The needles we use here at SNAD are made of steel, copper, and a thin layer of gold or silver to avoid rust or corrosion. The modern embroidery needle, made of combinations of different metals, however, is just the most recent in a long (and we mean really long) history of needle development.
The oldest needle we know of dates back around 60,000 years ago: a human-constructed, animal (most likely bird) bone needle found in South Africa. Other needles made of bone and ivory have been discovered in Slovenia, Liaoning, China, and Russia, dating back to between 45,000 and 30,000 years ago. The first needle with an eyelet dates to around 25,000 years ago.
Although these artifacts originated in varying climates and cultures, they point to a time when modern humans were evolving away from their evolutionary ancestors. Armenian copper needles, for example, which date to around 7,000 BCE, mark the development of metal harnessing, a major development in human technology. Early sewing needles, on the other hand, were crucial in the survival of the human species, helping early humans construct more fitted clothing made of animal furs and skins to protect themselves from the elements during the most recent ice age.
The use of needles in the arts, which evolved from the more practical need to sew, has a more contested beginning. The earliest known example of embroidery was found in Russia, dating to around 30,000 years ago. However, it is widely accepted that embroidery first developed in South/Central Asia and the Middle East. Text documentation from China during the Warring States Period, around 220 BCE, describes the practice of ‘making decorations with a needle’, or iuhua/zhahu, as an ancient tradition. The earliest existing example of Chinese silk embroidery comes from a tomb in Mashan in Hubei Province, dating to around the 4th century BCE, though physical evidence of embroidery in China dates back centuries.
Nowadays, we can order needles online from companies all over the world, specializing in styles or particular needle content (our steel, copper, silver and gold needles are highly regulated in composition). Our access to the tools that fit our precise needs allows us to focus on our craft, and continue to improve the products we make.
Kate McLaren, “THE SEWING NEEDLE: A HISTORY THROUGH 16-19TH CENTURIES,” National Gallery of Victoria, June 13, 2015.
Eric Grundhauser, “Found: The World’s Oldest Sewing Needle,” Atlas Obscura, August 24, 2018.
“A Brief History of the Seweing Needle,” Apparel Science, Copyright 2018.