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Needles : A simple guide

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Needles make up an essential part of every embroiderer’s kit. They may not look like much, but they can make all the difference to the quality of your end work.

The job of a needle is to guide your thread from one side of your fabric to the other. By choosing a needle that is too small for the thread will inevitably damage it. You can tell your needle isn’t big enough if you need to really ‘tug’ the needle through to the other side, this is the thread catching the fabric as the eye meets the material.

And by choosing a needle that is too big, you may end up with little ‘holes’ in your fabric that will detract from all your hard craft.

A simple rule

A rule of thumb to follow is to always choose the smallest needle that you can for the job at hand. If you’re unsure whether it’s too small or too big, try testing it on a scrap of the fabric you’re using or a piece that won’t be seen at the end. Over time estimating size will become second nature to you.

we use John James needles as we can purchase them in bulk

Selecting your needle type

So, you’ve chosen the type of embroidery that you would like to try first, which kind of needles should you buy? The following advice is what I often give to new students.

Tapestry Needles

These needles have a rounded point and a good sized eye. These should be used with open weave fabrics and are often known as cross stitch needles. The open fabric has a defined warp & weft which the rounded point of the needle easily slips through. A sharp needle could catch and snag the base fabric which would prevent a clean stitch being achieved. This is very important for counted work as these techniques depend on all of the stitches looking an even size.

These needles come in lots of different sizes, I stick with 24s and 26s.

Tapestry needles, showing large eyes

Sharp Needles

Sharps needles showing small size and fine eye

As the name suggests these needles have a sharp point, they also have fine eyes, though not quite like Elizabeth Bennet’s. These needles are great for fine work and are an essential staple of my regular kit. The sharp needle is best used on closely woven fabric, so they’re ideal for goldwork and silk shading.

These needles come in lots of different sizes, I stick to 10s and 12s.

Embroidery Needles

These needles are the most commonly picked up needles. Whenever I hold an introduction to embroidery class I start people off with a 7. Embroidery needles have a sharp point and a more generous eye than a sharp. These are usually used on closely woven fabric.

These needles come in lots of different sizes, I always stick to 7s.

embroidery needles

Chenille Needles

Chenille needles

These are chunky needles with a sharp point. Traditionally chenille needles are used on heavy fabric like linen twill. The sharp point pierces the fabric easily and the more rotund body of the needle creates an easier path for the chosen thread to pass through. Often the chosen thread for such work is crewel wool, which is easily worn and why an easier path is needed.

These needles come in lots of different sizes, I stick to 20s and 22s.

Other needles we use

There are lots of other types of needles, however these are the ones I commonly use in my kits and the needles you will likely use when starting out.

I use different styles as needed and as your work incorporates different or more complex tasks you will too. For example curved needles are ever so useful, like my bracing needle, which is essential when I’m framing up fabric before stitching! You’ll pick up lots more tips as you go.

A final pearl of wisdom is ‘discard old needles’ as hanging onto them is false economy. Needles tarnish easily, I can tarnish several a day and as I do I pop them in a little tin marked ‘sharps’.A tarnished needle will wear the fabric unnecessarily and they can also mark your fabric. It’s really not worth scrimping, especially when you can pick up several for a pound or two!

I’m always here to answer any questionsthat you might have regarding kit and starting out. You can also purchase kit supplies from my online shop.

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