Development of the Needle Through History
Extraction from SCHMETZ The World of Sewing,
Guide to Sewing Techniques
is a little known fact that the needle was one of
human-kind’s first tools. Over the centuries it
developed from a simple craft item to the precision
tool for modern sewing machines, constantly adapted
for new industrial applications and requirements.
The use of the sewing today does not stop at
garments and furnishings, but is equally important
for car seats and airbags meeting high technical
safety standards. The needle has played a major part
in the development of our civilization and our
standard of living.
The most ancient sewing needles, which date back to
28,000 BC, did not have an eye but a split end which
gripped the thread to be sewn (often raffia, gut or
sinew). Needles from later than 17,500 BC already
had the two features characteristic of the hand
sewing needles today, the eye at one end and the
tapering point at the other end. They were made from
materials available to human society at the time for
example bones and antlers.
As people acquired skills in working metal
materials, needles were also made from metal (Bronze
Age approx. 7000 BC), first from copper, later from
iron or bronze. Although there is no positive
evidence as to the precise design of these needles,
excellent pieces of embroidery from the
pre-Christian era suggest that they were probably
fashioned almost to perfection. Unfortunately the
articles made with these needles were only partially
preserved and there are barely any traces of the
needles themselves. This is largely explained by the
effect of oxidation, which destroys metallic needles
after a short time. Even needles made during the
19th century are now rarely found intact.
The invention of the sewing machine gave rise to the
development of the sewing machine needle.
The basic form of the hand sewing needle remained
the same, though the degree of tapering and the
variation of the diameter over the length of the
needle were slightly altered in the course of time.
In order to be able to make comparisons, one must
study the needle from its very point to just below
the eye. Although the eye and the point have moved
closer together, as the basic functional elements of
the needle, they remain unaltered.
In 1755 a German named Weisenthal thought that he
had found the prerequisite for machine sewing in his
development of a two-point needle. This needle form
was also used later on by Madersperger and others
and it is even used nowadays in modern industrial
machines for sewing shank buttons or for imitating
hand-made seams. An Englishman called Saint, for his
machine designed in 1790, used a so called hook
needle or protruding needle similar to today’s
crochet needle. Even today hook needles are used in
some single-chain, drop-stitch embroidery (Cornely),
saddle-stitch and linking machines. Both types of
needles, however were of little importance for the
further development of the sewing machine needle.
Around 1800, Balthasar Krems (from Mayen, Germany)
used, for the first time a needle which had the eye
moved close to the point. One should particularly
appreciate this invention because one feature that
looks so simple to us today was a sensation at the
time. This eye-point needle has been developed to
the form known today. The needle has accomplished
its transition from a hand tool to the precision
tool of the sewing machine needle.