Medieval Pins

Mike Walker, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In a comment about last week’s post Shaunn Munn mentioned pins, because you can’t think about needles without thinking of pins. I couldn’t find any references to pins being used in making clothes, although I assume that they (or something similar) must have been. It’s difficult to imagine someone sewing long seams (and some of them were very long) without something to hold the two pieces of fabric together. What I did find, though, was something interesting about fourteenth-century fashion.

Pins were originally large, ornamented and very visible. Their large, decorated heads drew attention and they were used to fasten outer garments in the same way as brooches were. In the twelfth century a development in metal production (please don’t ask me what it was, as I have no idea and wouldn’t understand it if I did) meant that drawn wire was available and pins with narrow shafts could be made. By the fourteenth century they had become very fine, which was useful, as women of fashion needed pins that were next to invisible.

Women used pins to keep the folds of their headdresses in place, or to attach their veils to their hair or the front of their gowns, and they wanted the shafts to be more or less invisible. What was the point of having a veil that was more or less transparent if you only had thick pins with large heads to attach it? The veil and the headdress were supposed to be the stars, not the pins holding them in place.

The use of pins took off in the fourteenth century. When Joan of England, a daughter of Edward III, set sail to marry Pedro of Castile in 1348 she took 12,000 pins for her veils with her. Sadly, the groom was never to see the veils or the pins or his bride, for she caught bubonic plague in Bordeaux and was one of its first English victims.

Even when used in headdresses and veils some of the pins had decorative heads, a coral bead, for example, or basic geometric designs. Most pinheads, however, were either solid metal or made of wound wire. They could be formed into a variety of shapes, although most of them resembled the pins of my youth in that they had heads shaped like tiny mushroom caps. The heads were beaten into shape by a hammer. Some formed spheres, others were flattened, both vertically and horizontally to the pin.

No one’s quite sure whether pins were manufactured in England, but there’s plenty of evidence that they were used here in their hundreds of thousands.

Dress Accessories 1150 – 1450 by Geoff Egan and Frances Pritchard

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

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Filed under Fourteenth Century, Medieval Clothing

23 responses to “Medieval Pins

  1. This reminds me of a song–old, but I’m not sure how old–that starts “I’ll give to you a paper of pins, for that’s the way true love begins….” If nothing else, it tells us that pins were pricey enough to be a decent gift. Wikipedia (accurately or inaccurately) traces it back as far as the 19th century, but who knows how much further back it goes.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The secret life of pins. Interesting post as always!

    Liked by 4 people

  3. My mind’s boggling a little at the idea of 12,000 pins. A sad story.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I know. It’s not as if you could use all 12,000 at once. Perhaps it was difficult to get hold of pins in Castile.

      It is a sad story. It also illustrated, very vividly, that birth and wealth couldn’t protect you from the plague.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. I’ll give to thee a paper of pins for that’s the way my love begins, if thou woulds’t marry me, Miss, if thou woulds’t marry me.

    I’ll not accept thine paper of pins, ’tis not the way my love begins, and I’ll not marry thee Sir, and I’ll not marry you!

    (Increasingly expensive gifts offered and scorned.)

    I’ll give to thee my house and land, a herd of kine (cattle), my maid and man, if thou woulds’t marry me, Miss, if thou woulds’t marry me.

    (Lady STILL refuses!)

    I’ll give to thee the key to mine heart, that we shall twain and ne’er part, if thou woulds’t marry me Miss, if thou woulds’t marry me!

    I shall accept the key to thy heart, that we shall twain and ne’er part, and I shall marry thee, Sir, and I shall marry thee!

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Interesting how pins evolved and seeing how there were so many different types and uses!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I inherited, from my grandma, her ‘hat pin’ and the one she inherited from her mother/grandmother – (which was way longer, sharper and more deadly” and I couldn’t imagine the pain of jamming that into my head to keep a ‘hat on’ for who needs to go through the pain just to wear a damn hat? But it was, after I was gifted that portion of her belongings, when I was too sick to make it to her funeral, by a caring aunt, who told my mom, “no, these need to go to Tamrah – she’ll understand and cherish them” – well – once I went through the ‘box of inheritances/keepsakes’ gifted to me? I TOTALLY learned why, in so many historical stories/novels – the defense of one’s ‘honor’ could be settled with using a hat pin for self -defense – – it was, IMO, the earliest version of a ‘ladies dagger/derringer” – – LOL – – I injured my self thinking the pin, lodged in steel wool embeded square and looking rather rusty and in need of ‘oil/preservation’ was dull – NOPE! I injured myself in 2.5 seconds flat – – LOL. I know better… – – – LOL — – JUST fyi – there is an excellent, IMO, part of the ‘story’ ‘ in Jean M. Auel’s “The Mammoth Hunters” on ‘the invention/need/for a needle/pins – but my ‘amateur’ journey into cloak pins, etc., of medieval Europe era? Um, those thingees were more deadly than hat pins of the late 1800s/early 1900s of American fashion – – LOL

