There are so many different types of embroidery needles and sewing needles out there, and it can get kind of confusing as to which ones you should use for different kinds of needlecrafts. I wanted to make a quick and concise guide that goes over the basics. There are plenty of other needle types out there, but I’ve found that these are some of the most common ones.
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Types of Needles
It’s important to know the difference between different types of needles because each type of needle has a specific purpose, and it can make your life a lot easier when you choose the right one.
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 having 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
- overall length of the needle
Embroidery 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. 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 DMC and gold eye clover needles. The gold plated needles are supposed to help you thread the needle more easily, which I have noticed is the case when I use them.
Tapestry needles have a large 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. They can also be used in Hardanger embroidery, pulled thread, and drawn thread work. They are also beneficial to use with certain embroidery stitches because the blunt tip won’t snag the thread or fabric. (i.e. basket stitch for weaving in and out of the embroidery floss)
Chenille needles have a long, large eye and a sharp end. These needles are also great for embroidery where you are using 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 absolutely have to I’ll use sizes 22-18 with all 6 strands of floss and it works perfectly fine!
Sharps and Between Needles
Sharps are needles that are of a medium length with a small, rounded eye. They’re normally used as hand-sewing needles.
A between needle is shorter in length and has a small eye and a sharp end. These are commonly used for quilting.
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 is small enough to where the bead can fit over it, and the longer length makes it easier to thread multiple beads on at once.
What Size Needle Should I Use?
Needles come in many different 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! For more information and details about needle sizes, John James Sewing has a helpful needles guide with needle size charts.
As a general rule of thumb, you 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 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
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 that are used in crewel embroidery are the same as in modern 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.
Embroidery, Chenille, and Tapestry needles are all considered embroidery needles!
I personally use embroidery needles size 3-5 the most frequently when I embroider because I find that the thickness of the needle and the eye size works well with the fabric I use (I normally use linen or Kona cotton). You can read more about finding the best fabric for embroidery here.
I hope this quick run-through of different types of 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!