obvious when the blocks were side by side. I rebuilt the corner blocks and tossed all the scraps of “White” in a pile away from my working pile. It was a little discouraging, but I bounced back. 🙂

I’m planning to add one more round of Delectable Mountains blocks, and then use the last bits of the Hawaiian print to cobble together an outer border. Depending on the width I can eke out of the print, it will finish at about 80″ square.