There are so many different types of embroidery needles out there. When it comes time to select them, it can be confusing. This quick and concise guide goes over the basics so you can choose the right needle for your next embroidery project in no time.
This post is part of a series of posts about hand embroidery supplies.
Disclaimer: This post has some affiliate links in it. I receive a small commission from purchases at no additional cost to the buyer. I only recommend products I would use and love and that are of good quality. All opinions are my own!
Types of Embroidery Needles
It’s important to learn about the different types of embroidery needles because each one has a specific purpose and it can make your life a whole lot easier when you choose the right one.
Choosing a particular embroidery needle depends on the technique or style of embroidery you plan to do. First, let’s go over what all of these needles have in common.
Needles have an eye (where the thread goes through) and a pointed tip at the end that goes through the fabric.
Different types of needles have varying characteristics that include:
- size or thickness of the needle
- size and shape of the eye (to accommodate for the type and size of the thread)
- sharp or blunt tip
- the overall length of the needle
Crewel Embroidery Needles
Embroidery needles, also referred to as crewel needles, have a long oval eye that is somewhat larger than a standard sewing needle. This makes it easier to use with multiple strands of embroidery floss for surface embroidery or wool yarn to do crewel work. The end has a sharp point, making it great to use on fabric with a tighter weave for surface embroidery.
Some of my favorites are John James and gold eye Clover needles. The gold-plated needles are supposed to help you thread the needle more easily, and I have noticed a small difference while using them.
Common Sizes: 1- 10 (largest to smallest)
Tapestry needles have a large, long eye and a blunt tip. They are ideally used for needlepoint or cross stitch where the holes are large enough that you don’t have to pierce the fabric to pull the thread through. (i.e. canvas and Aida fabric) They can also be used in Hardanger embroidery, pulled thread, and drawn thread work.
Additionally, they are beneficial to use for certain surface embroidery stitches because the blunt needle tip won’t snag the embroidery thread or fabric. (i.e. basket stitch for weaving in and out of the embroidery floss)
Common Sizes: 13 – 26 (largest to smallest)
Chenille needles have a large, elongated eye and a sharp end. They are very similar to tapestry needles in length, diameter, and sizing.
These needles are also great to use with a thicker thread such as wool for crewel embroidery. They can also be used for ribbon embroidery. They’re a bit heavier than embroidery needles, so naturally, they may make larger holes in your fabric depending on the size you choose. I prefer to use embroidery needles when embroidering with cotton floss, but if I have to I’ll use sizes 22-18 with all 6 strands of floss and it works perfectly fine!
Common Sizes: 13-26 (largest to smallest)
Beading needles are long and thin with a small eye and a sharp end. They are ideally used for sewing beads and sequins onto fabric. The eye of the needle is small enough for a seed bead to fit over it, and the longer length makes it easier to thread multiple beads at once.
Common Sizes: 10 – 15 (largest to smallest)
Milliners needles, also referred to as straw needles, have a small, short eye that is the same width as the shaft of the needle. They are great to use when you are making embroidery stitches that involve wrapping or looping the thread around the needle (such as French knots, colonial knots, and bullion knots).
You can certainly use a regular embroidery needle for these stitches, but the design of milliners needles makes everything a little bit easier: the eye glides through the thread more easily and the longer shaft allows you more room to wrap the thread around the needle.
When I first learned about milliners, I thought they looked very similar to a sharps needle for sewing. The eyes of both needles look similar; the main difference is that milliners are usually slightly longer.
Common Sizes: 1 – 11 (largest to smallest) 15, 18 (the 2 largest sizes)
Are embroidery needles different from sewing needles?
Yes, there is a difference between embroidery and hand-sewing needles. Embroidery needles have a larger, oval-shaped eye and are sometimes longer than sewing needles. Both kinds of needles are sharp at the end, but the embroidery needle’s design accommodates more strands of thread than regular sewing needles can.
Sharps and betweens aren’t used in hand embroidery but I’ve included them because you’ll most likely come across them at the craft store. You can commonly find them in multipurpose sewing needle packs, and when I first started embroidering, I mistakenly purchased these a few times!
Sharps and Between Needles
Sharps and between needles are two of the most commonly used needles for general-purpose hand sewing and quilting.
Sharps are needles that are medium length with a small, round eye. They’re normally used as hand-sewing needles.
A between needle is shorter in length and has a small eye and a sharp tip. These are commonly used for quilting.
What Size Needle Should I Use?
Needles come in a range of sizes. The different sizes are reflected by a number. A general rule of thumb (that applies to chenille, tapestry, and embroidery needle sizes) is that the larger the number, the smaller the needle is, and the smaller the number, the larger the needle is. This does not apply to all needles, but for hand embroidery, it makes things less confusing to me!
Smaller needles will fit fewer strands of thread, while larger needles will fit more.
The more you embroider, you’ll get a feel for what needles you prefer to use for different amounts of floss. While you’re learning, John James Sewing has a helpful needles guide and there’s also this post that has a needle size chart.
Embroidery Needle FAQS
How Do I Know What Size Embroidery Needle to Use?
As a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to choose a needle that is thick enough to make a hole in the fabric that the thread will easily go through and has an eye large enough that you’re able to thread the needle easily. Choosing a needle too thin will make it hard to pull the thread through the fabric. Selecting too large of a needle can leave visible holes in the weave of the fabric and also make it harder to work on more intricate designs.
Here are a few suggestions:
Sizes 9-10: Finer threads or when working with 1-2 strands of embroidery floss
Sizes 3-8: Medium-weight threads or when working with 3-6 strands of embroidery floss
What is the difference between Crewel and Embroidery?
The only difference between the two is the thread that you use! Crewel embroidery traditionally uses wool yarn that is thicker than cotton embroidery floss. The stitches you use for crewel embroidery are the same as in modern surface embroidery.
Crewel designs that were popular long ago included floral motifs, fruits, birds, and other animals. Crewel embroidery generally appears more 3-dimensional and puffy because of the thickness of the yarn used.
You can learn more about the history of crewel embroidery here.
What are the three types of embroidery needles?
Embroidery, Chenille, and Tapestry needles are all considered needles you can embroider with!
What is the best needle for hand embroidery? What type of embroidery needles are used for most standard embroidery stitches?
John James, Tulip, and DMC carry good quality needles that are smooth, durable, and rust-resistant.
The size embroidery needles you use depends on how many strands of floss you are embroidering with. I recommend purchasing a variety pack of needles for embroidery. You’ll be using anywhere between 1 to all 6 strands of thread at a time. DMC has packs of sizes 3 – 9 embroidery needles, which should be sufficient.
Size 3 needles are good for when you are using all 6 strands of floss and the smaller sizes (up to size 9) are good for embroidering with 1-2 strands of thread.
What are needles usually made of? Are there hypoallergenic options?
Many of the most popular brands of hand embroidery needles contain nickel in them. If you have allergies, don’t worry: there are other options out there. Check out The Needle Lady which offers stainless steel options.
I hope this guide to embroidery needles helped you find the correct needle for your next project! This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all the different types, so if you’re looking to read about even more, Sew Guide has a very informative post about 16 types of hand sewing and embroidery needles. Happy Stitching!
Amanda is a hand embroidery artist and teacher. With over 15 years of experience in the craft industry and embroidery, she owns and runs Crewel Ghoul, sharing tutorials and patterns to help inspire fellow crafters to get inspired and creative. In addition to running this website, she teaches on Skillshare and Youtube.