To Every Needle, There Is a Purpose

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While rummaging through a drawer in my studio, I find a forgotten stash of hand needles. There are long needles, short needles, thick and thin needles, some with big eyes, tiny eyes, and even two eyes. As I sort through the needles, I realize: I have no clue as to what these needles are used for. My needles have lost their identity!

For every type of hand stitching, there is a needle for the job. The eye, shaft, and point of a hand needle are customized for its distinctive purpose. Familiar needles, like sharps, are used for general sewing and found in most households. Embroiderers use long-eyed needles with tapered points; hand quilters use fine, thin needles. Then there are specialty needles for leather, tapestry, beading, sail-making, upholstery, and doll-making.

And to further complicate needle identification, each class of hand needle has its own sizing system. With some exceptions, as the length and thickness of a needle increases, the number of the size decreases.

So how can I identify the needles in my stash?

One way is to use this handy-dandy pocket guide from C&T Publishing. Inside the  Sewing Needle Pocket Guide for Hand Stitching are detailed photographs of hand needles showing their characteristics like eye size, point, and length.

Place a needle on a full-size photo and you can easily identify the size and purpose of your hand needle. If your needle falls between the sizes on the chart, then it’s likely an in-between size.

Knowing the size and purpose of the needle also helps you match your thread size to the correct needle. Here’s a reference chart I give to my students to match their embroidery needles to the correct size of pearl cotton thread.

Don’t let your needles rust in a drawer without a purpose like I did. Put them to good use and trust the  Sewing Needle Pocket Guide for Hand Stitching to help identify your needle sizes, types, and uses. Choosing the right needle for your next stitching project will make your embroidery, fine hand quilting, or sail-making go smoothly.

If you would like to see a needle in action, please join my Wooly Bird Stitch Along, a tutorial on artfabrik.com. Step-by-step photos with directions, a materials list, and links to embroidery stitch directions guide you along the way. And you’ll learn exactly which needle to use.

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  • Laura Wasilowski
  • Sewing Needle Pocket Guide for Hand Stitching
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