Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Needles and bones

Copper needle in patinating solution
I had a full day in the workshop yesterday - probably the only one I'll get this week, so I was relieved to make some progress on the big Central Arctic order.  The fox bone necklace is pretty much finished, I just need to size the sinew cord and let the bones dry out a bit more.  They are damp from tea staining.  I also made a couple needles for the order - one from copper (right) and one from bird bone.  The bird bone needle is completely finished and the copper needle is sitting in a Miracle Gro and red wine vinegar solution so that it will grow a nice warm green patina.

The tea stained the cartilage rich areas most
I don't have the actual artifacts to work from for this project and the only reference photos that I are from the Canadian Museum of Civilization's artifact catalog.  I don't have permission to reproduce those images on this blog, so if you'd like to see the original artifacts, you can check them out here:

hammered needle blank and copper wire
To make the copper needle, I started with a short section of heavy copper ground wire - the same stuff that I use when I make copper tipped pressure flakers.  The finished needle needed to be 7.2 cm long, 3 mm wide and 1 mm thick.  I started cold hammering a section of wire about 1 inch long (slightly shorter than the one in the photo) and that gave me a blank the correct length, but about twice as thick and wide as I needed it to be.  I used the wet grinding wheel to slowly grind it down to the correct size.  I tapped it with the hammer from time to time, partly to help thin out thick spots, but also to keep it from becoming too smooth and regular.  I used a rotary tool to drill the hole while the needle was still a little thicker than it needed to be, so that I'd have room to correct any errors in the eye's shape or placement. 

Antiquing bones in tea and copper in miracle gro and vinegar
Eventually I ground the needle down to the final dimensions.  The hammering hardens the copper and despite its small dimensions, it is surprisingly stiff.  You could certainly bend it if you tried, but its much stronger than it looks.  Its all done, except for the antiquing, which I apply by letting it sit in an evaporating bowl of red wine vinegar saturated with Miracle Gro.  The recipe I use is outlined in this blog post: Patinating Copper Experiments

bone needle and sinew
The client also requested a bone needle of similar dimensions.  I made it much the same as the copper needle, except I cracked it out of a hollow bird bone, rather than hammer it out of a copper wire.  This gave me a 1mm thick needle blank, which I ground into its final shape on the wet wheel and a bit of sandpaper.  I left a little more bone above the eye of the needle, because the bird bone is not as strong as the copper and the extra material will help keep the needle from splitting.  I finished it with a quick dip in a cup of hot tea to give it a bit of a warmer antiqued look than stark white bone.
Bird Bone needle with sinew thread, 7.2cm x 0.3cm x 0.1cm

Needles; copper (L), Bone (R)
The copper needle is much heavier than the bone needle, although they have nearly identical dimensions.  In the past, the bone needle would have been much quicker and easier to make, while the copper needle would be a more durable and valuable tool.

Copper shows up frequently in ethnographic and archaeological collections from the Central Arctic and this set of reproductions will have several copper endblades, arrowheads, rivets, and scrapers to show off in the upcoming weeks.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast

1 comment:

  1. funny, i make my own needles from steel wire, cold forged flat, pierced with a 2 mm punch and shaped to about 9 x 2.5 x 2 cm. then again i also sew with 7/2 mercerized cotton crochet thread.


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