Friday 1 February 2013

Objects in Focus: Bone Pins and Needles

In the Carmichael Collection housed at the West Highland Museum, Fort William, there are 25 bone pins and needles in various sizes and conditions.
Bone pins 
These objects were commonly used by both the Picts and the Vikings as dress pins to fasten clothes, as hairpins and in dressmaking.  They were mostly used by men as dress pins as women would primarily wear circular brooches to secure clothes.  
Bone needles
Martin gives a description of the various fastening methods:
When they travel on foot, the Plad is tied on the Breast with a Bodkin of Bone or Wood (just as the Spina wore by the Germans, according to the Descripction of C. Tacitus:) the Plad is tied round the middle with a Leather Belt; it is pleated from the Belt to the Knee very nicely: this Dress for Footmen is found much easier and lighter than Breeches, or Trowis.

Bone pins
The bones were from sheep, red deer, whale (Orkney) and birds, with antler as another source.

Knives were used to shape the pins and a good pin would have a smooth surface. Most of the pins were polished. 

The pins heads vary from very plain and basic to elaborately designed and finished. The heads could have splayed, globular, cylindrical or nail-heads to prevent the pin running through the cloth. The shanks are both flat and round, straight and tapered, with a number of the tips missing. The points of the well-used pins are rounded while the less-used are still quite sharp. Often the very elaborate pins would be kept as keepsakes.
Bone pins
How Carmichael came to possess the pins in uncertain but there are two references in the notebooks to archaeological finds that included pins:  CW119/46 and CW106/25.

Ritchie, Anna ‘Clothing Among the Picts’, Costume , 39, 2005, pp.28-42.
Martin, Martin A Description of the Western Isles of Scotland (London: A. Bell, 1703), pp. 208.
Images copyright Carsten Flieger

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Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4

Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4
Stone whorls collected by Alexander Carmichael, held by West Highland Museum (ref. WHM 1992 13 2.4). [©]