Bristles vs. Needles

Blue corner: bristles, red corner: needles.

Bristles: pretty lightweight guys, flexibile, but impossibile to attach them onto the thread REALLY strong.

Needles: hard guys, so you even have to take the temper out a bit, but seems like a bit … heavy… wait.. wrong competitor! The new ones are just thin as bristles and not so much heavier as well.

So what is this story about?

Shoemakers need to stitch welts, soles, whatever. We use awls for prepare those stitches, as leather isn’t like fabric – this is common. Then the difference: some makers use bristles (or nylon fishing thread, guitar strings or whatever they can)) some other – like me – needles. Oh no… not those pointy straight ones, but saddle maker’s ones, or recently I could put my hand on REAL shoemaker’s needles. These are just great. I remember when I was a student, we used needles from the worts type – they were too short and thick, but at least they had big holes, so putting the thread though wasn’t a problem. (I still use that type for students). My masters mentioned something about old types of needles, not in production for decades, which were hair thin, and just great for stitching – I had one, single sample, so I couldn’t really use it for anything. Then… I found some in an old box. Not too many, but enough for me for a few years, and good to show you guys. (this time I upload high res photos)

Where did this story start? In the old times needles were not cheap like today, when industry makes them easily, on the contrary were extremely expensive (some wives got “needle-money” to make sure they can afford it), as they could be only made with special equipment, one by one… So you can imagine that shoemakers looked for something cheaper, more affordable. Hog bristles were just great. This is the original story, but as tradition is tradition, old things like this are still in practice, and you know what? Why not? Nothing wrong with it.

So let me show you what I talk about with saddle maker’s and shoemaker’s needles. (you have to make it curved for yourself)

On the top: the tiny ones, bottom: example for the thick one (relatively thick – it is around a normal stitching needle. BTW they don’t have sharp points).

Those point are almost invisible to eyes.

6 thoughts on “Bristles vs. Needles

  1. I can understand the blunt point, as tapestry needles are blunt as well, so as to slip between woven threads rather than forcing through them and we want the needle to go through the existing hole, not punch a new one. But I do not understand how one can thread such tiny holes with anything but very fine thread.

    It should be easy enough to soften the needle in a gas flame to bend it and grind the point down to more of a blunt shape.
    The saddest thing is that it is getting harder to find all the specialty needles for darning socks and doing embroidery as fewer people are doing these activities as well as leather working.

  2. I am learning the way your mind works. If there isa need you will find a way to supply it. You have brought us tools that were almost nonexistant to us westerners. This could be your next challenge. I have a great respect for you and your tool maker. They are excellant.

  3. I’d love to see your relative techniques for attaching a bristle and a needle. I have the opposite experience to you with respect to strength.

    I’ve tried attaching needles by putting the taper through the eye to a bit under half the thread thickness then folding back on itself and twisting but they invariably come off, often because the thread itself breaks where it passes the eye.

    Once I got the hang of braiding bristles onto the thread take only a little longer to attach but I’ve never lost one since. Once they’re on I would struggle to deliberately pull one off the taper.

    Obviously I’ve never tried the type of needles you have, but the various ones I have tried I’ve always struggled with the eye being too big to pass through the hole, or the hole having to be too big for the thread in order to let the eye of the needle pass.

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