Through the Eye of the Needle at Armagh Museum

Celebrating the craft through the centuries

An exhibition opening at Armagh County Museum this week to celebrate the sewing needle includes items from 

Through the Eye of a Needle, which opens on Friday, September 16, will showcase items from successful Lurgan textile firm Mercer and Brown. The firm operated from 1899 to 1960 manufacturing Swiss embroidered handkerchiefs for retailers, including Marks and Spencer and Harrods.

As well as finished examples of the handkerchiefs, hand drawn designs used to embroider them and a perforating machine which transferred the design will be on display.

'It was fascinating to discover just how many items could not have been made without the invention of the needle,' said Greer Ramsey, Curator at Armagh County Museum.

'The museum received a donation of hundreds of beautifully hand drawn illustrations from Mercer and Brown, which show the work that went into their products. Workers were paid per 100 stitches and in the early 1930s a single pattern might have included several thousand – it’s a world away from the paper hankies we use today.'

Through the Eye of a Needle has been designed to highlight the importance of the sewing needle and its creations over 10,000 years, whether for pleasure or for profit. Running until April 2012, it includes needlework that charts the history and experiences of local people.

Objects on display include items which where constructed using needles or include needles, such as hats, hat pins, beaded bags and pin cushions. Of particular interest is an embroidered smoking cap for a Victorian gentleman and a beautifully made silk corset, tightly laced to give the wearer a 20 inch waist.

Pictured above is the embroidered detail of a smoking cap from the late 19th century.

Exhibition curator Valerie Wilson explained: 'This is a wonderful exhibition which examines how a tiny tool has played a huge role in our history. The exhibition begins with the story of needle-making in the 19th century and examines the link with industrial history, applied art and contemporary development of traditional needlework skills.

'Our exhibits range from a single needle to a superbly beaded 1920s dress, and in date from 1760 to 2009. It’s an exhibition which I’m sure will fill people with a new appreciation for this staple household tool.'

For more information on Through the Eye of the Needle, visit the National Museums Northern Ireland website.