Hand sewing Needles--- An Illustrated Guide to the Types and Uses of Hand Sewing Needles
Know thy needle!
More than you ever wanted or cared to know about hand sewing needles.
Needles in archaeology
According to archaeological finds the needle in various shapes and sizes has been around since the early Stone Age. Needles made from bone, ivory, agava leaf fibers , wood, porcupine quills etc were then used to sew together animal skins, furs and other organics. The Romans developed the sewing tools further, including finer needles made from metals and thimbles.
By the middle ages an onward needles were treasured, looked upon as valuable and kept in safe places.
10 steps of how needles are made today!
- A high quality carbon steel or a titanium alloy wire is cut to the length of two needles
- Both ends of the cut 'wire' are then 'pointed'
- A die slams or stamps the two eye impression into the center of the wire
- A hole is then punched through the center of the two eye impressions
- The wire then is broken into two parts--- two needles
- The waste metal is ground off of the sides and top of the needle's eye
- The metal of the needles is then hardened and tempered
- To assure the needles are completely smooth and highly polished they are scoured
- As a final step the needles get a special coating of either nickel, platinum or etc.
- The needles are quality checked and then ready for packaging
The manufacturing of the modern sewing needle is the same whether it's the regular craft caliber needle or the more expensive name brands. They're all made from some type of carbon steel or titanium alloy wire with the main differences coming from the temperatures the metal is hardened and tempered with and whether they get to be nickel or gold plated for corrosion resistance.
The job however, of this long, slender, non-complex, simple to use gadget or tool has not changed since it's invention at the beginning of time. Even the most expensive of needles, the one that is made of two-thirds
platinum and one-thirds titanium alloy still has the same function: 'The pointed
tip pierces the fabric and the eye or thread hole at the opposite end carries the thread, cord, floss etc through the fabric'.
Today's 'Hand Sewing Needles' come with different names depending on what their purpose is and in a range of different sizes. There is a world wide standard for needle sizing. As far as I'm concerned it was devised by a 'backwards Joe'. Just to confuse matters... the length and thickness of a needle increases as the size number decreases. With other words, the smaller the size number on the needle packet the larger the needle... and vice versa - the higher the size number the finer the hand-sewing needles...For example a size 1 needle will be a heavier, thicker and longer needle , whereas a size 10 needle will be finer, thinner and shorter.
~Now you're thinking.... why read about needle care in this day
and age. It's not as if the traveling Habber-dasher only comes around
once a year or two anymore. To be honest most of the needles available
today are not so expensive that they're not easily available to most
everyone. (Even the top of the line, the creme de la creme of the needle industry, the John James platinum plated needles are available for just a couple of dollars...)
But ... let me backtrack a bit...
If you've read any of my hubs before you will by now know my favorite saying "...each job has the right tool..." I know, I know it's not as if a hand sewing needle is such a high-tech gadget that you can not make do with one that work similarly BUT using the right one usually makes the job easier... and on that note I assure you that adapting the right size of needle really will make for a better, more accurate and longer lasting job.
For example: if you keep consistently squishing a thicker thread into the eye of the needle that is too small not only will it be frustrating every time you need to re-thread but forcing and pulling the tail section of thread through the eye will wear and get damaged before the project can even get finished. On the other hand using a needle that is too thick and has a huge eye will not just pierce great big holes into the fabric that is being sewn but by slipping and sliding inside the too large eye will also cause the thread to wear and fray which then will leave it weaker.
~Not a shocking revelation, I would say, 'Needles DO Wear Out'. Obviously, the life span of the needle depends on it's starting quality. The more expensive platinum plated needle will last longer than the ones from a dollar store available in a packet of fifty.
~Now you want to know why you should buy top quality hand sewing needles, right? Well, unless you're sewing for hours-on-end you do not need them. For sewing an occasional button onto a shirt or a quick hem the cheapo's will do just fine. But if you're embroidering, quilting etc do yourself a favour and invest in a better name brand such as Clover, Dritz etc. The cost difference is really minimal but the quality is definitely noticeable. Most needles are made with a friction resistant over-coating designed to help them slide through the fabric smoothly. After a lot of sewing the coating of the needles will starts to wear off and the points will dull. (faster on the cheap needles)
~Needles can also have the smallest, minute, impossible to see with the bare eye burs inside the eye opening which then will shear, damage and break the thread, floss or ribbon. (again this will happen more often with the cheap needles where quality control can be more lacks).
