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.


Art Project: Green Apron 2 Complete!

In the middle of tax season, I managed to grab the 20 hours needed to complete my Green Apron project (started in 2017). The embroidery forms include smocking and drawn thread. All hand-stiched using green linen thread.

The top is worked in honey-comb smocking. I just love how honeycomb looks.



One of my favorite historic pictures is from Durer where you can see honeycomb smocking peeking out at the waist.


The big part of the apron is the drawn hemwork along the bottom. The five rows took forever to prep the bars. Once the bars are done, drawnwork is done in a handful of hours. Like most everything in the world, prepwork is the secret – the hidden part of the iceberg. But the results are worth it, don’t you think?


Art Project: Needles Out

Finally broke out my needles in the first time in forever during October. 

Want to see my pretties in process? I took some pictures on where I am on October 8, 2019. Hopefully I will finish a few of these.

First, I took a Beadwork Coif class at the beginning of the month. I had to make the coif before the class, now I am slowly beading the project.


Next, you might remember my ongoing apron projects. I’ve been working on this green one on and off for most of a year. Mostly off. But I pulled the pleating strings out of the smocked area this month and finished pulling out the threads to do the drawn work along the bottom. Now I just need to finish gathering the ladders for the drawn thread decorations. Of the things I am working on, this is the most likely to be completed this year.


I started the dragon towels last year during tax season (2019). Did another big push in July, and haven’t added a stitch since. It should be a set of four towels when complete. Biggest challenge with this one is following a pattern carefully, one of the reasons I dislike cross-stitch so much. If it wasn’t so pretty when it was done, I would give it up.

Then the BIG project. A complete set of mix-and-match Flemish garb with “heavy metal” embroidery. It will be six garments all told – two undergowns, two overgowns, and two aprons. I have completed one undergown (summer 2018) and one overgown (October 2019), the sewing portion. Working on the second undergown and overgown (the red apron gown is below). Then sew the two aprons. Then embroidering ALL THE THINGS!!! Well, four things: the two overgowns and the aprons. It will be AMAZING when done. … If it gets done.

That is always the challenge. Getting it done. So many pretties, sew little time.

Art Project: Lacis

Lacis Project – Lady’s Room Door Hanging

Originally conceived in 2004, I complied the design from patterns found in Renaissance Patterns for Lace, Embroidery and Needlepoint: An unabridged facsimile of the “Singuliers et nouvezu’=pourtraicts” of 1587 by Federico Vinciolo and Patterns Embroidery: Early 16th Century by Claude Nourry & Pierre de Saincte Louie. The project comes as two wall hangings; one will be a Lady’s Room door hanging showing Spring and Summer and the other will be a Lord’s Room door hanging featuring Fall and Winter. Pages from the book where I transcribe the patterns include FV89 (Spring), FV90 (Summer), and CNPSL61-63 (letters).

The full pattern for the Lady’s Room is 127×378 squares. The pattern has 8 major segments including the top and bottom borders, plus the right and left borders which are being completed as I work my way down the design. I actually started the first wall hanging in May 2011 and completed the top border in September 2011.

The project then was set aside as I worked on other things, like writing, moving, job hunting, etc. In March 2017, I have decided to make a concerted effort again on the project and put a week of 2 to 3 hour nights into it after doing taxes. So after 20 more hours, I got a second border section done. At this rate, it I don’t get distracted again, I should have this completed in mid-June and can start work on the Lord’s Room door hanging. (I got distracted – so it has stalled out again.)

Materials being used: Store bought mesh (unknown material) and Cotton Crochet thread size 10 (due to cost – I am going through a lot of thread).

Tools used: Large tapestry needles, scissors, and a 12-inch embroidery hoop.



Top Left Corner
Left Corner for Top Border
Middle Design for Top Border

First Border Completed (Sept 2011)


Second Border Complete (March 2017)