NEEDLE. The sewing needle is an implement which has been in used form prehistoric times in all places where mankind used the skins of animals or woven fabrics for clothing. Originally the needle was made of fish-bone, bone, or ivory, and its first form was probably a rude eyeless bodkin. Needles of bone continue to this day to be sued by uncivilized tribes; but since the time of the discovery of bronze metal needles have been in use in civilized communities. It is on record that needles of steel were made at Nuremberg towards the end of the 14th century, and at a later period Spanish needles acquired wide celebrity. For upwards of two centuries the manufacture has been established in England, -- Redditch in Worcestershire, with several other small towns in Warwickshire, being the centre of the industry, first planted there by Germans. Originally the trade was domestic in its character, but now it is carried on in large manufactories where mechanical appliances have to a certain extent supplanted handiwork, with much advantage to the heath and the wellbeing of the operatives.
The raw material of the manufacture consists of steel wire of fine quality and suitable gauge. The wire is supplied in coiled of definite weight and diameter, and the first operation consists in cutting the coil with powerful shears. With the aid of a gauge the coil is cut with precision into lengths, each sufficient for two needles. These lengths, having the curvature of the coil and other inequalities, are next straightened. For this purpose a bundle containing several thousand lengths is packed within two string iron rings; the bundle is heated to red heat, and then pressed on an iron plate having two parallel grooves in which the iron rings run. Over this plate the bundle is worked backward and forward by the pressure of an oblong slightly curved iron tool having two longitudinal slits through which the edges of the rings project. Thus by combined pressure and rolling the whole of the length quickly become perfectly straight and even. The next operation consists in pointing both ends of the wires, which, being done on a dry grindstone revolving at high speed, is, from the sparks and dust created, very injurious to the operatives. A grinder, holding at one time several dozen wires against the stone with his left hand, and revolving them slightly with his right, will point about 100,000 needles in a day. He is but imperfectly protected against the deadly dust he produces by a cowl which, partly covering the grindstone, is connected with a pipe through which a strong current of air is drawn, sucking away a large proportion of the dust. For the operation of pointing various machines have been devised and have come into extensive use, especially in Germany. In general principle these machines consists of a wheel, to the periphery of which the wires to be pointed are held by an India-rubber band. It revolves at right angles to the revolving hollow grindstone, and, bringing each wire in rapid succession at the proper angle for grinding against the stone, it points three times as many as a skilful grinder. The succeeding series of operations have for their object the eyeing of the needles. As a preliminary to this the oxidized scale at the centre of the wire is ground off, and on the surface so prepared each wire is separately stamped, by means of dies, with the grooved and rounded impression of two needle heads set end to end. Through these stamped heads the eye-holes are next perforated by means of a screw-press working a pair of fine steel punches or prongs. Each wire now forms two needles attached head to head by a broad thin scarf of steel at the point of junction where the metal has been stamped for the head. These double needles, taken to the number of about one hundred, are threaded together with a fine wire passed through the eyes, giving the whole the appearance of a fine close-set comb. Each side is clamped up tightly, and the expansion of the scarf in the centre is removed by a file. The spitted row is now ready to break over into separate needles, and as the point of junction of the wto sets of heads is weakened by the stamping process, the rows readily break at that point by bending. These heads are then smoothed and rounded with the file before the clamp is removed, the wire withdrawn, and the separate needles set free. At this stage the needles are hardened and tempered in he usual manner; that is, they are placed in an iron tray, heated to redness in a muffle furnace, plunged into an oil bath, then re-heated in the muffle till they assume a straw colour, and gradually cooled. Following the tempering comes the process of scouring and fining or polishing, for which purpose the needles are put up in bundles of several thousands mixed with soft soap, oil, and emery powder, and tied tightly round with a canvas cover. A number of such bundles are laid in the bed of a machine in which by rollers or other devices they are kept rolling backward and forward, so that each individual needle rubs against its neighbours. After sufficient time the bundles are withdrawn, the needles cleaned by washing, dried, and again bundled up as before, but with a mixture containing putty powder in place of emery. The rolling process is continued till the needles acquire a sufficiently polished surface. The needles are now unpacked, washed in an alkaline solution, and dried in sawdust. From that they are conveyed to trays, where they are brought parallel to each other by s sharp jerking motion. It is next necessary to bring all the heads in one direction, which is dexterously done by a "header," who with a cloth finger-stool on the fourth finger presses a lot of needles against that cloth. Points presented adhere, and thus a t each operation a number of needles remain sticking in the finger-stool. While this arrangement is going on, faulty and imperfect needles are picked out. The heads being all now laid in one direction, attention is given to the smoothing and rounding of the eye-holes, a work essential for the prevention of the fraying and breaking of the thread in sewing. The heads are blued by heating, and operation mist neatly and perfectly performed by bringing each head in succession in contact with a gas flame by means of a revolving wheel, against the periphery of which the needles are retained by an elastic band. The needles so blued are strung on a roughened steel wire, over which is spread a fine paste of oil and emery. These wires are suspended between uprights on a frame platform, to which a jerking motion is communicated to the suspended needles, and the gentle friction thus set up between the needle eye and the roughened wire and emery slowly but effectually secures the desired effect. Now it only remains to free the head from the blue colour on a small grindstone, and give a final polish to the needle on a rapidly revolving buff wheel aided by putty powder. It has of late become a common practice to gild the head of needles. The variety of needles manufactured for sewing by hand and machine, for packing, for upholstery and leather work, as well as fro surgical purposes, is every great, and demands many modifications of processes and applications. (J. PA.)
The above article was written by: James Paton, F.L.S.; Superintendent of Museums and Art Galleries of Corporation of Glasgow from 1876; Assistant in Museum of Science and Art, Edinburgh, 1861-76; President of Museums Association of the United Kingdom, 1896; editor and part-author of Scottish National Memorials, fol. 1890.