Sunday, 30 March 2014

Some wooden needle cases and other textile working tools

At our woodworking course we have a new electric lathe, and I wanted to try this machine to make some wooden needle cases. Such needle cases existed in bone and metal forms in medieval times, and likely as well in wood - but this is difficult to prove as the items are rather small and relatively fragile. The needle case consisted of a hollow wooden cover, in which a hollow wooden bobbin sits, in which needles can be stored. In fact, it is a complete sewing kit.

Some sewing stuff. Three wooden needle cases with bobbins: two made of walnut, one of cherry, as well as three loose wooden bobbins of cherry and beech.

Making the needle case was a wondrous experience. It went smooth and fast on the new machine. I used some walnut stock to make the basic wooden rod (around 25 mm) on the lathe. Then I divided the rod into four pieces: two cases and two bobbins. A relatively simple task to do. I hollowed the turned cases out using a drill press with a 15 mm forstner bit, but this could also have been done on the lathe. In fact, making the holes for the needles in the bobbin was done on the lathe with the bobbin fixed in the chuck and the drill in the dead centre of the tail stock.

Here the two parts of the needle case can be seen; The bobbin with the hole for the needles, and the wooden case for the bobbin. Ideally, a cord can be attached the the bobbin and the case, so the complete set can be attached to a belt.

The two walnut needle cases closed. The top one is finished with beeswax, bottom one with linseed oil. 

Previously, I had made such a needle case from cherry wood on an old unstable lathe, and made the holes using a centre bit on a hand drilling machine. This was a far more tricky process with an only 50% success rate.

 The cherry needle box. A piece of wool is used to plug the needle hole of the bobbin.

Previously, I also made some more bobbins from beech and cherry.

  Three empty bobbins.

And two full ones.

And a wooden pin or stiletto of beech. The pin is used as a help for making eyelets. Pushing it through the fabric creates a hole for the eyelet by forcing the weave apart.

Some other textile working tools shown on the first photo are a pair of scissors (bought at Glimmingehus in Sweden) and a ring thimble. The thimble is a 14th century original, now put back into use.

The ring thimble has retained a nice patina.


  1. Congratulations for your beautiful work and interesting research! I love all your posts!

    1. Thanks, your blog is very interesting as well. I will add the link to the interesting blogs list on this page.

  2. The cases over the bobbins make so much sense. I've made the bobbins from the Mary Rose and had wondered how would you keep the thread from getting dirty. This is perfect. If you would, could you point me at the source for those? Thanks!

    1. It has been a long time ago when I had the reference to to this in hand, and I must confess that at the moment I do not know where I stored the info. What I did find, when going through my stack of books, was a reference to an early medieval bone case (without the bobbin), just like the wooden one, found in Dorestad (nowadays Wijk bij Duurstede), the Netherlands.

    2. Thanks. I appreciate it!