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How to Choose the Right Embroidery Needles for Any Project

Updated on December 30, 2017

Antique Embroidery

Embroidery on Gloves in Museum
Embroidery on Gloves in Museum | Source

An Introduction to the Art of Embroidery

Since humans first started sewing animal skins with needle and sinew, many forms of needlework have developed. Once weaving was invented, people looked for ways to decorate the fabrics they created. Basic embroidery skills were used to stitch initials or family symbols on valuable and scarce textiles for identification. As textiles became more abundant and affordable, more decorative embroidery techniques were created.

Embroidery: Essential Tools

Whether simple or elaborate, however, all embroidery is accomplished with a few basic tools. The essential tools include:

  • small, sharp scissors,
  • a hoop or frame to hold fabric taut, and
  • needles.

The correct needles for a particular fabric and thread combination are vitally important for a successful embroidery project. Here are tips on buying the correct needles for each project.

Hand Sewing Needles for Free Embroidery

Free embroidery is done without counting threads. The stitching follows a design that is stamped or traced on the fabric. Needles for free embroidery are called embroidery or crewel needles. They have a sharp point for piercing the fabric cleanly and a large eye to be used with multiple strands of cotton floss or tapestry (also called Persian) wool. Use fine needles for shadow embroidery on batiste. Use larger needles for decorative stitching on denim or velvet. Be sure the eye of the needle is large enough for the thread or wool to prevent fraying.

Embroidery and crewel needles are given numeric sizes. The larger the number, the smaller the needle. A package of crewel needles of assorted sizes and a package of chenille needles will equip an embroiderer for a variety of projects using various methods, including shadow work, smocking, cross stitch on gingham, cutwork, yarn tapestry on burlap, and satin stitch monograms.

Handy Needle Guide for Free Embroidery

muslin, batiste, organdy
cotton floss
size 6-8 crewel
gingham, hardanger, linen
cotton floss
size 5-8 crewel
gingham, hardanger, linen
Persian wool
size 5 crewel
sport or worsted yarn
size 18 or 20 chenille

Tapestry Needles for Counted Thread Embroidery

Counted thread embroidery designs are not marked on the fabric. The embroiderer follows a chart using the threads of the background fabric as a guide. Counted-thread embroidery variations include:

  • Assisi work,
  • black work or red work,
  • counted cross stitch,
  • huck weaving,
  • Swedish weaving,
  • duplicate stitch on a knit background,
  • cross stitch on an afghan crochet background,
  • drawn thread work, and
  • pulled thread work.

Because this method requires the thread to pass between the threads of the backing instead of penetrating the threads, a tapestry needle with a blunt tip is used. Tapestry needles, like crewel needles, have a large eye to accommodate the thickness of the floss or yarn used in stitching.

Example of Work Done with Tapestry Needle

Duplicate Stitch on Knitted Scarf
Duplicate Stitch on Knitted Scarf | Source

Handy Needle Guide for Counted Thread Embroidery

Aida 18-count
cotton floss
26 tapestry
Aida 11-14 count
cotton floss
24 tapestry
huck toweling or monk's cloth
6-strand floss or Persian wool
20-22 tapestry
knit or crocheted background
sport or worsted yarn
13-16 tapestry


100 Embroidery Stitches, 19th edition, Coats & Clark, 1979, Greenville, SC.

The Complete Encyclopedia of Needlework, 3rd edition, Terese de Dillmont, 1996,Running Press, Philadelphia.

Helpful Embroidery Video


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    • profile image

      Pharmf927 4 years ago

      Hello! dedcgaa interesting dedcgaa site! I'm really like it! Very, very dedcgaa good!

    • kschimmel profile image

      Kimberly Schimmel 5 years ago from North Carolina, USA

      It's a new year. For an inexpensive treat, buy a new package of sharp needdles and enjoy easy stitching. Life's simple pleasures are the best!

    • profile image

      PWalker281 5 years ago

      I agree; excellent hub for the beginning embroiderer. I used to do "free embroidery" as a kid. I enjoyed it for a while, but soon went on to other needle crafts. If I ever get back into it, I can reference this hub. Voted up and shared.

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      A very good hub that gives useful, clear instructions. You must have done a lot of research for this and it shows. Voted up.