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