On Pins and Needles

I’ve probably mentioned before that I help teach an English class for foreign-born adults. It’s pretty unstructured and we cover a wide range of topics, depending on student interest. A typical class might be like we had a couple of weeks ago. The word “pick” and how it is used was being discussed, along with variations like “pick up,” pick out,” “picky,” and “pickpocket.” The idea of a pickpocket led a student to ask about another type of crime. What’s it called when someone breaks into your house? Well, that is burglary, and the person is a burglar. We went through several types of crime before heading back to the word “pick.”

In a lot of classes, we talk about expressions in American English. We have a lot of sayings that aren’t obvious for meaning, things like “being on pins and needles.”

Have you ever really thought about that phrase? Supposedly it originated some 200 years ago, based on the tingly feeling you get when recovering from numbness. That tingly feeling has been interpreted, I guess, to how we feel when anticipating something with eagerness or anxiety.

Are you on pins and needles about anything?

I was on pins and needles this morning when I opened WordPress to create this post. Would I be able to use “classic editor,” or would I be forced into using “block editor”? Thanks to Kate at Tall Tales from Chiconia, I was able to find the classic editor. Hence, I’m able to write this post.

Speaking of needles, I’m also on pins and needles in anticipation of life becoming somewhat more normal, whatever that means. Jim and I have both had two covid needle jabs, so we are moving in that direction. In our county, things are going pretty well. Good job, neighbors!

Another needle story: my youngest grandchild is about to have his second birthday. Son asked if I could make a super-hero style cape for him. Well, sure! I could do that. Since grandson is going to visit his mom’s family (across the country) for his birthday, and will see two older cousins there, I decided to make a cape for each of the three little boys.

I went to big-box fabric store and bought polyester-cotton blend yardage in red, blue, and dark green. I looked at a couple of tutorials and decided how I wanted to shape the neckline. Last time I made a cape, string ties were still allowed. This time I needed to use Velcro. (Okay, hook-and-loop tape, not Velcro. If you care about trademarks and don’t get too offended, you might enjoy this hilarious video from the Velcro people.)

My Velcro bits were the kind with glue on the backs of individual squares. That makes it easy for placement, but it was tough on my needles. The glue gummed them up, caught the thread, messed with tension, led to me swearing loudly more than once. I replaced needles twice and gutted it out to not replace a third time. But I got the three capes done, replaced the needle again, cleaned the machine, and tomorrow I’ll put the capes in the mail.

Each cape has two sides of different colors. You can see all three have a red side. The boys can choose to be all alike with the red, or all different by mixing things up. 

Side note: Since finishing the capes, I’ve been working on making a quilt top honoring one made by Martha Washington more than 200 years ago. Sewing needles would have been precious and expensive then. I was so enjoying the process until I had a thought — is it possible to honor the quilt without honoring the woman, someone who owned more than 80 slaves? I’m still thinking about that and will try to post more about it, if the editing tool doesn’t get in my way.

If you’re interested to know more about pins and needles, I’ll point you to a few blog posts with interesting facts and links. One is by me and trips through 50,000 years of needle use. One is by my blog friend Gwen the Textile Ranger, and digs deeper into manufacture of needles in England in the 1850s. Another is by Pati Friend of See How We Sew, and covers a 400-year-old Japanese tradition of thanking worn pins and needles for their service. The last linked here is by the Mill Museum in Connecticut. It’s a fairly lengthy history of the development of sewing machines, which necessitated a functional needle first.

And edited to add one more: this post on the site Love To Know presents a history of sewing needles. I’m no expert and can’t attest to its accuracy, but it’s definitely an interesting read. Here’s one thing I note. “By 1906, Scientific American reported an annual production of 3 million needles per day worldwide, with 300 million purchased each year in the United States alone. Most hand-sewing needles sold in the United States were British-made; Americans never attempted to challenge British dominance of needlemaking.” So that answers my question about needle manufacture in the US. Apparently we’ve never had a big industry in that.



22 thoughts on “On Pins and Needles

  1. Allison Reid

    When my son was four years old he didn’t know the term ‘pins and needles’. His teacher told me how he stood up after sitting crossed legged on the floor in a school assembly and promptly burst into tears. He was finally able to tell his teacher why he was upset, ‘My legs have gone all fuzzy!’

