Choosing a Needle - Hand Sewing

Choosing a Needle - Hand Sewing
It may seem like a small thing, and many people will ask why bother with a specific needle – but it can be the difference between a good and a fantastic piece.

The base fabric and the threads being used all influence your choice of a needle, as well as the style of embroidery you are doing.

Needle sizes are determined by a number – in general, the higher the number the finer the needle. However, a size 9 of one type of needle will not be the same weight as a size 9 in another type.

Needle type groupings are generally by the purpose of the needle and this purpose guides their design.

Needles can be made of stainless steel, nickel, or gold-plated nickel. Gold plated needles are usually those of the highest quality and are preferred by many embroiderers as they last longer and tend to gain fewer burrs with use.

Sharps and Appliques

These are all-purpose sewing needles. They have a sharp point, a small round or oval eye and are of a medium (about 4cm) long. They are usually sturdy to handle and the eye end is usually pointed, although not as sharp as the point.


Some people also call these “between” needles. They are slightly smaller than sharps and are a little finer to use, but otherwise are similar in their design, with a sharp point and a round eye. They are ideal to use for doing hand quilting, including trapunto embroidery.


As the name suggests, this class of needle was originally used by milliners in their work. They are long – about 5.5cm and of a heavier gauge than sharps. They have a very sharp point and a round eye. Their length and gauge means that they can be used to stitch through heavier fabrics. In hand sewing, they are excellent for use in pleating or basting.


Beading needles are of a similar length to milliners needles, but are much finer. They are generally the finest of all needles as they are designed to pass through the hole in a bead to attach it to the fabric.
As they are so fine, however, the eye is very narrow and the needle is easily bent, making it the most fragile of all needles and they often bend with use and a new needle is often required for each project.

Crewel or Embroidery

This is the most common form of needle you will use when doing freestyle embroidery. They are of similar size and weight to sharps, and, indeed, sharps can be used for hand embroidery.

The main difference is in the eye, which is longer and slightly wider, to take different weight of threads. The eye of an embroidery needle will take a full 6 strands of embroidery floss, whereas the same could not be threaded through a sharp.

My own personal preference is a size 9 needle to use when stitching. I find that this weight will pierce most fabrics without leaving too large a whole.

Cross Stitch

Cross stitch needles can also be called ballpoint needles, and are designed with an eye similar to a crewel needle, but a blunt rounded point designed to slide between threads of evenweave fabric.


Tapestry needles are the second largest weight of needle, and are between 3.5 – 5cm long and can be over 1mm in diameter! They have a very large eye, to take the heavier threads and yarns that are used in needlepoint. Tapestry needles have a founded blunt eye that will easily go into the holes of the canvas, without piercing the canvas threads themselves.


Chenille needles are very like tapestry needles, except they have a sharp point and are ideal to use for silk ribbon embroidery or embroidery using perle threads (such as Brazilian dimensional embroidery) or wool embroidery on a closeweave fabric.


Darning needles are similar to tapestry needles, but are even longer (some are almost 8cm long!).

Leather or Glovers

These are a very heavy needle, designed for working leather of various weights. They have a sharp triangular or wedge shaped point.


Probably the longest of all needles! As you can imagine, these needles are used for working on upholstery fabrics, and for upholstering furniture. They can be up to 30cm long (the ones this length are often used for mattress repairs or sewing) and some are curved; a practical method for when working on sofas or chairs.

Choosing your Needle

This will depend on your project, the fabric and thread you intend to use, and you should use your sampler to try the effect of different size and types of needles.

For most types of embroidery, you want a fine enough needle that will take the weight of the thread easily through its eye, and pass cleanly through the fabric without leaving an obvious hole in the fabric.

There are, of course, occasions where you want this hole – such as for the various eyelet stitches, or where you are looking to do various lace stitches that rely on your pulling the threads of the fabric apart to leave a gap. In that case, a large gauge needle will make achieving this effect much easier.

My own personal preference for needle gauge is a size 9 – it seems (to me) to have the nicest feel in my fingers when I use it and even if I have to unpick work, leaves almost no hole visible (if there is one, I can easily “stroke” the threads back together again).

You will need to experiment to find your own preference and also to see what effects various size needles will have with your work.

Recommended Reading

Sewing Tools And Trinkets: Collector's Identification & Value Guide, Vol. 2

Needlework and Embroidery Tools (Shire Library)


Embroidery Hand Needles-Size 3/9 16/Pkg

DMC Chenille Sharps Hand Sewing Needles Size 18/22

Clover Black Gold Needles Applique/Sharps No. 10

Is there anything that you would particularly like to see an article on? If so, please contact me with your suggestions.

Happy Stitching

Happy Stitching from Megan

© 2012 Megan McConnell

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You Should Also Read:
Storing Your Embroidery Supplies
Cross Stitch Basics - Before you Start to Stitch
Your Basic Workbox

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