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Hand Sewing Needles 101


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by Judy Reed

Choosing the right needle for the job can be overwhelming when there are so many kinds and sizes. Ideally, what you want is a needle that feels comfortable, glides through the fabric, has an eye that you can thread, doesn't bend and is the right size for the fabric you are sewing.

When you choose your hand sewing needle size, the larger the number on the package, the finer/smaller the needle will be. This is the opposite of the needles you purchase for your sewing machine. If you are using finer/thinner fabric you would select a finer/smaller needle.

Needles are normally made of high carbon steel and then coated with nickel, gold, Teflon, or platinum. The coatings are put on to prevent the needle from corroding and to make the needle glide through the fabric.

I have listed the common needles that are used by quilters and what their intended uses are. Some of the needles go by more than one name but are the same type of needle. There aren't any quilt police going around to make you use a certain needle, so use this as a general guide, but feel free to decide what you like for yourself!


Sharp/Appliqué
A general-purpose round eye needle for sewing, appliqué, and mending. This is a needle with many uses. It is great for appliqué because it is thin enough to glide through the fabric smoothly, has a sharp point and doesn't bend as easily as a milliner.

Two sizes of appliqué needles

Between/Quilting
This is the needle of choice for hand quilting because it is short and easy to control. It is thicker than other needles which makes it stronger for penetrating multiple layers. The shorter the needle the smaller the stitches. Start with a 9 or 10 and with experience you can move to a smaller needle. This is a tiny needle with a small round eye. They are also available with a large eye for easier threading.

Two sizes of quilting needles. The bottom one is a large eye quilting needle.

Milliners/Straw
These are similar to Sharps but are a longer needle. They were developed for hat-making, and are now used for basting and gathering. I know of people who love them for binding and appliqué too.

A milliner needle.

Embroidery/Crewel
This type of needle is the same length as Sharps, but with a longer eye for easier threading with multiple threads and floss.

Two sizes of embroidery needles.

Needle Accessories
Many needles are now made with a big eye for easier threading. The larger eye helps, but I love the Clover Needle Threader. It makes threading oval eye needles quick and easy.

Until recently I have stuck all of my needles in one pincushion and used them until they broke or bent so badly I had to throw them away. I never knew what I was using, I would just grab one. The Clover Sort `n Store Pincushion for hand needles has a section for each type of needle (or you could make your own labeled pincushion). If you stick your needles in the right section you will be so much happier using the right needle when you need it. Also, needles really aren't that expensive. You don't have to use them until all of the finish is worn off and they are badly bent or dull. Treat yourself to a new needle occasionally - you deserve it!

Shop hand sewing needles at Connecting Threads >
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Clover Desk Needle Threader Green Desk Needle Threader $11.38 Retail: $16.25   30% off
Sale!
Clover Desk Needle Threader

Clover Desk Needle Threader Purple Desk Needle Threader $11.38 Retail: $16.25   30% off