What is a Bodkin?

Mary Elizabeth

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.

Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

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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Discussion Comments


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.


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.


I found one at Hobby Lobby.


where can I find a bodkin????

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