Let’s Talk About Needles – Part 4

What Needle to Use When – Surface Embroidery

Note: Let me just get this right out in the open. I hate this term for the kind of stem & satin stitch embroidery found on tea towels and pillowcases. I also hate “free embroidery”.  Embroidery is a blanket term  – for example, all cross stitch is embroidery, but not all embroidery is cross stitch. Really, this is “crewel work” done in cotton rather than crewel wool, and often on a much finer scale. That said, I don’t like that definition either. So I stick with the traditional term. If anyone has better ideas, I’d love to hear them!

Surface embroidery isn’t counted. Usually a pattern is traced onto a piece of fine-weave fabric – muslin, a tea towel, a piece of silk or broadcloth – and then the design embroidered on top of this “cartoon.” (Yes, cartoon IS the technical term for this drawing, whether it’s cartoony or not.)

Because of the generally high thread count and tight weave of the fabrics used for this type of work, a sharp needle is imperative. These needles have a wider eye so that threads can be drawn through easily, and are called embroidery, crewel, or chenille needles. Embroidery and crewel needles are two terms for the same needle type. Chenille needles are larger and were originally created for stitching silk chenille threads (chenille is French for caterpillar) which is fuzzy and thick. Chenille needles are about the same size and shape as tapestry needles, but have a sharp point.

The same rule of thumb for choosing needle size holds as for counted work. Especially if you are working with silk or wool thread, the fuzzing and breaking issues can become especially difficult if your needle isn’t big enough (working with a shorter length of thread is also helpful).

So, again with the starting point table. Remember that the only perfect needle choice is the one that works for you and your stitching style!!

Surface Embroidery (including Crewel) Needle Chart

Type of Thread # Strands Needle Size & Type
Silk – filament 1 Crewel 8-10
Silk – twisted 1-2 Crewel 8
6 strand cotton 1 Crewel 8
2 Crewel 8
3 Crewel 5-6
4 Crewel 4
5-6 Crewel 3
Crewel wool 1 Crewel 3
2 Crewel 3
Tapestry Wool 1-2 Chenille 22-24
Rug Wool 1 Chenille 18-20
Sock Yarn 1 Chenille 20
Worsted Knitting 1 Chenille 18
Laceweight 1-2 Crewel 3
Perle Cotton #5 1-2 Crewel 3 or Chenille 24
Perle Cotton #8 1-2 Crewel 3 or Chenille 24
Perle cotton #12 1-2 Crewel 3

Want to read the rest of the series?

Let’s Talk about Needles Part 1 – General
Let’s Talk about Needles Redux Part 2 – Size
Let’s Talk about Needles Part 3 – Counted Work

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