A look back in time with PieceWork Magazine

I have a bunch of old sewing, knitting, and crochet stuff from my great-grandmother; I love these items, and I display them with pride. I just got my review copy of the November/December 2010 PieceWork, and I just had to share this article with you about a salesman's sample book of Boye needles because it reminds me of my little collection!

Author Nancy Nehring practices, teaches, and writes about a wide range of needlework techniques. Her interests include dating needlework tools produced during and after the industrial revolution according to materials and manufacturing techniques.

The Boye Needles salesman's book. Collection of the author. (Photograph by Joe Coca)

Boye Needles Salesman's Book
by Nancy Nehring

Several years ago, I acquired the Boye salesman's book of handsewing needles shown here. The ring binder, measuring about 9½ by 11 inches (24 by 28 cm), is bound in faux leather; a thick plastic cover protects its inside covers and pages, which are separated by protective sheets made from pieces of woolen fabric.

A page from the Boye Needles salesman's book with package labels and examples of needles. Collection of the author. Photograph by Joe Coca.

Sample retail packets mounted next to needle size charts illustrated with actual needles are affixed to the inside front and back covers and the book's four pages. Half of one page also contains an educational panel titled "How a Needle Is Made."

Based on prices on the packets and lack of Universal Product Codes, the book probably dates to the 1960s. The smaller, basic sewing needles are made from steel wire. The larger, specialty needles are made from cast steel.

Basic sewing needles were available in packages containing multiples of a single size or a range of sizes. Those who sewed only occasionally could buy assortments of different types of needles, particularly specialty needles; some assortments included a needle threader. The cast-steel needles came in packages of a dozen in a single type/size.

Pages from the Boye Needles salesman's book with retail packets and individual examples of needles. Collection of the author. Photograph by Joe Coca.

Most of the needles displayed in the book are still available today, although some names have been changed. We do more quilting than hatmaking today, and so millinery needles are sometimes labeled as basting needles; mattress needles may be called doll needles. Only pack needles, originally designed to sew coarse sacking such as duck or burlap, seem to be disappearing as paper and plastic replace cloth for dry-goods sacks.

I just love PieceWork. It always inspires me with a sense of nostalgia and excitement for needlework projects to come. Get your gift subscription now and delight someone for the holidays! You'll get a neat free gift, too.


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