Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Needle Making

The manufacture of needles is said to have begun in both Germany and Toledo, Spain, but became a thriving business in the area around Threadneedle Street in London, England.  In fact, Oliver Cromwell founded the Worshipful Company of Needlemakers in 1656.  Needlemaking was a dirty business, especially since the needles needed to be polished in sand or flint dust and then plated.  As a result of this pollution, the City of London imposed restrictions on the trade, but the real end to the London industry was the Great Fire in 1666.  By 1700, much of it had moved to Redditch in Worcestershire.  Pointing and polishing the needles was a very dangerous activity, since the grinding stones frequently shattered and killed or injured the operators.  The life expectancy of a needle pointer was only mid-thirties, so this became a well-paid trade by the standards of the day.  As a domestic hand sewing needle industry never developed in the U.S., no duties were imposed on importing these items.  The story is told that, when the Japanese began to compete in this area, they renamed a Tokyo suburb "Redditch" so they could legitimately put "Made in Redditch" on their products. Today, the Forge Mill Needle Museum in Redditch showcases the history of this industry in an historic factory, where many of the original machines are operated for demonstrations.  (This information, and the photo above, were taken from Pepper Cory, On Needles,  Traditional Quiltworks, No. 27, Sept 13, 1993.  For more fascinating facts, go to Redditch--The Home of Needle Manufacturing.

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