It's time to break out a new needle:
- when the needle feels as if its 'grabbing' the sewing project
- when the needle doesn't 'sink' easily into your project anymore
- when the needle bends so that it's very hard pull the thread through the eye
- when the eye of the needle is fraying the sewing thread
- when the tip of the needle snags the fabric
How to extend the life of your needle (important when using the more expensive kind)
The arm of the chair or couch will not keep the needles safe for long, when not in use stab them into a chunk of wool felt, use a magnetized needle holder, a needle book, a needle tube, a needle case or use the obvious... a pincushion.
A quick word on pincushions... the old fashioned ones were filled with sawdust. Today's cheap-os can have anything in them... fillings that can scratch and damage your needles and pins. A great way to make your own which will also clean your needles and keep them dry is to make a little pouch of a wool felt, fill it up with a mixture of 6 parts talcum powder, 1 part baking soda and 1 part Comet or Ajax, sew up the end tightly, presto bingo you have a great pincushion. It will keep your needles and pins safe, dry, clean and polished all at the same time.
~I keep a special pincushion (filled with that mixture) that is strictly for the assortment of 'in-use' hand sewing needles. Mine has a nine division tic tac toe grid embroidered on it (my granddaughter made for me) which made it easy to adapt for the different styles of needles that I have on the go.
If your needle gets stuck inside your project and you can't "un-stuck" it use a rubber puller (the rubber finger tips that are used for counting money-money-money and are available at the stationary store) come in handy. On the other hand yanking with saw-thoothed-needle-nosed-pliers will scrape the needle which then will snag the thread and fabric and eventually break.
~When choosing a needle preference for length, thickness, shape and pliability all go hand in hand with the type of fabric you will be working on. For example: The lighter fabric, the thinner the needle should be. To check which leaves the smallest hole and which one slips through most easily pass different-sized needles through the fabric at an inconspicuous place (a great spot is usually within the seams or at the very edge of the project.
~ Again, using the right tool helps to get a project done easier. The right needle choice will give better accuracy and ease whether its for simply hemming a pair of pants, embroidering a complex design or for stitching an appliqué etc. All can be accomplished much easier with the right type and sized needle. Yes, you could use a darning needle to hem that new silk skirt but you will damage the silk fibers and leave humongous holes in it if the needle is not the right size.
Sharps: Sharps Sizes 1–10
Sharps are a basic multi purpose needle, of medium length, sizes ranging from 1 to 10 with a sharp point, a small rounded eye just large enough to accommodate thread and most commonly used for hand sewing. Remember Size 1 is the longest and thickest, and size 10 is smallest and thinnest.
Self threading needles: Sizes 1-10
The spiral Eye or side threading needles come in a variety of sizes and types, but mainly used for general sewing project in sizes 1-10. The precision cut into the side of the eye allows for most material to slide over the opening without snagging. Perfect for the sewer with low vision or dexterity issues.
Ball-point Needles: Sizes 5 -10
Ball point needles have a rounded tip, so they're perfect for sewing knit fabrics. A sharp pointed needle can easily damage the knit fiber by poking though a thread and leaving a 'pull' in the the knit fabric. A ball point, on the other hand, will pass right through the knitted stitches. Ball points also come in sizes 5 through 10.
Betweens or quilters Needles: Sizes 3 -12
Betweens or quilters needlesare much shorter and a
bit thinner than the sharps, with a small rounded eyes. Their overall thinness and
small eye help them pass easily through heavyweight fabrics, like denims etc.. Just perfect for making fine stitches when
tailoring, quilt making and other detailed stitching. These 'betweens' are commonly sold in
sizes 3 through10, and very seldom 12 (again 12 being the finest and shortest of them all)
Embroidery or Crewel: Sizes 3 - 10
Embroideryalso known as Crewel
needles are very similar to the sharps as they have sharp points however their main difference being in the eye. They have
large oval eyes to make threading multiple embroidery flosses or thicker yarns
easier to pass
through. The sizes for the embroidery or crewel needles range most commonly from 3 through 10 in short and medium lengths.
