Who invented Sewing? Clothing History

Who invented Sewing?

Neanderthal stone awl
An Neanderthal stone awl

When people first began to wear clothing, about 60,000 years ago, they didn't sew it at all: they just wrapped leather or furs around themselves. Probably they soon began to tie their clothes on with string or leather cords. People continued to wrap their leggings on this way well into modern times.

But about 45,000 BC, when people first began living in Central Asia, where it was colder, they wanted warmer, stronger clothing, and they began to use sharp pointed sticks or stone tools called awls to poke holes in their clothes so they could run the cords through the clothes instead of just around them. They used the awls to poke the end of the cord through the holes, too. Both Neanderthals and modern people used awls this way.

Sewing with an awl
Sewing with an awl

Then maybe around 40,000 BC, still in Central Asia, somebody had the idea to make a hole in the end of the awl and thread the first needle. This made sewing a lot faster and easier, and soon the new idea spread to other cold places like northern Europe. These early needles were made of bone and ivory, like awls.

Around 9000 BC, people in West Asia began to spin thread out of wool or linen and weave cloth out of it. It was much easier to sew cloth than to sew leather, so people began to do more sewing. When people began to use bronze, about 3000 BC, they quickly started to make sharper, lighter needles out of bronze.

It took so long to spin and weave a piece of cloth, that people generally didn't want to cut the cloth up: it was too valuable. Most people wore the whole piece of cloth, wrapped around them as a sari or a shawl or a cloak or a toga. But in Central Asia, where people rode horses, they sewed their cloth into pants. It was cold, too, so they sewed thick quilted jackets and coats.

Learn by Doing - a weaving project

Bibliography and further reading about sewing:

You can weave!

You Can Weave!: Projects for Young Weavers, by Kathleen Monaghan (2001).

World Textiles: A Concise History, by Mary Schoeser (2003). For adults.

Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years : Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times, by Elizabeth Wayland Barber (1995). Not for kids, but an interested high schooler could read it. Fascinating ideas about the way people made cloth in ancient times, and why it was that way.

Main clothing page
Quatr.us home



Who runs Quatr.us?

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

More about Professor Carr's work on the Portland State University website

Help support Quatr.us!

Quatr.us is entirely supported by your generous donations and by our sponsors. Most donors give about $10. Can you give $10 today to keep this site running? Or give $50 to sponsor a page?

Today's special find from Amazon:

This is a great kit: mold your own human skeleton, put it together, attach the magnets and stick it to your fridge! Learn what's inside your body.

The Story of Quatr.us:

Quatr.us began in 1995 as a student project funded by Portland State University. For the last fifteen years, Quatr.us (formerly "History for Kids") has been entirely independent of the University, using ads to keep the service free.

Quatr.us now has about 3000 articles, all researched and written inhouse by university professors; we try to add a new article every day. About 30,000 people a day visit Quatr.us (that's about a million people a month!), from every country in the world. Our many awards include the Encyclopedia Britannica's Best of Web 2009.

Science Topics and Donations Biology Physics Weather Geology Mathematics Chemistry Astronomy Donations

Keep in touch with Quatr.us!

Send us an email now and we'll add you to our mailing list - new ideas and projects, announcements of new archaeological and scientific discoveries, seasonal offers and project ideas, and special gifts.

Sign up for Quatr.us' email newsletter

October's history and science ideas for you to take home:

Thanks for visiting Quatr.us! Check out today's Quatr.us current events post