Needle and Its Companions

Needle and its companions, i.e., thimble, needle slot, awl, bobbin plate, scissors, needle stands, and a basket constitute the tool set for traditional needlework. As interdependent friends, they have been royal assistants of human beings from threading leather and bark clothes which helped people protect their body from cold and hotness. It is the means to making various clothes, accessories and consumables.


A bone needle of 8.2 cm in length was fond in the legacies of Beijing Upper Cave Man. They live in 18,000 years ago. The needle is the earliest and most primitive sewing tool ever found in the world. It’s the marks the start of ancient human civilization.    

In the Shang and Zhou Era, the bronze production and the metallurgy were developed. Fine metal needle was a breakthrough in Chinese sewing work. In Tang Dynasty, gold and silver accessories stood out. Needle and thread slot became practical utensils as well as decoration. Meanwhile, scissors, awl, thimble, bobbin plate, needle slot, sewing kit, and basket were improved and became a small family composed of series of manual sewing tools. In this family, sewing needle as a protagonist has kept evolving since ancient times. The tip and eye of the needle improved in terms of diameter and sharpness. However, its basic configuration, structure and functions remain unchanged. The only change may come from the manufacturing of sewing needles which has evolved from manual forging to fine mechanical manufacturing. Today, needle and its friends are all most remembered in an image with the bitter and sweet emotion that mothers in grey hair was holding the thread and needles to make shoes.

The needle and its companions presented here are collected from Gansu, Shanxi, Yunnan, Guizhou, Shandong, Tibet, Inner Mongolia and Beijing. Their history spans over 5000 years from Neolithic Period, Ming Dynasty, Qing Dynasty and modern time.

Location: 1st floor, Bai Branch Museum, South Park