English Needles from the 1850s

Melanie at Catbird Studios just did a post on needle facts, and she mentioned, “By 1847 with the introduction of specialty machinery, more than 50 million needles were made each week in the Redditch district of England.”  She also mentioned that she was having a hard time finding out about needle history in the US.

I knew I had a packet of needles from 1857, and when I looked, sure enough they were from Redditch!

When I followed the link Melanie gave to the article by Kate McLaren at National Gallery of Victoria, there was a lot more history of Redditch and their needles, and one quote piqued my interest: “The eye of the Redditch needle was apparently so small that a modern day thread is not fine enough to pass through, other than specifically fine Sutures.”

Although they apparently made finer needles, a modern thread goes through the ones I have just fine.  Amy Alan points out how these needles have better features than modern needles for hand-sewing.  The feature that sounds best to me, is that the head of the needle is the same size as the blade, leading to less resistance in going through fabric.  I will have to try them out!

Label of the folded paper of needles.

Inside label. Also stamped in silver is “Pat. App.for.”

Cross-pollinating product advertisement — Use Clark’s O.N.T. spool cotton.

Close-up of needles and woven tape holding them together.

Reading the history made me want to know more about H. Milward and Sons.  I found these trade cards online at Digital Commonwealth.


Needle trade card from Digital Commonwealth. Source.


According to Wikipedia, the Milward company was eventually renamed Needle Industries.  The Clark thread that they recommended was merged with the Coats company to become the famous Coats & Clark, and in 1973, Needle Industries was sold to Coats!

Here is a link to a copy of the salesman sample book for H. Milward needles that is for sale — it can be yours for only $500!

But more in line with most of our budgets, here is an 1862 book online at the Internet Archive, The History and Description of Needle Making.

So thanks, Melanie, Kate, and Amy, for making me take a closer look at a little package of needles I’ve had for 20 years!

(I would also like to say that I thought this post was going to take me about 2 minutes to write.  But my camera was downstairs, so I thought I would quickly just scan the package of needles for an image.  But I forgot that my printer/scanner is old and has been giving me error messages that I have the wrong print head.  Which I don’t.  And tech support has told me that it is probably not worth it to get another printer head, because the printer is 5 years old, so any other part could go at any time.

And even though I wanted to use the scanner, and the problem is with the printer, the whole machine wouldn’t work.  And when I opened it up to try to clean the printer head again, the paper of needles fell off the scanner bed and through the rear paper slot, into the depths of the machine, between various paper rollers and separators, and I couldn’t even see them in there.  Getting needles out of the proverbial haystack would have been easier, because you can pull a haystack apart, and then go over the hay with a big magnet.  But printers are not made so that ordinary humans can take them apart.

But there was no way that I was going to let needles that had made it for 160 years perish in the depths of a stupid printer, so I went downstairs — the same stairs I was too lazy to go down to get my camera — and got a bunch of screwdrivers, and took it all apart.  And it took me 2 hours.  But I got the needles back.  The printer, I am pretty sure, has gone on to its planned obsolescence home in the sky, as its designers hoped.  Hmmm, 1857 design vs. 2012 design.)