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What is a Bodkin?

Mary Elizabeth
Updated Feb 04, 2024
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Several different implements go by the name of bodkin, including a weapon, an archaic type of hairpin, and two different sewing notions. As a weapon, it is a dagger; as a hairpin, it’s an ornament with a stiletto shape; and as a sewing tool, it’s either an instrument similar to an awl for piercing holes in cloth or a long needle with a large eye and blunt tip for drawing tape, elastic, or ribbon through a casing.

The needle-like bodkin is also an item of interest. It was the tool used to lace stays and bodices. These tools were stored in a bodkin case, which looks rather like a flat rectangular version of a lipstick container.

Modern bodkins may have several special features. Some needle-like ones have a ballpoint tip for ease of movement through the casing. A flat bodkin is a small metal tool that resembles a matchstick with a hole (or holes) in the end for threading. A third type is a piece of wire with one end covered with a plastic tip and the other formed into a loop. A completely different style of bodkin is fashioned like a miniature tongs with gripping teeth on its ends to grasp the material being threaded and a neck ring to tighten and hold it in place.

It may prove useful to know that in the absence of a threading bodkin, several other tools can be substituted. A tapestry needle, with its large eye and blunt tip, can serve the same purpose by tying the material around the eye so it can’t come loose. A large safety pin can also be used by piercing the material to be drawn through the casing, closing the pin, and working it around in the same manner.

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Mary Elizabeth
By Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to writing articles on art, literature, and music for WiseGeek, Mary works as a teacher, composer, and author who has written books, study guides, and teaching materials. Mary has also created music composition content for Sibelius Software. She earned her B.A. from University of Chicago's writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont.
Discussion Comments
By rebelgurl28 — On Jun 20, 2011

You can find modern bodkins at most craft and fabric stores. You can also find some interesting antique bodkins and bodkin holders for sale online.

I have a beautiful, antique bodkin holder that belonged to my great grandmother made of carved ivory, which I understand is very valuable.

By anon133749 — On Dec 12, 2010

A bodkin is also a type of arrowhead. it was chiefly used in (medieval) warfare. It has no sharp edges and consists of a pyramid shaped point. This model was easier to mass-produce then the edged and barbed arrowheads (the so-called "broadheads"). It also better penetrated through different kinds of armor of the time.

It is likely that the etymology of a sewing bodkin and a arrow bodkin are closely related. There is even a type of bodking that is called the "needle bodkin", which is a very elongated version of the bodkin thought to specifically penetrate mail armor.

By anon39173 — On Jul 30, 2009

I found one at Hobby Lobby.

By anon23393 — On Dec 23, 2008

where can I find a bodkin????

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the...
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