An eclectic blog about beads, beading and beyond

Friday, April 30, 2010

The changing traditions of the needle case – so much change and yet so little has changed

How important to you is a needle case and how do you keep it handy?

Apparently in times past (e.g. Ancient Egypt and 1st – 5th centuries in Northern Europe) a needle case was considered important enough to keep close at hand that it was buried with a person’s remains so that they had it with them in their afterlife. Depending on when and where you were buried your needle case might be made of bone, bronze, leather or tin although it’s basic shape was much the same – a long tube closed at one end with a removable stopper or cap at the other. In Ancient Egypt it is likely your needle case would be made from hollowed bird bones capped with cloth and a reed stopper. Interestingly, the North American Inuit also traditionally used hollowed bird bones for storing their needles. As the European tradition of burying needle cases with a person’s remains to keep them handy for the afterlife changed so did traditions of keeping needles handy during life. Needle cases in European societies were worn variously suspended on cords or ribbon from the neck, around the waist, on the wrist and from the shoulder and in different times and places they have been kept handy by being attached to belts, brooches and chatelaines. With changing fashions for keeping your needle case handy also came changing fashions in needle case decoration. I am not sure if the idea behind decorating the needle case was to make a fashion statement when you wore it or to make it easy to find when you needed it. Either way, you can see wonderful examples online of highly decorative antique and vintage needle cases made from intricately carved ivory, precious and semi-precious metals and elaborate embroidery and beading (I have provided links below to some delightful examples).

Amongst these changing fashions the basic shape of the needle case has changed little. It remains a long hollow tube with one end closed and a removable cap at the other. What my latest beaded needle case designs show (pictured above) that what also remains is the 16th century Venetian tradition of painting the tube and then decorating it with seed beads. I hope I have honoured the tradition and that these designs mean you will want to keep your needle case handy.



Kokopelli said...

Interesting post! Thanks for sharing! I never made a needle case so far, only an awl case. But sooner or later I replace my less decorative one.

Dawn N said...

You're needle caes are great. Thanks for this bit of history.

Marsha Wiest-Hines said...

Love the giraffe especially!

Mary T Designs said...

How interesting. I love to learn about the history of anything. Thanks for the lesson!

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