Needle: Since a cleaned one was available to me, I used a cow rib.
I was able to split the rib into its two flat sides using a rock
surface and hammerstone. Cracking
may have been easier because I worked outside in freezing temperatures and
the bone was brittle. After
splitting the rib into its halves, I continued to tap around the edges
with my hammerstone, breaking small pieces of bone away until I had a
rough outline of a needle. I
did that to both halves of the rib in case I would need two needles.
I decided to drill the hole next since
I would have hated to finish the tool completely and then break it during
the final drilling. Needles observed at the Milwaukee Public Museum had a variety of
hole shapes: oval, circular, and square; indicating that there were several methods of
making the hole. Some were clearly
drilled while others were simply gouged into the bone. Making the hole
was the one part of needle manufacture that I did in a “modern” way,
using a quick power drill. Needles
made of wood can have the hole burned through them. There is
information out on the web about other drilling
techniques if you want to avoid using any modern equipment. Notches on the end of the needle would
have also been able to hold cord, but most ethnographic accounts report needles with a hole.
After the hole was drilled into my needle, I then began grinding down the sides of the needle. I did this
using sandstone chunks from the nearby bluffs. After the sides were
smoothed out, I ground down the blunt end and then sharpened the tip end.
My needle ending up being 21.5 cm along the curve and 1.5 cm wide along
most of its length. The
thickness varied from end to tip, 3.5 mm to 1.5 mm.
Most of the matting needles seen at the museum were between 20 and 35 centimeters long. If you would compare a matting needle from the Milwaukee Public
Museum to my own needle, it would be obvious that the real museum specimen
was finely formed and had much better workmanship.
But I must defend my own tool and say that it did the job just fine
when put to the test.
it's your turn! You may need to ask around for the rib bone, but
wood is always an alternative too. Be careful if you use any power tools. And instead of sandstone, you can always use sandpaper
or a grinding tool. When your needle is done, take good care of it - the
needles are somewhat fragile. When actually using my needle to sew, I did end up
snapping off the tip a few times. Luckily, I was able to grind down
a new point in a relatively short amount of time. If you take good
care of your needle, it should last quite a long time. Eventually you may start seeing a polish on it.
You may even want
to decorate your needle, as some Native American women did. Below is a
photograph of a decorated Menominee matting needle.