needle, implement of metal or other material used to carry the thread in sewing and in various forms of needlework and manufacturing. The earliest needles were merely awls or punches. Stone, bone, ivory, and thorns, with or without an eye, were used by primitive peoples. The midrib of the palm is used in Africa, with the thread tied on. Much of the embroidery of antiquity must have required fine needles; China is supposed to have first used steel ones, and the Moors are credited with carrying them to the West. The needle-making trade was established in Nuremberg in the 14th cent. and in England in Elizabeth's reign. In 1656 the first needlemakers' guild was chartered. Manufacturing by machinery developed gradually. In 1785 the first steel rod was mechanically prepared; in 1826 eyes were drilled by stamping, and by 1870 the manufacture was mostly mechanical. Different kinds of steel are used for different needles, e.g., chromium and stainless steel for surgical and hypodermic uses. Over 250 kinds of needles are made, such as the pearl needles of India, bead needles for fine beadwork, and others for carpets, shoes, upholstery, sailmaking, knitting, and every type of sewing machine.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.