Needle case of bone

British Museum

British Museum

Where clothing is of vital importance for survival, needles are indispensable tools. Traditionally made of small pieces of bone, ivory or occasionally native copper, they were fragile and easily lost. Therefore they had to be stored safely when not in use. Inuit women had needle-cases, consisting of tubes, mostly carved from ivory, with a strip of skin inside into which the needles were stuck. Later, metal needles of European manufacture, highly valued by Inuit women, were stored in the same way.

This bone needle-case, with a thong ending in a blue bead at the upper end to prevent it sliding through, was worn by women on a belt. It is probably from the western Canadian Arctic, and came to the British Museum in the 1860s as part of the Christy Collection.

At times other objects served as needle-cases as well. Rachel Uyarasuk from Igloolik remembers:

'Empty ammunition shells were filled with caribou hair and the needles stored into it and then properly capped. This empty shell was stored in a small container along with the thimbles and other implements ... There can be a number of needles in this casing.'
Rachel Uyarasuk, 1994

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  • Title: Needle case of bone
  • Physical Dimensions: Length: 20.00cm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Registration number: Am,St.751
  • Place: Found/Acquired Canada
  • Peoples: Made by Eskimo-Aleut
  • Other information: Cultural rights may apply.
  • Material: bone; skin; stone
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Donated by Christy, Henry