Know Your Hand-Sewing Needles

comments (9) July 18th, 2008     

Pin It

Sister_Diane Diane Gilleland, contributor
Love it! 90 users recommend
Sharps are good general-purpose sewing needles. If you only buy one kind of sewing needle, make it a sharp.
Ball-point needles arent sharp, which makes them pass easily through knit fabrics.
Embroidery needles, or crewel needles, have a large eye to accommodate flosses and yarns.
Quilting needles, or betweens, are short and thin, so theyll pass easily though the layers of a quilting project.
Milliners needles are very long. Traditionally used for hat making, theyre also great for basting.
Tapestry needles (left) and chenille needles (right) are commonly used in crafting. Both have very large eyes to accommodate yarn or ribbon.
Sharps are good general-purpose sewing needles. If you only buy one kind of sewing needle, make it a sharp.

Sharps are good general-purpose sewing needles. If you only buy one kind of sewing needle, make it a sharp.

Photo: All photos by Diane Gilleland

Sooner or later, most crafters pick up a needle-whether to stitch an appliqué, embroider a design, bead or needlepoint, or mend a torn bag. Using the right needle for a project makes the stitching so much easier.

First, let's look at the five basic types of hand-sewing needles:

Sharps are the needles most commonly used for hand sewing. They do have a sharp point, as the name implies, and are of medium length (compared, that is, to the short quilting needle or the long milliner's needle, below). Sharps have a rounded eye, which is usually just large enough to accommodate thread. Like the other hand-sewing needles, sharps are available in sizes 1 through 10, which is determined by the diameter of the needle. Size 1 is the longest and thickest, and size 10 is smallest and thinnest.

When choosing a needle size, it's best to consider the type of fabric you'll be using. In general, the lighter your fabric, the thinner the needle you'll want to use with it. Many craft stores stock packs of assorted sizes. If you're unsure of the best needle, just try passing a few different-sized needles through an inconspicuous place on the fabric. Which one passes through most easily? Which one leaves the smallest hole in the fabric?

Ball-point needles have a rounded tip, so they're perfect for sewing on knit fabrics. A sharp needle can easily damage knit fabric by poking though a thread and then pulling out the knit stitches. A ball point, on the other hand, will pass right through the knit. Ball points also come in sizes 5 through 10.

Embroidery needles (sometimes known as crewel needles) are very similar to sharps. The main difference is in the eye-embroidery needles have a larger eye, so that thicker flosses and yarns can pass through. (In fact, when I teach hand-sewing classes, I'll often give my students embroidery needles because they're easier to thread.) Embroidery needles also come in sizes 1 through 10.

Quilting needles, which are also known as betweens, are much shorter than sharps and also have a small, rounded eye for thread. This type of needle is a bit thinner than a sharp as well. Quilting needles are great for small, detailed stitching, such as quilting, of course. Their thinness and small eye help them pass easily through heavyweight fabrics, like denim or tweed. This type of needle is available in sizes 1 through 10.

Milliner's needles are the longest of the hand-sewing needles. They are traditionally used for hat making but are also great for basting, as you can maneuver them quickly through fabric. They're also available in sizes 1 through 10.

Now, there are also "specialty needles," which are used for other purposes. Here are two that are commonly used by crafters:

Tapestry needles have a blunt point and a big eye. They're made this way so they can pass through needlepoint and tapestry canvases without damaging them. And that large eye will accommodate the thicker yarns used for these kinds of crafts.

Chenille needles also have a large eye like tapestry needles, but they have a sharp point. This makes them ideal for crafts like ribbon embroidery, where you need to pull a thick strand through a closely woven fabric.

Now that you have a good grounding in needle-ology, you can always use the right needle for your project. Many craft stores carry an assorted pack of needles, so you can build your stitching toolkit right away. And if you're interested in sewing-machine needles, be sure to check out this great CraftStylish post by Shannon Dennis.

posted in: embroidery, needles

Comments (9)

DeborahSt writes: A full ten years after you wrote this article and I have to say THANK YOU! I wanted to find out if it was really necessary to purchase embroidery needles and now I now it is most advisable if I want to do it right. Valuable information just does not go out-of-date. ;-)
Posted: 6:31 pm on September 3rd
debbeh writes: 1. I have a pix of some weird needles that I don't know what they are. (Can't upload the pix here) I'm looking for a specific weird needle/assembly for my stitched shibori work, but not sure whether should be sharp, ball point, size, etc, depending on what fabric I'm using. tried tshirts, but made too many holes, now on cottons, later will try silks.

Posted: 8:01 pm on October 3rd
1crazymomz writes: Hi Julianne, I was doing some research on hand sewing and embroidery needles and I think your needle is of the Sashiko Japanese embroidery kind. Blue fabric and white thread. Hope this helps
Posted: 10:47 pm on May 24th
JulianneT writes: Hi, Diane. Thanks for this info. I have a challenge for you. I have a needle that I'm trying to identify. It's my favorite for embroidering with 4 threads, and I only have one of them. I have no idea where it came from or what it's called. It does not exactly match any of the needles you have described. It's shaped like a chenille (sharp point, long eye), but the shank is not nearly as thick. I've been to Joann Fabric to compare it to others. I looked at sharps, embroidery, milliners, chenille, and tapestry needles. Do you have any ideas? Thanks a lot.
Posted: 5:24 pm on August 4th
sabakhanindia writes: there is one more and very important kind of needle that is Carved-shaped needle ,which is used basically for making or mending sofa and chairs.
this needle looked like half circle shaped with sharped end and little long and big loop ,so that any kind of thread can be used to stitch any fabric ,moulded or folded.

Posted: 2:30 am on November 26th
leohnora writes: Very Useful post. Thank you !
Posted: 9:24 am on December 26th

Great info
Posted: 3:33 pm on September 4th
ansleybluu writes: I was just starting the search for this type of info. Thank you!
Posted: 2:10 pm on July 22nd
artlikebread writes: Diane, you are so full of knowledge it's awe-worthy. Thanks for this info. It's interesting and helpful. :o)
Posted: 1:38 pm on July 18th
You must be logged in to post comments. Click here to login.