Embroidery: Quick History of the Sewing Needle

Photo by SUNBEAM PHOTOGRAPHY on Unsplash

While I haven’t had much time to work on my embroidery, I’m still interested in the artform and the tools which go with it. The central tools for embroidery are thread, cloth, scissors, and the all-important needle.

Where did it come from and how long has it been around?

Initially furs were worn, likely as ponchos with holes cut for head and arms. The dangly fabric surely got in the way, so strips of leather would be used to tie it closer to the body.

Let’s be honest about human nature for a moment. The minute the ancestors-of-our-ancestors got beyond cutting holes and added strips, design started. Need to wrap the legs – are you going to use a spiral, crisscross, or horizontal tie-offs all the way up? Belt the waist or the torso? Heck, where to cut the holes, how to wear the ponchos. Most people wear clothes because of need, but there will always be those people who take it to the next level and make that fur LookGood.

Next giant step forward is punching holes in the fur with awls and running those leather strips through. Now design can really take off.

Then we get the magic. Putting a hole in one end of the awl making … a Needle!

These appear at different times in different areas. Did they start in one place or were they invented time and again. The mix of material making needles, the length of the needles, and locations they have been found indicates invention time and again. But humans travel, so maybe one genius moment and the rest copycats, but, for our present-time, it doesn’t matter. The fact is, it happened.

The glorious Eye of a Needle!

Around 80,000 to 100,000 years ago humans started wearing clothing and nearly immediately (at least by 76,000 years ago) bone awls existed. China had needles by 45,000 years ago. (Pagano, 2019) Made short and long, curvy and straight, thick and thin, needles clearly were used for more than just boring assembly of cloth. In and of themselves, there is a beauty too – simple bone to precious ivory, plant leaves (pine), thin wood, stone, and as soon as metal is smelted, copper, bronze, then iron. Each age in turn.

When I sew, I am sharing a history reaching back longer than there has been written history.



Carr, Karen. “Who invented sewing? History of clothing.” Quatr.us. 2017 June 8. https://quatr.us/central-asia/invented-sewing-history-clothing.htm – last viewed 12/12/2022.

Pagano, Jacob. “Sewing Needles Reveal the Roots of Fashion”. sapiens.org. 2019 Jan 25. https://www.sapiens.org/archaeology/fashion-history-sewing-needles/?fbclid=IwAR24WO6qK2mtgei90dnpKo1HQPqi4s3KRg-5V-h5YJalcRCiRf7Zi-qESlc – last viewed 12/12/2022.

Wikipedia. “Sewing Needle.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sewing_needle – last viewed 12/12/2022.