Hand made Japanese needles are more expensive than mass produced needles; the Japanese Embroidery student is taught to look after them. Whenever needles are not being used they are kept in our needle felt. This 100% wool felt contains natural lanolin which helps protect them from the elements. Even so, with use the natural oils in our fingers and dust build up on the needles. A good indication that a needle is dirty is that it 'squeeks' and does not pass through the fabric as freely as normal.
Needles can be cleaned with a lightly abrasive material such as ScotchBrite or finishing grade glass paper. This will remove the film of dirt without roughening the surface or blunting the tip of the needle. After scouring with abrasive and before stitching, the needles should be polished with a scrap of fabric to remove all tracres of dirt. Dirty needles appear blackened; clean needles are shiney and silver coloured.
In Japan, the Festival of the Broken Needle is help on Frebruary 8th. I don't have any broken needles but I did have dirty ones. I have spent the evening cleaning my needles and takibari, giving thanks for their service and drawing on their spirit to improve my stitching skills.