  2. zippyquilts

    Well! That was interesting. Can’t recall whether I told you several members of my family teach ESL and it sounds like it’s always interesting! And thanks so much for the link to Kate’s blog. I hadn’t gotten around to reading that one yet and it was very helpful! I was annoyed with WordPress for the same reasons she was.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Jim said yesterday he figures he’ll give in and learn how to use Block Editor. Of course we’ll probably have to at some point. In the meantime it’s good there’s a work-around to put it off!

  3. tierneycreates: a fusion of textiles and smiles

    The update to WordPress is hideous I was so happy when I discovered that I can use the Classic Editor as a “block”. I have attempted to embrace the new format and use it when I am in the mood – ha! Interesting about all our idioms such as “pins and needles”.
    That is fantastic you are making super hero capes!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      The capes were fun except for the glue problem. If I had started with a strip of hook-and-loop in my drawer, they would have been very easy. Makes me want to make a couple more for the cute kids across the street. 🙂

  4. katechiconi

    And for those of us still on Free WP plans, the plug-ins are not available free unless we upgrade to a business plan or pay $300 or so on a personal paying plan… There is a short way round, as set out in the link Melanie has given above. Regarding the Martha Washington dilemma; we will always be judged by our descendants and by history, but we are products of our time and inhabit those times for good or ill. You can interrogate the story of any saint, charismatic leader or great innovator and find things to judge. The question is whether they did more good than evil, and even that question is influenced by the times in which the questioner lives.
    I loved the Velcro® video, but I’m not sure that their brand value is diluted by becoming synonymous with a type of product. Their sales, maybe…

  5. weddingdressblue

    I hope, like TextileRanger, that people will judge me kindly. Martha was a remarkably strong woman who endured much, loved her husband deeply, sacrificed greatly. As I understand it, she was born into that society and didn’t question it…how she ever made the time to quilt is beyond me. I would love to see the Martha Washington quilts at the Smithsonian someday.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Yes, there is so much to consider before passing judgment. The 3 quilts known to be hers (actually 2 tops and a quilt) are owned and held at Mount Vernon. One of the tops very recently came into Mt Vernon’s possession. All 3 are pretty amazing.

  6. TextileRanger

    Wow, thanks for the mention! When I saw your title today, I remembered us talking about the topic in those posts a few years ago!
    I have no answer to your Martha Washington dilemma, but I do wonder how future people will judge us — thinking of my own life, they might say, “Wow! She knew she could be contributing to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but she still owned and used labor-saving devices such as a dishwasher, wash machine, freezer, microwave, etc. She breathed out without capturing her carbon dioxide and sequestering it!! She still had the occasional campfire! She tossed things into the trash and didn’t study how to get bacteria to convert them straight into renewable energy! She had a garden with some uncovered soil spots that let precious soil erode away!”
    Or, more likely, they will judge us based on some criteria that we cannot even foresee at this point. (“She wrote ‘criteria’, instead of ‘criterion’! She was part of the great ruining of the English language!!”)
    I will be interested to see what you decide! 🙂

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Exactly. It is confusing and complicated, because humans are confusing and complicated and we just don’t know all the stuff. I’m working on the Martha project with someone who intends to corral help in the ethics of this. She has resources, so we’ll see what the resources might have to say.

  7. jmn

    Melanie, I’m assuming you’ve downloaded the Classic Editor Plugin. That’s where you start. Then to create a new post: First click on Posts/All Posts. Choose “Add New” at the top – then select the Classic Editor! It’s awkward but it does become automatic. When you want to edit an existing post be sure to choose “Classic Editor” – the SECOND item below the title (if you choose Edit you automatically enter the block editor (grrrrr!)). Finally if you end up in the block editor, at the bottom of the menu on the left is “WP Admin” – click on that and you’re back in your Classic Mode you’re used to. Here’s hoping they leave things are they now are so those of us who REFUSE to learn and fiddle with block editor can continue with the classic editor and it’s capacity to let you use HTML! Good Luck – scream if you need more help. I can send screen shots to simplify the process.

      1. jmn

        You might want to delete my comments because I’m not sure you’re going to find them helpful! I’d delete them myself if I could.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I did make my way to the classic editor, but thanks very much for this info. I’ll read through it carefully and see if it does make any difference for me. If not, it’s likely to help someone else, so I won’t delete it. Thanks for the info and the offer for scream-help. 🙂


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