Through The Eye Of A Needle

A new exhibition aims to pinpoint the history and importance of that most basic of everyday tools - the sewing needle.

UAFP costumed visitor guides Stephanie Wenisch, Jane Anthony and Margaret Magee enjoy the new exhibitionA new exhibition at the Ulster American Folk Park will explore the fascinating history of the one of the world’s most basic, everyday tools. Through the Eye of a Needle charts the journey of the simple needle and the vital role it played in everyday lives.

Featuring embroidered pictures and needlework samplers from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, examples of Irish lace as well as ‘make do and mend’ stitching, the exhibition praises the sewing needle and all its creations.

Pat O’Donnell, Assistant Curator of Collections and Exhibitions said, 'This wonderful exhibition, curated by Valerie Wilson from the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, tells us how the sewing needle has not only produced intricate tapastries and stunning lace, it has played a vital role in the welfare of families dependent to a large degree on a persons skill with a needle.'

O'Donnell added, 'In recent years, we have lost the sense of importance of sewing due mainly to mass produced clothing and dwindling craft skills. We are delighted to host this exhibition at the Ulster American Folk Park as it is a testament to what was accomplished using the most basic of tools. Women took great care of their needles, sometimes wearing them in special needlecases around their waists. Even today sewers usually have a favourite needle.

NMNI's Anne Peoples, Ulster American Folk Park's Pat O'Donnell and Ulster Folk & Transport Museum's Valerie Wilson'The needle was of such importance to everyday life, this simple tool made it possible to cloth the family, save it from destitution and create objects of beauty. Emigrants letters and journals of the 1800s and 1900s confirm the needle’s importance. In the 1850s we hear of the wife of a Rector from Ireland saving her family from financial trouble by "toiling at her needle to eke out the rent of a room" ', said O’Donnell.

In 1852, the Belfast Commerical Chronicle advised emigrants 'The men who success best are those who work with their hands in some form or other. Americans will not do labouring work – they will not make boots or become tailors.'

Between 1700 and 1900, over two million people left Ulster to seek a new life in America. The Ulster American Folk Park, a living history museum which is part of National Museums Northern Ireland, charts the journey and lifestyle of Ulster emigrants to America.

The ‘Through the Eye of a Needle’ exhibition runs at the Ulster American Folk Park until January 2011. For further information visit