Getting to Know Your Bodkin: Hamlet to Today

know your bodkin


Have you ever come across a name of a sewing tool and had absolutely no idea what it is?  Well, for me, when I was learning how to sew, it was the word “bodkin”.  What a strange word I thought back then and I imagine many new sewists today think the same thing.  So here’s a little background about the wonderful history of the word and the sewing tool known as the bodkin.

The term bodkin is really quite old and it became very popular in the late 1500 and early 1600’s when William Shakespeare used it in his famous play Hamlet (Act 3, Scene 1, Page 3) to refer to a dagger or knife:

That patient merit of th’ unworthy takes,

When he himself might his quietus make

With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,

To grunt and sweat under a weary life,

But that the dread of something after death,

Bodkin is actually a Renaissance term that was used to refer to different sharp instruments and in this phrase, Shakespeare was obviously referring to a dagger. So for many avid readers, a bodkin is an old term that refers to Shakespeare’s dagger.

know your bodkin

 A Hair Pin Shaped Like a Stiletto

Later, the term bodkin referred to ornamental hairpins that were shaped and looked like daggers.  While an ornamental hairpin that is shaped like a stiletto is not necessarily a must-have item in your sewing kit, it can be quite useful if you like to make garments with drawstrings or casings on them or you could just use it in your hair..

know your bodkin

 Three Styles of Bodkins Used in Sewing Today

In today’s sewing language, however, a bodkin can refer to three different things. It could mean a sharp, slender and pointed instrument that is very useful in making holes in fabric or leather. It could also mean a large-eyed blunt needle used for drawing tape or ribbon through a hem or loop.  Lastly, a bodkin can be a sewing tool that looks a lot like a large pair of tweezers usually with a metal ring that is used to keep the tweezers closed while holding on to a piece of ribbon or tape.

A Sharp and Slender Instrument

For a lot of sewists who regularly work with thick materials like leather and thick fabrics, a bodkin is most useful for creating holes in such materials. After using this tool, you can then confidently hand sew your lacing or thread through the holes that you made with your bodkin.

know your bodkin

Oversized Tweezers with an O-Ring

Another popular form of a bodkin used as a sewing tool resembles something like a large set of tweezers.  The jaws of the tweezers clamp down on a piece of tape or ribbon while a metal ring can be slid down to hold the tension while gripping the fabric.  The instrument can then be pulled through a casing or hem without losing hold of the tape.

Truth be told, this type of bodkin has gotten me out of a jam on more than one occasion. Please see the article linked below that looks at a more modern style of this trusty bodkin design.

A Giant Sewing Needle

You must realize by now that when we say bodkin, we could refer to a number of things.  But for sewists today, I find that it usually means something like a giant sewing needle designed to assist in pulling items like tape or ribbons through hems or casings. And if you do not have a bodkin yet in your sewing kit, you should get one of these useful sewing tools during your next visit to your favorite quilt shop or buy it online.  Some suggestions are shown below. And next time somebody talks about a bodkin, you already know what they are talking about!

Here are some of the most common bodkins sold today:

For more information on bodkins, please check out our article Tool Tips article called Budget or Quality: The Bodkin

If You’d Like To Support Our Site

If you want to help us continue to bring you a wide selection of free sewing patterns and projects, please consider buying us a coffee.  We’d really, really appreciate it.

Leave a Comment