The Finer Points of Fibula Pins

Nearly all of the information I was able to read about pinner aprons included some variation on the statement that the bibs were held in place with straight pins. This makes sense, since straight pins are simple, cheap and have been around for ever. But they also fall out and I couldn’t imagine an active woman carrying around replacement pins for her apron, just in case.

Then I ran across a reference to fibula pins. I’d never heard of them before so, of course, I had to know more. It turns out they too have been around for just about ever and make a safer yet still historically accurate alternative to straight pins.

So, what are they and why are they named after a leg bone?

Meet Your Fibula:

image from

image from

The two bones that run from the knee to the ankle are the tibia and the fibula. The tibia is the thicker, heftier bone – it’s commonly called the shin bone. It runs down the center of the lower leg. It’s more delicate neighbor is the fibula, which runs down along the tibia on the outside edge of the leg (the side your little toe is on).

Meet the Fibula Pin (historical information – and liberal use of the passive voice – from Wikipedia):

Fibula (/ˈfɪbjʊlə/, plural fibulae /ˈfɪbjʊli/) (plural Fibulae): a brooch, or a pin for fastening garments. The fibula developed in a variety of shapes, but all were based on the safety-pin principle. The fibula form was invented by the Myceaneans between the 13th and 14th Century BC, and is considered an early precursor to a safety pin since they were used in a similar manner. However, it had major flaw. It had no clasp or spring at the end to help put it in place.

Unlike most modern brooches, fibulae were not only decorative; they originally served a practical function: to fasten clothing, such as cloaks. Fibulae replaced straight pins that were used to fasten clothing in the Neolithic period and the Bronze Age. In turn, fibulae were replaced as clothing fasteners by buttons in the Middle Ages. Their descendant, the modern safety pin, remains in use today. In ancient Rome and other places where Latin was used, the same word denoted both a brooch and the fibula bone because a popular form for brooches and the shape of the bone were thought to resemble one another.

There are hundreds of different types of fibulae. They are usually divided into families that are based upon historical periods, geography, and/or cultures. Fibulae are also divided into classes that are based upon their general forms. [Given the fact that fibulae have been around for so many centuries, I’ll spare you the details.]

OK, you ask, so what brings the bone and the pin together? Their shape. When you compare an x-ray of the lower leg with a “violin-bow” fibula pin, it’s easy to understand why archaeologists mentally connected one with the other.

The body of a fibula pin is known as either the bow or the plate, depending on the basic form. A bow is generally long and narrow, and often arched.  The head is the end of the fibula with the spring or hinge. The foot is the end of the fibula where the pin closes. Depending on the type of fibula, and the culture in question, the head of the fibula could be worn facing up, down or to the side. The degree of bend in the bow and/or the angle of the hinge also varied by time and culture.

These are the fibula pins I purchased to secure my pinner apron. They are handmade and the tip of the pin is not sharpened to a point. With the coarse weave of the homespun that’s not a problem, but a point would be good for anything more substantial.

One can wear them with the bow either up or down.

Overall, I really like the look.

2007-01-21 22.23.31

The apron is on the home stretch, so stay tuned…