The Humble Sewing Needle
After a busy January for Asby WI, which was, in theory, a ‘holiday month’ (no evening meeting) but in which ‘ Knit and Natter’ met three times, members attended a New Year lunch at Mrs Miller’s in Culgaith and also visited an exhibition at Farfield Mill, near Sedbergh, February was remarkably quiet!
The monthly meeting was attended by 18 members plus a guest who was visiting her WI-member mother. Vice president, Susan Renshaw, welcomed back Marjorie Bidgway after three years. Previously she had spoken about her button collection. This time her talk was entitled ‘The journey of the humble sewing needle’. Her interest in this topic had been triggered by the miscellaneous sewing notions and samples of work she had acquired while adding to her button collection.
The earliest known needles were from Palaeolithic times and examples could be seen in the British Museum. Needles made from bone, horn, fishbones, thorn, ivory and shell are all known and would have been used with sinew either threaded through a hole or ‘whipped’ onto the needle. It was the Romans who introduced forged bronze needles and made strides in the development of needlework. Eventually the Saxons became as adept as the Romans. By the time of the Normans works such as the Bayeux tapestry. were being produced. Then, by the thirteenth century the finest period of embroidery had been reached, especially in the making of ecclesiastical garments. This is now known as ‘Opus Angliorum’ – ‘English Work’
Needles for various occupations were developed – for glovers, book-binders, tent-makers, seamstresses and tailors to name a few. And by the seventeenth century the Needleworkers’ Guild had been formed. Essentially needle-making was a cottage industry where women and children had the arduous task of scouring the needles once they had been forged. Because of this needles were costly to make and a village might possess just one needle which was shared by everyone. With the onset of the use of water power production was made much easier and Redditch, in particular, grew to be the largest needle-making centre in the UK: in 1870 3,500 million needles were being produced every year in the town! The Forge Mill in Redditch ceased making needles in 1958 but is now a fascinating needle museum.
Following the talk Pam Cowey thanked the speaker and members spent time over their supper looking closely at the multitude of fascinating artefacts that Mrs Bidgway had brought along to illustrate her talk. Pam Cowey and Susan Walker were the hostesses; Louise Reeve won the raffle prize; and Susan Walker and Helen Cooper were first and second in the competition for a pair of scissors.