Behold the bodkin


There’s nothing as pleasing as using the right tool for a job. Take the bodkin.

First, isn’t bodkin a fantastic word? It’s so…medieval-y. And it feels good in the mouth. I checked the OED on it, and it is a very English word, but its origins are obscure. It used to refer to several things: a dagger (he himself might his quietus make / With a bare bodkin), a long hair pin, an awl, and the meaning it has retained through today: a needle-like instrument with a blunt knobbed point, having a large (as well as a small) eye, for drawing tape or cord through a hem, loops, etc.  

It also had another meaning, which is totally fun:  transf. (colloq.) A person wedged in between two others where there is proper room for two only; esp. in phr. to ride or sit bodkin .  How wonderful is it that there is a word for being that person uncomfortably wedged between two others in the back seat of a small car (or  in the olden days, a coach)?  I refer to this state as “riding the hump” but “riding/sitting bodkin” is so much better. Modern usage would be: “I’ve got short legs, so I’ll ride bodkin.”

Let’s make 2015 the year “riding bodkin” came back into the language. Come on, people!

Uh…where was I? Oh yes. The sewing bodkin.

I had to buy a bodkin as part of my kit for sewing class–they insisted we have it for drawing elastic through casings and whatnot. But oh my goodness, this thing has been such a happy little miracle around the house for pulling errant drawstrings back through sweatpants and swim trunks and things like that.  Yes, you can use a big safety pin, but somehow I never have a big safety pin on hand. Before the bodkin, I often accomplished the task with a small pin, or nothing at all. It is possible to shove a naked cord through by force of will, it just takes hours.

But I tell you my friend, if you have a bodkin, it takes about 10 seconds to fish a cord through a garment.

There are a few different models of bodkins, though they are all essentially large blunt needles. Mine is extra fancy in that one end opens up, like a pair of tweezers. A ring on the needle’s shaft slides down to lock the arms in place with a firm grip. This allows you to hold onto the tape or cord which you are drawing without piercing it with a hole. The opposite end has a big needle eye for pulling thread and string.

I love my shiny little bodkin.

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  1. There are TONS of cool sewing tools, as you will find out as you become a more proficient seamstress. They hang out in the “Notions” section of your local fabric store and will beckon you to take them home. Try to resist or one day you will be up to your knees in these things; worse, you’ll be investing in storage boxes to organize them.

    I find sewing notions especially hard to pass up, because One: I do a lot of sewing and Two: I have a personal rule about only bringing stuff into the house that is genuinely useful and addresses a need that no other tool in the house can. If there is one characteristic that these notions share it would be genuine usefulness. And they’re just so darn cute, too.

  2. Thank you for the great post. I have a bodkin, which looks just like yours. I’ve had it for so many years I don’t remember when it replaced the safety pin method for pulling elastic/cords through a casing for me. The safety pin method sometimes resulted in the pin popping open inside the casing, which then sometimes required opening the casing to close the pin. Grrrr. Until reading your post, I did not know the word for this tool, nor its history or second meaning. You have enriched my day. And I have another great word in my arsenal for Scrabble. Here’s hoping for a “B”, “D” and a “K” on my rack at the same time.

  3. Oh me, oh my! I agree with the sewing notions being awfully tempting for their gizmo-hoarding potential, but I have to say, the bodkin is on my short list of ones that makes me swoon. Yes, one *could* do it with a safety pin, but as has been mentioned, that means a) a hole in whatever you are pulling through (not cool if it’s a silk ribbon or some such) and b) the pin itself snagging or opening along the way. Not that the bodkin is needed a *lot*, but we all want to kiss it when it is 😉
    Other fav sewing gizmo’s/helpers:
    * wee chunk of beeswax (for waxing thread to help with threading the needle, or pulling it through tricky fabric etc.)
    * seam ripper
    * needle threader, but NOT those thin, wispy wiry ones attached to a piece of aluminum. I have a much better one (flat piece of metal with what look like pancaked hooks on each end) that works even with yarn, depending on which end you use.
    * a LEATHER thimble. It has a wee piece of metal embedded at the fingertip to make it sturdy for needle-pushing, and has a slit at the top of the nail. This makes it both breathable, more “moldable” to your own finger shape, and more comfortable if you have any length of fingernail past your fingertip.
    Happy Sewing! 🙂 P

    • Yes! I have seen many, many versions of leather thimbles, but many of them are too big/bulky, too thick, don’t have the fingernail opening part (ie less breathable and don’t free the fingernail!), don’t have the metal bit at the tip, or are otherwise awkward in design. The one I have is called “Nimble – The Soft Thimble” & I got it for just over $5 at a local quilt shop. Online, they seem to be more on quilt shop sites in general v. regular sewing ones. Maybe they think quilting ladies are more “lady” than regular sewing ladies and need the fingernail freedom more? LOL. Anyway, LOVE this one 🙂

    • Oh – and the needle threader I’m talking about is this one: “LoRan Needle Threader”. It won’t work for needles with teensy tiny small eyes (that’s where the wax comes in handy), but for larger eyed needles/yarn work it’s heavenly because it doesn’t BREAK!

  4. So glad you’ve discovered bodkins! I feel the same about them. Been using them for longer than I care to mention. The bodkin you have pictured, though, is not my favorite sort. It has its uses, like the ones you cited, where you’ve lost a drawstring in a garment. For threading something in a casing, especially if you have a delicate fabric, the teeth can sometimes do damage. The kind I like best for threading pinches the fabric just in the long needle part. That long needle part on mine is split, so I can push the fabric down into it. The needle part holds it very tight and allows me to quickly thread through the casing with no damage to the cord or whatever I’m threading. Wish I had a way to upload a picture of it, for pictures are, indeed, worth 10,000 words! Maybe Google images has one. I used to use only the bodkin with the teeth, until I found the one I more regularly use now.

    • There are indeed several different variations of bodkins with different sub-specialties. Yours sounds cool!

  5. That’s what a bodkin is! I ran across a reference to it in a novel by Barbara Pam (one of my favorite authors), a book set in Britain after WWII.

    • I’m going to teach it to my poor unsuspecting kids. This will either accelerate the spread of the phrase within youth culture, or make them out to be even bigger weirdos among their peers. One or the other.

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