CROCKETT’S COUNTRY WAYS:
Jonny Crockett looks at how to fabricate a humble needle from a roe deer bone
How to make a needle
Penknife, side-by-side 12-bore shotgun, girlfriend, car, house. We all remember our firsts because they changed our lives. They are landmarks in our lives, and as a species, there are equivalents. Life changed with fire, flint, animal skins and strangely (but perhaps most humbly), the needle.
The Neanderthals didn’t use needles, but Homo sapiens did. It meant that we could make clothes that helped us operate more effectively in colder climates. We could make leather bags, containers and much, much more.
The oldest needles are over 50,000 years old. One has been found in Siberia just over 3" long with an eye at one end and could still be used today. Traditionally, they were made from bone; the one found in Siberia was made from bird bone, but the species used vary from place to place. The needles I’m going to make are made from roe deer.
Most bones are far too big to be used as needles. Use uncooked needles as they are stronger and less likely to snap. Heating a bone will weaken it considerably.
First, it needs to be split. You can do this using flint (pic 1) or a knife by placing it where you want to split it and battening the back of the cutting tool. Alternatively, a hefty blow with a rock or hammer will split it open (pic 2).
The split piece of bone should be 1-3" long and as thin as you want it to be. Don’t forget that you’ve got to put a hole in the end so it’ll need to be at least a couple of millimetres.
Once you’ve got your slither of bone (pic 3), it needs to be shaped. The traditional needle is shaped so that it is round from the end. However, there are different shapes. Beading needles are flexible and so could be made from finer bones such as those from fish. Some are square and some are curved like modern medical suture needles. The benefit of using bone is that it isn’t grained like wood and so can be shaped to suit your need.
The needle I’m making is a traditional needle (pic 4), so it is tapered to a sharp point and round when looked at from the end. The non-pointed end I’ve made is flat so that you don’t need a thimble and can comfortably push it through with your thumb. I’m using a piece of flint to scrape down towards the point.
Holding the thick end between thumb and forefinger, it is a simple matter of turning it with one hand while scraping with the other. Once I’ve got the size and shape I want, there’s only one task left – the hole needs to be drilled (pic 5).
For this, I’m using a very fine-pointed flint, but even with this technique I still need to drill in from both sides so that I meet in the middle. With modern tools, I can drill through with the finest of drills or even a finely pointed knife.
Once I’ve got a needle, I can make or repair clothing and equipment (pic 6). Needles are so small, but they had a big part to play in our evolution. Happy sewing!