History of the Embroidery Needle

Published: 23rd October 2009
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Leonardo Da Vinci

(Designer of one the first needle Point-grinding machines)

In the beginning...

It 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 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 role in the development of our civilization and our standard of living.

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 two features characteristic of the hand sewing needle 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. 7000BC), 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 the metallic needles after a short time. Even the needles found from the 19th century are rarely found intact.

The invention of the sewing machine gave rise to the development of the sewing machine needles.

The basic form of the hand sewing needle remained the same, thought the degree of tapering and the variation of the diameter over the length of the needle were slightly altered over 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. Al though the eye and point have moved closer together, as the basic functional elements of the needle, they remain unaltered.

In 1755 a German named Weisenthal thought he had found the prerequisite for a 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 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 single-chain, drop-stitch embroidery (Cornely), saddle-stitch and linking machines. Both types of needles however were of little importance for further development of the sewing machine needle.

Around 1800, Balthasar Krems (Mayen, Germany) used, for the first time, a needle which had an 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 that time. This eye-point needle paved the way for the mechanism of sewing world-wide. Since then the sewing machine needle has been developed to the form known today. The needle has accomplished its transition from hand tool to the precision tool of the sewing machine needle.

The sewing machine needle is made up of various basic elements which are constantly arranged and rearranged in new needle designs to suit the many fields of application. These basic elements are the needle shank, the needle blade with one or two grooves and the needle point with eye.

Numerous ways in which these can be combined result in the very comprehensive selection of embroidery and sewing machine needles available today.

Needles specific to embroidery...

The start of clear embroidery design registration starts with a high quality embroidery needle. The 3 major commercial embroidery needles manufacturers competing for your business are Schmetz, Organ, and Groz-Beckert. I believe embroiderers as a whole will be satisfied with any of these commercial embroidery needles. That being said there are some differences you should be educated on concerning the basic manufacturing process for chrome embroidery needles. Keep in mind titanium (yellow in color) coated commercial embroidery needles and Teflon coated (greenish or dull grey) commercial embroidery needles have an extra process applied to a chrome embroidery needle. Also there is a difference between;

  • Flat shank embroidery needle (typical of a single needle home embroidery machine)

  • Round shank commercial embroidery needle (typical of a multi-needle commercial embroidery machine).

Prior to purchasing new embroidery needles find out if the model of your embroidery machine is designed for flat shank embroidery needles. There are some hybrid embroidery machines on the market that are sold as commercial embroidery machines and use a flat shank needle (brother pr600). Knowing this information prior to buying embroidery supplies will stop ordering headaches in the future.

Mark R

Embroidery Supplies

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