My Favourite Tool: Elizabeth Fagg-Shuttlewood’s curved needle

My favourite tool is an old-style curved needle given to me by a retiring bookbinder (see Fig. 1). This clever (and nowadays unusual) needle has the threading hole by the point. Yes, BY THE POINT, and there’s a groove running the length of the needle for the thread to lie smoothly in.

My favourite tool
Fig. 1: My favourite tool. © Elizabeth Fagg-Shuttlewood
Close up comparing modern bookbinding needle (top) with old-style curved needle (bottom)
Fig. 2: Close-up comparing modern bookbinding needle (top) with old-style curved needle (bottom).
© Elizabeth Fagg-Shuttlewood

Modern curved bookbinding needles (see Fig. 3) have the hole at the end farthest from the point, and the needle tends to be wider near the hole. The entire length and width of the needle has to go through a hole before the thread can go through, and this can be awkward and sometimes damaging to books, particularly in delicate or space-limiting conservation situations.

Modern bookbinding needles
Fig. 3: Modern bookbinding needles. © Elizabeth Fagg-Shuttlewood

In contrast, the old-style bookbinding needle can deliver the thread to the desired location without the whole needle having to go through – just the tip. Then the thread can be pulled out, and the needle is withdrawn. Nifty!

Sewing a book spine using the old-style curved needle.
Fig. 4: Sewing a book spine using the old-style curved needle.
© Elizabeth Fagg-Shuttlewood

I am not sure if you can still buy these anywhere; I certainly have not managed to find a replacement. It would be great to find a manufacturer or supplier and to make these readily available for book conservators to use.

Elizabeth Fagg-Shuttlewood is an accredited library and archive conservator who has worked in conservation for over 27 years. After gaining a B.A. Hons in book and paper conservation at Camberwell College, she went on to set up and manage the Archaic Treasures conservation studio, which supports museums, history groups and private clients throughout Kent and South East England, ensuring that they have access to conservation facilities. She has also worked on conservation projects at the Middle Temple Library, The National Archives, the Wellcome Collection, the Chatham Historical Dockyards, the London Metropolitan Archive and CSI Sittingbourne.

2 thoughts on “My Favourite Tool: Elizabeth Fagg-Shuttlewood’s curved needle

  1. You could try starting with a long sewing machine needle (there are lots of types) and anneal (normalize) and curve it. Or a “speedy stitcher” lockstitch awl blade might make a good start, though most of those are rather hefty; but they do come curved as well as straight, with various curvatures. While you’re about it: why not put a sewing machine needle in a pin vise or colleted awl haft, and get a proper grip on it?

    Tom C


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