Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Festival of the Broken Needles

Christine brought it to my attention that yesterday was the Festival of Broken Needles in Japan. Although I have seen mention of this in Japaneses news I have never seen the festival myself so maybe it is not celebrated everywhere in Japan. Of course I rarely get to a shrine or temple except if I'm sightseeing so it may be a big thing that I just don't come across.

On February 8th, women bring broken and bent needles to the shrine and place them in a block of tofu as part of a ceremony to thank the needles for their hard work. Christine sent a very interesting link if you would like to read about the custom... One sentence stood out for me...

"...women have many secret sorrows in life. These sorrows are often passed to the needles during the long hours of stitching and the needles are thought to take on the burden of some of these sorrows thus taking them away with the stitching that they do." (picture from the Internet)

What do you do with your needles when they break or get bent? Mine go in a piece of tinfoil to be thrown out with the "dangerous trash" once a month. Compared to most people I have a lot of unusable needles and pins. Let's see... I go through numerous hand sewing needles when I'm quilting just because they seem to bend so easily. Sometimes they remind of me of a doctor's curved suturing needle! I must credit the manufacturing companies because they can bend pretty far before they actually break! Of course a bent quilting needle doesn't make for even quilting so I end up putting another needle to work.

And then there is the problem of dull quilting needles. When I start to hear "plunk-plunk" or have trouble pushing the needle through the fabric I can assume I need a new needle. These needles never "look" dull. I always think I can squeeze a few more stitches from them but sooner or later my needle finds it's way to the tinfoil pouch.

Experts suggest that sewing machine needles should be changed after every quilt that's been quilted. I work my needles far much longer than that and occasionally they actually do break! I have a feeling a dull needle may be some of the problem of skipping stitches or thread breaking but I'm not sure about that. Usually I'll change my machine needle if I start to run into problems (and then clear away the lint, and then oil the machine, and then go eat chocolate.)

Unfortunately I have absolutely NO idea what the numbers on the packages of needles mean. For one reason the Japanese packages and American packages are different (but I can still get Milward needles) so it is really hit and miss with buying needles. Short are better for me (higher number right?) but I don't understand sewing machine needles at all. The last package I bought had various sized needles in it and I've gone through them all without noticing a difference... yes I really am a quilter...

And pins... My pins get ravaged by laziness when I sew over them on the sewing machine, and also because I use them to tack things up on the wall... They temporarily hold things to the wall paper. Ooops. Pushed a little too hard there and another pin goes into the tinfoil pouch. And for some reason my pins seem to rust very easily. It must be the dampness in the air... A pin that's left unused in a pin-cushion or a piece of felt gets a rim of rust around it pretty quickly.

Well, I'm not pushing my broken needles into any block of tofu... But even so I am thankful to them for adding pleasure everyday to my life. And if I may say so, I'm not just sewing secret sorrows into my work. My needles are picking up a lot of joy and happiness and FUN (okay... sewing machine needles get some of my frustration when I'm quilting.)

Say thank you to your needle and give it a hug! Gently... please, gently!

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