Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Hand made needles

In this post I'd like to talk briefly about the needles we use in traditional Japanese embroidery.

There are three types of needles; hand made needles with large eyes which are used to stitch both flat and twisted silk; hand finished needles used for very fine threads or couching; and a very much larger needle used for lacing the fabric to the frame.

Whenever needles are not being used they are kept in our needle felt. This 100% wool felt contains natural lanolin which helps protect the steel needles from the elements. Even when just putting the needles down for a moment, perhaps to cut another piece of thread, we are encouraged to stick them into the felt which helps keep them safe. The needles are so small and are quite expensive so loosing them can put quite a hole in the pocket.
It can be quite hard to tell some of the needle sizes apart so as you can see above I've stuck a label on my needle felt and always make sure that the needles go back where they came from.

This picture shows various needles, from left to right we have; a size 6 crewel needle; then size 10, 9, & 7 hand made needles; then a size 5 hand finished needle; then the lacing needle.
It is possible to see here how much shorter the Japanese needles are from ordinary embroidery needles.
Close up of needle eyes. In this picture it is easy to see the big difference between standard embroidery needles and needles used for traditional Japanese embroidery.
The large eyes on these needles have two effects, they help the flat silk spread out so it lays much flatter on the surface of the fabric, and for metallic threads they make a larger hole through which real gold thread can be pulled without shredding the gold from the core.
Different sizes of needles are used for different sizes of thread; size 10 (second from left) can be used for 4T (4 into 1 twist), a 3F (3 strands of silk), or #1 or #2 gold; size 7 (fourth from left) can be used for a 1F thread; size 5 (at right) is used for couching or a .5 thread.