A Needle Pulling Thread

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20141117

A tapestry of fascinating stories about the place of the sewing needle in our lives. Sara Parker looks at what this powerful but tiny metal tool means to us at home and at work - in times of sadness and of joy.

The needle gives women the capacity to clothe their family or start a business. For the prisoner, embroidering a cushion in his cell provides both a way to earn a living and also a link with the outside world. To the mother who lost her son in Afghanistan, it offers a way for her family to come to terms with their grief through teddy bears made from his uniform. While for the World War One soldier, who learned to sew recuperating from injuries sustained in the Battle of the Somme, it gave a profession as a tailor.

As many of us lose the practical skills which our grandparents and parents took for granted, there is a revival of interest in all kinds of sewing. Some make quilts or cushions for those in need of comfort or for charity. Others want to sew for themselves - such as the 60-year old Blues musician determined to learn how to stitch his own unique waistcoat, or the teenager's act of defiance making a denim quilt after her mother forbade her to wear jeans.

New technology matches the increasing sophistication of sewing machines - such as the QR code cross-stitched into the margin of a quilt linking to the maker's blog, or shared online tutorials. While a sinister story from the National Archives in Kew reveals how Porton Down wanted to develop the sewing needle as a poison dart at the end of World War Two.

Produced by Sara Parker

A White Pebble Media production for BBC Radio 4.