Needles

Needles – now there’s a question worth pursuing. Using the right or wrong needle can make or break a foray into a new needlework technique.

Often people, even teachers, will assume “a needle is a needle is a needle…” and provide either a sharp or blunt point depending on the ground fabric. Choosing the right needle takes more into account than “is this counted work or not? Do I care if I pierce the ground fabric?”

There are at least three questions to ask yourself  when choosing a needle.

  1. Does the fabric justify a blunt needle? If the fabric is a loose weave, or you will be doing work where you need to not pierce the fabric threads (like cross stitch or pulled work) , then you probably want to use a blunt (tapestry) needle.
  2. If I need a sharp needle, what kind of eye? Sharp needles come in several eye shapes. Each has its own properties.
    • Chenille Needles – a wide eye, usually quite a bit wider than the pointed end. These needles were created for stitching very fuzzy chenille (caterpiller in French) thread, and open up large holes in the fabric so the thread can go through without damage. This can be useful for ribbon embroidery. as well as thick threads.
    • Crewel Needles (also known as Embroidery needles) – The eyes on these are also a bit bigger than the body of the needle, and were designed to keep fabric from rubbing on crewel wool as you stitch. Depending on the size of the ribbon, this also may be a good choice for ribbon embroidery, because it doesn’t create holes as large as the chenille needle.
    • Milliner’s (straw) Needles – Developed for the hat-making trade, these needles are generally longer in length, and the eye is the same size as the body of the needle. Because of this, straw needles are perfectly suited to knot stitches and stitches that require pulling the needle through wrapped threads.
    • Betweens – This basic quilting/sewing needle has a medium eye. It’s usually quite short, and designed for easily and quickly making even running stitches.
    • Japanese hand embroidery needles – These needles are hand made and quite expensive.
  3. What size needle do I need? Once you have decided on needle type, you are now faced with a boggling array of sizes of needles. Needle size refers to the thickness of the needle. It controls how large the hole created in the fabric is, and is just as applicable to blunt needles as to sharp ones.Usually you should select a needle based on the kind of thread you are using. You want to be able to pull the thread easily through the hole made in the fabric without much rubbing, but you want the hole small enough that it’s not noticeable in the finished work. Here are the basic guidelines I use. You will need to do some experimenting to find what works best for you:
  • Stranded Floss – 1 strand
    • Tapestry needles – 28 or 26
    • Embroidery & Milliner’s – 8-10
  • Stranded Floss – 2-3 strands
    • Tapestry – 26 or 24
    • Embroidery & Milliner’s – 6-8
    • Stranded Floss – 4-6 strands
      • Tapestry – 20-22
      • Embroidery & Milliner’s – I wouldn’t, I’d switch to a chenille needle!
      • Chenille – 20-22
    • Tapestry yarn – wool 1-2 strands
      • Tapestry – 20-22
      • ¬†Chenille – 20-22
    • Pearl Cotton – Size 8, 1 strand
      • Tapestry – 22-24
      • Crewel – 3
      • Milliner’s – 3
    • Pearl Cotton – Size 12, one strand
      • Tapestry – 26-24
      • Crewel – 6 or 7
      • Embroidery – 5
    • Pearl Cotton – Size 5, one strand
      • Tapestry – 22
      • Crewel – 3
      • Chenille – 22
      • Milliner’s – 2
    • Pearl cotton – Size 3, one strand
      • Tapestry – 20-22
      • Crewel – 2-3 Maybe.
      • Chenille – 20-22
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