Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Festival of Needles

In my first ever post I said "As far as I know, I was born with a needle in my hand." If that was true it would have been one of my mother’s sewing needles. They were all I used for many, many. Basically, if the thread went through the eye of the needle, and the needle went through the fabric, I used it.

My first "embroidery" needle came with a kit. My first ever embroidery was not a kit but most of my early ones were and from those I collected together a variety of embroidery needles. I began to realise that there were different types of needle and, to a small degree, what they were suitable for but provided I could, I still stitched with the first needle I laid hands on.

When I think about my sewing kit, there are many tools that I would not like to part with but I could probably make do without or find a substitute. The one tool that is totally indispensible is the needle, yet until recently I barely gave them a thought. I think that is partly due to the fact that I obtained most them for free. I don’t even recall buying any before 2005. I may have done but they were so cheap and insignificant that I really don’t remember. But I remember very clearly the needles that I acquired on Monday, 14th February 2005. They were bought and paid for in advance but this was the day I received my own set of handmade Japanese embroidery needles.

Handmade Japanese needles stored in their needle felt (on the top edge).
Machine-made needles on bottom edge and a pin (for no particular reason)

From the beginning Jems (Japanese embroidery students) are taught to value and care for their needles. They are expensive and not readily available; you can’t get them from your local needlework shop. The needles are stored in a block of lamb’s wool felt to prevent them from rusting. The eyes of the needles are hand finished; there are no burrs to snag your silk. The points are also ground by hand; they are very sharp and very precise. A clean needle glides through the fabric like a hot knife through butter and they are by far the best needles I have ever used.

Lacing needles and a sinking needle stored in the back of the needle felt

In recent years I have developed a far greater appreciation of my needles but I still don’t think that I fully appreciated them until a year ago. That is when I first heard of Hari-kuyo. Reading about this ancient festival caused me to stop and evaluate my relationship with my needles, what the really mean to me.

Size 2 and 3 machine-made needles for bead embroidery stored in a seperate needle felt together with a flat head pin, two handmade needles
(and some more pins for no particular reason)

When I sit down to stitch, I exhale a long, contented sigh. When I pick up my needle, I feel my shoulders relax and as I begin to stitch all thoughts of the minutiae of daily life drift away. Tamura-san advocates a short time spent in meditation before stitching. For me time spent stitching is like meditation, it feeds my soul. I have finally come to value my needles, all of my needles, for what they give to me.

This evening I will be cleaning and sorting and giving thanks to my precious needles.

Happy Stitching


Members of Stitchin Fingers are holding a Festival of Needles.

Susan has blogged about Preparing for Harikuyo.

Jane has blogged about Harikuyo, Festival of Broken Needles on Japanese Embroidery.


Christine said...

This was a very nice post about your needles, and your relationship with them. I understand completely. My Japanese Embroidery needles are 'friends' of mine, now. Have a wonderful day, Carol-Anne.

Heather said...

Good day , I am writing from Cape Town South Africa. What an inspiring blog. I too was born with a needle in my hand! My mother told me of how horrified her father was when she and my grandmother allowed me to stitch at a very early age with what he called a very dangerous object!! I still have some of those masterpieces tucked away in my memory box. What a wonderful way to salute the tool we could not be without ,the tool that helps us turn out our works of art. I would love to obtain some of those handmade japanese needles as i do a lot of goldwork and have been told that their eye preserves the fine gold thread best. I have tried to find them to order but have not been successful. I would really be very happy if you could let me know where I can order them online, to be posted to South Africa. 'Heres to our needles" I too salute you. Have a good day. Heather Basson .

Rachel said...

I've not yet managed to make friends with the Japanese needles I have, but I hope to, this year..

Daisy Debs said...

Hallo, where can I purchase these Japanese needles ? Can they be found in the UK ? : )