Needle Know How

I wrote and posted a blog for my favorite quilt shop and thought I’d share it with you.

There are quite a few hand sewing needles and sooner or later you’ll need one, but do you know the difference? After some research I realized that I do occasionally (gasp!) use the wrong needle for projects. As long as it works I’m relatively happy, and while I can’t speak for all of you, I suspect you have from time to time been guilty of the same. So, what is the purpose of each needle?

If you are going to pick buy one kind of needle (not that we recommend that) the best needle to buy is a sharp. Sharps are good, all-purpose needles. As the name suggests they have a sharp point and are a medium length, compared to its shorter cousin the between (but we’ll talk about that needle further down). Sharps needles are good all purpose hand sewing needles and work well for attaching bindings or other hand work. Sharps have a rounded eye and come in a variety of sizes.

Betweens were specifically designed for traditional hand quilting. The shorter shank provides good control and the needle is thicker than others, giving it strength to move between the layers of the quilt. The small size of betweens allows the quilter to make small, even stitches. Like a sharp, a between has a rounded eye making it easy for threading. You can buy betweens in several sizes, the smallest of which usually speaks to those that have been hand quilting for a while (or have really small hands).

Straw needles have a narrow shank and the eye of the needle is punched within the existing shank – that makes a straw needle great for hand applique since the eye won’t hesitate when pulled through the fabric. Straw needles are also great for hand basting.

Long needles, or basting needles, are used to hand baste a quilt. The needles are long, hence the name, and the added length makes hand basting faster. The needles have a slender shaft to decrease movement between the three layers while basting. The larger eyes of long needles make them great for tying quilts, too.

Sashiko needles have significantly thicker shafts than traditional needles. The thicker shaft prevents them from bending and a larger eye enables the needle to be easily thread with perle cotton or embroidery floss. Sashiko needles are the perfect needle for big stich, Japanese sashiko or embroidery. Sashiko needles are available in several sizes. The shop typically carries a variety pack.

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. We carry variety packs if you are unsure of the best needle. If you’re unsure of the best needle, just try passing a few different-sized needles through an inconspicuous place on the fabric to determine the needle that passes through the fabric most easily and leaves only a small hole. Keep in mind that needle size increases as the number decreases so a 10 is larger than a 12 (I know, seems counter-intuitive to us, too).

Happy stitching!

Published by Patty Murphy

Designer. Quilter. Fabric Hoarder.

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