Have you ever walked into your local quilt shop looking to purchase sewing needles to find there is an entire wall filled with way, way too many options? It can like finding a needle in a haystack!
As we all know, there are a plethora of sizes and specialty needles that can be used for hand sewing, depending on your project and it should go without saying that it is especially important to choose the best hand sewing needles for your projects. For example, using a needle that is too large can leave holes in your fabric by unnecessarily breaking the woven threads. Using a needle that is too short or blunt can, of course, lead to much frustration. You will also need to match your thread to the size of your needle’s eye. Forcing a thick thread into a delicate eye can break your needle. Hopefully, this blog will help you to select the best needles to meet your specific hand sewing needs.
Sewing needles are long slender metal tools used to unite or fasten fabrics together. They typically have a sharp pointed tip at one end and a hole (or eye) near the other end. Sewing needles, to function properly, should be exceptionally smooth so that they can be easily pushed and pulled through two or more layers of fabric. They should also strike a balance between strength and flexibility, so they can be used without breaking or excessive bending. Sewing needles should have smooth eyes so that they can easily be threaded and hold the thread without cutting or damaging it.
The earliest needles were made of bone or wood, but modern needles are typically manufactured using high carbon steel, plated with nickel to protect them from corrosion. Other needles are plated in platinum, titanium alloy, or even gold. Each type of needle plating has pros and cons. Nickel-plated needles resist corrosion and glide easily through most fabrics. For some sewists, though, nickel-plating may trigger allergic reactions including itchy fingers and/or red eyes. Gold-plated needles are hypoallergenic but, not surprisingly, are much more expensive. Some sewists claim that gold-plated needles move through multiple layers of fabric effortlessly, like a "hot knife through butter." Some needles have a gold-plating only on the eye, which keeps the needle's cost down, while still offering some of the benefits of gold-plating. Stainless steel needles, on the other hand, are very affordable and they are unlikely to trigger allergic reactions. Like nickel- and gold-plated needles, they are resistant to rust and corrosion from sweaty hands or damp storage. Titanium alloy-plated needles, like gold plated needles are more expensive and hypoallergenic. Due to the light weight and strength of titanium, they are reported to last many times longer than other sewing needles with less durable plating. If you have ever had needles wear out, titanium alloy-plated needles may be the best choice for you.
Hand sewing needles vary according to 1) size and length, 2) eye shape 3) point type, and 4) general and specific purpose.
1. Size and Length. Needles with a larger number are finer and shorter. Needles with a smaller number are thicker and longer.
By way of illustration, a size 12 needle is very fine and short, whereas a size 3 needle is thick and long. The weight of the fabric you are sewing will typically determine the needle size you should use. With finer fabrics, a fine needle (higher number) should be used. With heavier fabrics a larger needle size (lower number) is appropriate. For example, if you are sewing silk, you should use fine needle, such as a size 12. If you are hand sewing denim, you should use a heavier needle, with a lower number, such as a size 1.
Unfortunately, needle sizes are not fully standardized. For example, a size 10 of one needle type may be thinner and finer than a size 12 of another type.
Note: Many multi-type needle packages are labeled with a shorthand description which concisely indicates information about the number of needles in the package and the needle type, followed by two size numbers. For example: A needle package labeled "20 Sharps 5/10,” will contain a total of twenty needles including ten needles of size 5 and ten needles of size 10.
2. Eye Shape. The shape of the needle eye determines the kind of thread you can use with it. An eye might be small and round for finer threads, or long and open to fit thicker threads.
3. Point Type. The point type of a needle determines the way the needle will move through your fabric. Sharp pointed needles can be used to slip between fine fabric fibers or, alternatively, may pierce thicker fabric fibers. Blunt pointed needles (like ball point needles described below) are designed to slip between thick fabric fibers, commonly used in items such as a tapestry.
4. General and Specific Purpose Needles
• Sharps: are the most general-purpose of all needle types and they can be used for most hand sewing applications. They typically have a very sharp point, round eyes, and are medium in length.
• Appliqué Needles, despite their name, are also considered an all-purpose needle for most sewing, patchwork, and, of course, appliqué projects.
• Easy- or self-threading Needles: these needles have an open slot into which thread is easily guided rather than the usually closed eye design.
• Quilting Needles (or Betweens) are normally shorter than sharps. They typically have a small, rounded eye, and are used for making fine stitches on heavy fabrics when quilt making, tailoring, or other detailed handwork. Some manufacturers make a distinction between quilting needles and between needles. Quilting between needles are typically slightly shorter and narrower than quilting needles.
• Ball Point Needles features a blunt tip that is used when working with thick knit fabrics. The point is designed to separate the threads of knit fabric instead of piercing through them.
• Chenille Needles are like tapestry needles but with a large, long eye and a very sharp point to penetrate tightly woven fabrics. These are useful for ribbon embroidery.
• Embroidery/Crewel Needles are identical to sharps but has a longer eye to enable easier threading of multiple embroidery threads and thicker yarns.
• Tapestry Needles have a large eye for holding multiple strands of thread or floss and they have a blunt tip. Tapestry needles, despite their name, can also be used for cross stitch and plastic canvas crafts and for any project where a threaded needle passes through pre-made holes or openings. Some tapestry needles have a curved tip, making it easier to insert into stitches of knitted or crocheted materials. Some sewists use these needles to hide thread tails of serged seams.
The charts below (used with permission from Moda Fabrics + Supplies©) summarize the types of hand sewing needles and their uses.
Next time you pick up a sewing project that is to be done by hand, choosing the correct needle can mean the difference between enjoying the process or becoming discouraged. There is a hand sewing needle for every occasion.
No commentary on hand sewing needles would be complete without the mention of thimbles. A thimble is a protective cover worn over your finger to stop your hand sewing needle from pricking your finger. Check out our next blog to learn more about thimbles.