Sewing needle is long slender tool with a pointed tip that is used to pierce an object and carry a thread or cord through the object after the pointed end has pierced it. The thread is attached to the needle by inserting it through a hole at the back of the needle which is called the “eye of the needle.”
Sewing needles date back to more than 25000 years when Western Europeans and Central Asians hand made these from bones, antlers and ivory. Native Americans used porcupine quills and also picked natural needles from the agave plant to stitch fur and skin.
The oldest record of iron needles is from Germany in the third century BC. During the same time ancient Egyptians used copper, silver and bronze to make needles of various lengths. Hog bristles were used by book binders and shoemakers as needles in the medieval ages.
Metal needles were made perfect by Muslims in the 11th century when they were in Spain. During that period Spanish Muslims were claimed to be highly knowledgeable medical doctors in the world who perfected the surgical needles that were required for suturing.
When the Muslims were driven out of Spain in the 15th Century, they also took the knowledge of needle making along with them to the Arab countries and the Arabs took this knowledge to Europe in the 17th Century. Prior to this, Europe was making needles with the help of their blacksmiths to meet the local demand. Needles were made from iron sheet cut into lengths which was hammered and rolled into the thickness required. The points were filed by hand and the eye created by first flattening the head and then punching a hole through it. This process was very slow and time consuming. The result of this slow process was a crude and poor quality needle. After getting the knowledge of needle making, Europe became a landmark for high quality fish hooks and sewing needles within the middle of the 17th century.
Till the industrial age needles were handcrafted by bending a steel wire and cutting two needles out of a single piece. In 1850 needle making machines were introduced with a capacity to produce needles in thousands to meet the increasing local and global demand in the world market. By 1866 England was manufacturing 100 million needles in a single year.
The town of Redditch in Central England became the center of the world’s needle production in the 19th Century. By the end of the century the Redditch district had a virtual monopoly on the needle production. This became possible because of its easy access to the British colonies.
Today’s needles are manufactured from high carbon steel wire with either nickel or gold coating to make it corrosion resistant. The highest quality needles are plated with platinum and titanium alloy.