I like puzzles. The greatest puzzle I play with is «How could X have been done by Thora?», where X is some little routine task or process we take for granted, like threading needles.
On the right is my sewing kit, displaying three needles that might have been available to Thora– two sizes of brass needles and one in bone. I’ve been using historical styles of needles for all my sewing lately in order to get a sense of how they work, as well as their limitations.
Of course, a needle is pointless without thread of some sort. Silk, linen and wool are the three primary fiber-types available to 14th century seamstresses. In her Arctic home, silk would be a luxury available to only the most elite. Even linen might be unlikely for Thora, taking into consideration the challenge of growing flax of sufficient quantity and quality in this cold climate. Nettle? Hemp? Perhaps, but these are also time- and energy-consuming to produce in any quantity. No, I truly believe that wool would have been Thora’s go-to fiber of choice for most sewing tasks.
So, with thread in hand, how to thread the eye of the needle?
Waxing linen thread is commonly done to lay the fibers, strengthening and lubricating the thread for sewing. Waxing wool defeats a desirable property of wool, namely that it ‘sets’/binds itself to the cloth, making the seam stronger and eliminating the need for excessive knots. Looking at the picture to the right, the upper thread has simply been broken off the skein, whereas the lower thread has had a small amount of wax applied to the end of the thread binding the fibers into a cohesive point, easy to insert through the eye of the needle.
Beeswax is the ‘default’ material assumed to be used in this process. However, I wonder how easily beeswax would have been to source for Thora? Could she have used other waxy substances more readily available for this purpose, such as a hard tallow? Clearly, I have more experimentation and research to do!
The other trick I have found useful is a variant of a modern sewing notion, the wire needle-threader. I keep a spare length of linen thread in my needle-case for just this purpose, and replace it as needed with leftover ends from other projects. The pictures below are fairly self-explanatory. First, thread a loop of linen thread through the eye of the needle. Insert the wool/thicker thread through this loop, then pull the linen thread back through the eye, threading the needle.