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Lacemaking Pins, lace maker's pins.

Updated on December 28, 2012

Pins, small insignificant items, which I am sure many of us take for granted, but they are an essential tool for many craft workers, particularly lace makers. When lace making began in the 16th century, pins were very expensive and people had to improvise because of this. In Devon, because of the local fishing industry, the workers used good strong, slender fish bones as pins. This was one of the reasons for lace to be referred to as 'bone lace'. In the midlands long thorns were used, the name pin is derived from the Latin 'spina' meaning a thorn. However, as the lace industry grew it became worthwhile producing the bass pins in this country instead of importing them from France and so the price dropped.

The term 'pin money' is thought to have originated in the time of Henry VIII when pins could only be bought in London on two days in January, thus necessitating the need to save throughout the year to buy the pins.

Craft workers would often like to make their pins distinctive, both to look good whilst being used and as decoration. One method was to mould Sealing wax round the head. Another was to push the seeds of goose grass over the pinheads; the seeds then dried hard and then rubbed with a rough cloth to remove the 'burrs', making them smooth and shiny, these were called 'herriff' pins, the original berry pin.

The first commercially produced pins came from Gloucester in the early 17th century this rapidly became the centre of the pin making industry. The pins were made manually with many of the tasks being performed by children. the wire was first cleaned and then drawn into the thickness required, cut to length and the ends sharpened. A fine wire was twisted onto the pin shank to form the head, which was stamped by machine. The pins were then scoured to remove rust and dirt. They were then put onto paper to be sold.

Because the pins were made in two separate parts it was possible to make some very distinctive pins called 'King Pins'. These were produced by threading a few small, brightly coloured glass beads onto the pin and then using another head to keep the beads in place. In the lace schools these were called ‘strivers’ because each pupil set in a decorated pin and then strove to see how quickly she could work through all the other pins till she was able to move the striver again.

The next big step in pin history was at the beginning of the 19th century with the advent of a machine that made a pin from a single piece of wire. By this time the centre of pin manufacture had moved to Birmingham, where by 1845 20 million pins were made each day. Newey continue to make brass pins in Birmingham and despite having a large product range, brass pins still account for 5-10% of their turnover.

The picture shows – from the left – a pair of thorns, plain pins with sealing wax, ‘herriff’ pins, King Pins or strivers and two very large pins used to fasten the pricking to the pillow.


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    • tonymead60 profile image

      Tony Mead 6 years ago from Yorkshire

      Derdriu, this article came about because my very clever sister was teaching lace making at the time and she has a fascinating collection of pins, some dating back a couple of hundred years.

      I hope you did not get the point;]



    • profile image

      Derdriu 6 years ago

      Tony, What an enthralling, fascinating, riveting history of the "common" pin! In particular, I appreciate how you bring in the linguistic origins of the word as well as the story of its evolution from something in nature to something manufactured. The opening photo is a perfect visual summary to your article.

      Respectfully, and with many thanks for sharing, Derdriu

    • profile image

      stessily 6 years ago

      Tony: I think that it's possible that I'd still be using my mouth as a pin cushion if it weren't for that consarn real or phantom pin which might have plunged down my alimentary canal! I appreciate the info about cotton wool although it may be too late for me to try that remedy! Is there any chance that you might feature your sister's textile creations in a hub?

      Merci beaucoup! Bonne chance à toi.

    • tonymead60 profile image

      Tony Mead 6 years ago from Yorkshire

      HI Stessily

      I'm glad you no longer feel the need to add pins to your diet. It would have a really bad effect, I know when people accidently swallow glass they are made to eat cotton wool to try and catch the glass and prevent the stomach cutting itself to ribbons as it churns.

      You are right about Belgium and its association with lace. I have been to Bruges where there is a wonderful museum dedicated to the art of lace making.

      My sister is very good at textile arts and has made wonderful pieces over the years.

      bonne chance.


    • profile image

      stessily 6 years ago

      Tony: I wondered at the inspiration for this hub! Not everyone notices or appreciates pins.:-) I really appreciated it, but the topic is kind of out-of-the-ordinary, so I sensed that there had to be a personal aspect.

      That is so thoughtful of you to remember your sister's interest and buy lace bobbins for her. Such a talent to make lace! I always connect lacemaking with Belgium or Brittany, even though I know that it's done elsewhere; it just brings up such wonderful images for me in my imagination from photos I've admired.

      There's no longer a problem of my swallowing pins, but there still is that pin which I may have swallowed long ago! To phrase it mildly, if it went in, it never came out. I've never gotten a straight answer on what a pin might do inside or what happens to it!

    • tonymead60 profile image

      Tony Mead 6 years ago from Yorkshire

      Hi Stessily

      a pleasure to hear from you again, your comments are always so nice and complimentary. I appreciate you taking time out to leave a comment.

      The article came about because my sister used to teach lace making and whenever I'm out and about if I see nice lace bobbins in curiosity shops or antique shops I usually buy them for her.

      I hope you don't swallow any pins, extracting it would be very painful.

      good luck


    • profile image

      stessily 6 years ago

      Tony: Thank you for this informative presentation on a necessary item in my sewing room: pins. I have a bit of a phobia about pins, though, because I developed a weird habit as a teenager of using my mouth as a pin cushion (please don't even think of analyzing that eccentricity!). Sometimes I almost swallowed a pin; sometimes I dreamed that I swallowed pins. The habit didn't last long, though because one time I was absolutely convinced that I had indeed really swallowed a pin. I don't know whether it was true because I never counted the handfuls of pins that were cushioned in my mouth so I had no way of knowing if one were missing. At any rate, that cured me! I love my pin box because the pins are a rainbow of different colored heads --- way too pretty to swallow. :-) Voted up, useful, interesting, beautiful, awesome.


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