    Liked by 2 people

    • What a wonderful thing to inherit. I think hat pins were probably sharp to reduce the damage to the hat, but self defence also works. They weren’t supposed to go anywhere near the scalp, only into the hair, which would have been coiled, plaited or made into a bun so that it was away from the head.

      Yes, cloak pins would have been dangerous. It probably took a lot of practice to wear one without impaling oneself.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I concluded the ‘long one’ was in place during age of ‘a woman’s hair is never cut, EVER and must be piled up on the head and dressed appropriately” (thus long, to make it’s way through several inches of hair) and the shorter one came in vogue when hair was trimmed/quietly cut’ to alleviate some neck/back pain to those who carry the weight of all that hair styled on their head while being crammed, still, into a corset” – and well – – I can only surmise, I injured myself trying to jab into my hair/hat in quest to ‘try’ because my hair only mid back length, trimmed and layerred to give the ‘volume, breezy’ looking style of the time and well – – the pin was way to long and heavy for anchoring into layers of hair and small straw hat I was ‘testing it out on” – – LOL – – I could be wrong – but – seriously? Big hats or heavy fur/beaver skin hats to show ones wealth used to be ‘all the rage’ I figure, I just didn’t have the where withal to test properly – just like I don’t have a buffalo hide cloak to test jaming an sharpened elk hanger clasp through – LOL – -but I do KNOW one thing – – “yup, if I try, I’ll injure myself in quest of knowledge….” — LOL

        Liked by 2 people

        • One of the dress historians I follow on YouTube dedicated part of a video last year to hat styles that needed pins and the hairstyles that supported them. Some fashions meant that the hat was able to sit around the hair and didn’t need pins. I always hold my breath when I watch her wield a hat pin, because she just shoves it into her hair (or hair extensions), but she hasn’t drawn blood yet.

          Liked by 2 people

          • 🙂 – I may be wrong? but I believe the longer hat pin was ‘inherited’ from a point in time where ‘old styles’ were morphing into the Gibson girl style – which, (though I’m not a fashionista/fashion historian) per se, I always think of Gibson Girl era as “fine! FINE! skirts slim enough we don’t catch ourselves on fire in crowded room OR drown right away if we fall off the boat – but seriously? WE have to wear a corset, carry a piled high head of hair (wait 3 hours while it is ‘dressed’ properly!?) AND wear a hat big enough to sink the Titanic? REALLY? Sheesh! Get a clue!” But then, I’m the daughter of ‘Betty Homemaker’ era who learned early from rebels, bosses and mentors that I didn’t have to wear pearls/high heels and if I wanted to, was okay with it – I could burn my bra too – and learned from once wearing a corset for about 10 minutes without passing out and my waist which was seen as ‘tiny/anorexic’ at the time was really, not even close to the famed 16″ inches of Scarlett O’hara fame” to be very glad I didn’t grow up then – I would have passed out/died and never lived – – long – – LOL

            Liked by 2 people

            • Corsets are another subject entirely and dress historians have a lot to say about the wrong impressions we have about them. For centuries every woman wore a corset, regardless of her station in life. Working women worked in them. Fat women wore them. Mammy was wearing one when she was lacing Scarlett O’Hara into hers. They weren’t aiming for a 16 inch waist, just the shape that was fashionable at the time and sometimes that meant padding out the hips or bust or both. It was the proportions that were important, not the actual inches.

              I had to look up Gibson Girl. Yes, the hair is a bit much, but I suppose you got fairly quick at it if you did it every day, or had a servant do it for you. My own ancestors of the time would have been the servants, but they would still have been wearing corsets.

              Liked by 2 people

  7. P.S. – the blockade during the American Civil War made needles and pins very hard to come by – – just saying – –

    Liked by 2 people

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