Darning Needles: Sizes 1-9, 14-19
Darning needles are long, large-eyed needles used for darning, basting and embroidery. They have long oval eyes and blunt tips similar to tapestry needles and come in a variety of lengths and sizes used . To confuse things Darning Needles traditionally have different 'uses' and for each of these uses they have different sizings --- Cotton Darners for fine cotton in sizes 1 - 9 (1-5 being the most common) Yarn Darners for wool work being the heaviest with very large eyes to thread yarn come in sizes 14 - 19.
Tapestry Needles: Sizes 12 - 28
Needles are used for embroidery. They are thicker than most needles and have large oval eyes and a blunt tips. These blunt tips allow the needle to carry yarn floss and ribbon between warp and weft of the fabric without piercing the threads. Tapestry needles are used for needlepoint, silk ribbon embroidery and more on canvas, even-weave material and other loosely
woven fabrics. the sizes range from 12 to 28.
Although less known or common, also available are Double ended tapestry needles, with the eye in the middle. Used by embroiderers who work with fabric mounted in frames. Sizes from 13 to 26... again 13 being the heaviest and 26 the finest.
Chenille Needles: Sizes 12 - 28
The Chenille Needle is similar to the tapestry needle as it has the same long oval eye and comes in the same sizes (thickness) except it has a sharp point. Sizes are from 12 through 28. Chenille
ideal for ribbon embroidery and other crafts that need to pull a thick
strand through a closely woven fabric.
Trapunto Needles: up to 6" long
Trapunto Needles are used for sculptured
quilting and more. These blunt, thick and 6 inches long needles open the fabric warp and weft threads to allow stuffing between the layers for traditional trapunto. The shaft of the trapunto needle is thicker than a regular doll needle and amazing stuffing tool for doll-making.
Milliners Needles: Sizes 1 - 10
The Milliner's Needle also known as milliner straw needle has a sharp point, round eye, an even shaft and is a bit longer than the average needle (about 1 5/8 inches long). It is the longest hand sewing needle, traditionally used for hat making but is also great for hand basting available in
sizes 1 through 10.
Doll Makers Needles: Size 2.5" - 7" long
The Doll Makers Needle comes with either a sharp point or a blunt tip and is available from short to extra-ordinairly long. Size 2.5"/6.5cm - 7"/18cm long. Doll needles are used for the soft sculpturing of dolls, particularly facial details.
Beading Needles: Sizes 10 - 15
Beading needles are very fine, with a narrow eye to enable it to fit
through the center of beads and sequins. They are usually long so that a
number of beads can be threaded through at the same time. The Sizes most commonly available are 10 -15. On rare occasions an elusive size 16 (quite thin) can be found.
Leather Glover's Needles: Sizes 1 - 5
The Leather also known as the Glover's Needle is a heavy needle that has a sharp triangular point or wedge tip used for piercing and sewing (without tearing), leather, suede, man-made suedes, canvas and other stiff materials. The sail maker, cobbler, saddler and harness maker all uses the wedge-tipped needle available in a variety of lengths/shapes and sizes most commonly 1 through 5.
Sailmakers Needle: Sizes 1 - 5
Sailmaker needles are similar to leather needles, but the triangular point extends almost halfway up the shaft of the needle. Used for sewing thick canvas, heavy leather and carpets.
Upholstery Needles: Sizes- straight needle 3"-12" long, curved: 1.5"-6" long
An Upholstery Needle is a heavy, long needles that can be straight or
curved. The size ranges from the straight needle of 3"/7.5 cm to 12"/30cm long and the curved needle from 1.5" 3.75cm to 6"/15cm long in a wide variety of weights. The straight upholstery needle is used to sew heavy fabrics, upholstery work, tufting and for
tying quilts. The curved needle is used for difficult situations where a
straight needle is awkward or not practical to use again on heavy fabrics such as canvas, upholstery fabric, denim etc. The heavy duty 12" needle is also used for repairing mattresses.
The modern Tatting needle is long and the same thickness for it's entire length, including the eye. This is to enable the thread to be pulled through the double stitches used in tatting.
Bodkin is a long blunt lacing tool or thick needle with a ballpoint end and a large, elongated eye. They can be flat or round and are generally used for threading elastic, ribbon, cord or tape through casings and lace openings.
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