When people know you sew, they say "I thought you might be able to use this" about all sorts of things. I was recently given an old sewing box. It was full of cards of darning wool, vintage wooden cotton reels and lots and lots of needles!
There were all these packets, but there were also lots of loose needles in all the corners of the box, and some still threaded and stuck into the reels. There were more in the rather nice vintage wooden needle case. Needles, needles everywhere!
Now I already have my own little Needle case holding the small assortment I habitually use, and there was no more room in there. I had made a needle case when I went on my "free motion machine stitching" workshop which was large and empty so I decided to put them all in that. They filled all 4 pages!
I sorted them by general size, then eye shape. Some of these needles are absolutely tiny, and I don't think my Gutermanns Sew All thread would fit through the eye! One was so long it had to be kept in that nice vintage case. Sadly the ones in foil had all become tarnished, so I threw them away together with some bent and damaged ones. Needle Care Tip – don’t store your needles in foil! Read up on alternatives -here
The remainder I gave a good clean. A lot of people don’t realise that the smaller strawberry attached to the classic Strawberry Pincushion (often referred to as a Tomato) is in fact a Needle Cleaner. It’s filled with emery; simply poke your needles and pins through it a few times to clean them up!
You can make your own needle cleaner filled with emery (available through Etsy shops) or fine sand. Use a muslin inner bag and a ‘pretty’ outer bag to prevent leakage. Alternatively cut out a little pouch of wool felt, and fill it up with a mixture of;
6 parts talcum powder
1 part baking soda
1 part Comet or Ajax
Make sure you seal the pouch up well, and it will clean, dry and polish all at the same time.
I have accumulated my own collection of needles over the years by buying the needle I needed for a particular job, and never took much notice of what they were called. Now suddenly I had a much greater range and I got curious as to what they all were, so decided to find out more.
I mentioned it to my dad (he’s 88) and he gave me this little card book of needles with a history. He had made it himself for his mother when he was a little boy, and it had been well used!
I googled and visited a lot of places. Some had diagrams, some had photos, several had tables. This one is pretty good, from Country Bumpkin. The best one was this excellent blog http://letitshinedesign.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/hand-sewing-needles.... which includes clear photos and a useful pdf table you can download. I now know my Chenille from my Tapestry, and why Milliners are often called Straw Needles!
In the end I found all the answers and help I needed in Mary Corbet's Needle 'n' Thread website. The first thing was the Needle I.D. Cards which will enable me to identify my collection precisely, as shown here, by matching them to the picture. There are 6 cards and they cover 7 most common types of needle, giving size, shape, description and use. Of course once I know what they are it would be nice to store them in a way that keeps this information with the needle!
That's where the second discovery comes in. It's The Needle Index. This little book also gives the types, size, shape and description just like the I.D. cards but for 12 types of needle. It also has a piece of wool felt to store the needles on the opposite page. In addition, underneath the felt is a chart which shows what threads and how many strands each size needle will hold. How handy is that!
Naturally neither of these are available outside the U.S. but I ordered both from the Needle in a Haystack on the 21st December as my late Christmas Present. I didn’t expect to see them for a couple of weeks, so imagine my surprise when they turned up on the 28th December! So I have now been able to identify all my new needles, and transfer them into the Index.
Call me boring, but I do so love being organized! I really enjoyed learning about and sorting out my collection, it's been a great way to start the New Year. I can highly recommend The Needle Index for all your hand sewing needles. Sorry if that sounds like an advertisment for detergent, but I love my chunky new friend!
Now I just need to organize my Machine Needle collection, which presently looks like this and leaves much to be desired!