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Hand Sewing: Selecting the Right Needle for the Job

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Click to Read MoreAt Sew4Home, we do everything possible using a machine. It's so much faster. However, there are times when hand sewing is necessary. Instead of searching the junk drawer for that needle you thought you saw awhile ago when hunting for the tape, stock up on these five basic types of hand-sewing needles.

Hand sewing needles vary in thickness, length, point shape and size of the needle eye. They come packaged by type and size: the larger the needle size, the shorter and finer the needle. Yes, you read that correctly. Select the type of needle for the type of project and within that category, the size of needle for the weight and thread you are using. Fortunately, hand sewing needles are inexpensive, so you can afford to keep an assortment in your sewing area.

Hand Sewing Needles: The Basic Five

The packages shown below are basic needle types. While there are dozens of special-purpose needles, these five will go a long way.

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If you're just starting out... get a variety pack. I paid $1.83 for the pack of 50 Assorted Needles which includes all of the basic five.

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If you decide to buy only one type of needle, it should be Sharps. Sharps are medium length needles and the most commonly used hand sewing needles. They are also very sharp! (Available in sizes 1-12)

Quilting Needles

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Often called Betweens, Quilting Needles are shorter needles with a small rounded eye. The shorter length allows you to stitch quickly and accurately. They are used for detailed handwork and quilting. (Available in sizes 1-12)

Embroidery Needles

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Also called Crewel Needles, Embroidery Needles are the same length and thickness as Sharps, but have a longer eye for easier threading using embroidery threads. (Sizes 1-10)

Ball Point Needles

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Ball Points have a rounded point which makes them perfect for sewing on knit fabric. Where a Sharp can damage knit fabric by actually breaking the knit stitches, a ball point glides between the yarns instead of through them. (Available in sizes 5-10.)

Chenille Needles

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Chenille Needles are thick, have a large long eye and are very sharp. They are used for ribbon and heavy embroidery where the eye can easily accommodate several strands of floss. The sharp point makes it easy to stitch through coarse fabric.

Add a Thimble and You're Good to Go

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A thimble protects your finger when pushing a needle through fabric. Thimbles are commonly made from metal, leather and rubber. People who do a lot of hand sewing develop a preference for a specific type of thimble. For me, the key is to be sure it fits your finger – doesn't fall off, but not too snug.  If you have long nails, you can even buy a thimble with a cut out area for your nail.



Comments (17)

Matt said:
Matt's picture

How do we know what size in the 5-10 package is a size 10 and which is the 5? For some reason the packages are all unlabeled. 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Matt - as mentioned above, the larger the needle size, the shorter and finer the needle. So the 10s will be shorter and finer than the 5s in your package.

Linda Lu said:
Linda Lu's picture

This is very helpful information indeed.  I am confused on one point, however.  You said "the larger the needle size, the shorter and finer the needle." Yet in the photo, the chenille needles at size 18 are clearly not shorter and finer than the other smaller sized needles.  Can you clarify?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Linda - the different types of needles are sized accordingly. The thick chenille needles usually come in sizes 16 - 24, with 16 being the heaviest and 24 being the finest. You want to do your comparison wtihin categories not between categories. This guide from our friends at Prym Dritz may be of additional help:


Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ mag-cars-steel -- I've never actually tried that. Perhaps if you are very clever, you could get it to work, but it would be a challenge as the eye of the needle is at the opposite end on a sewing machine needle (at the point rather than at the end), so it will be hard to form a good stitch. 

bellamichelle said:
bellamichelle's picture

 I appreciate learning what kind of sewing the name referrs to.  Can you explain what the number is referring to when it is labed as a size 10?  Is it the eye or the needle length? 

jean-huy said:
jean-huy's picture


I am looking for hand sewing needles that are 1 inches long each.  Do you have a recommended size for that?


Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ jeam-huy - unless you are searching upholstery needles, which are often quite long (6-12") for sewing buttons and such, needles are usually sized by the dimension of the eye and the point style not the actual length. I'm afraid we cannot help you with a specfic length. You may simply need to measure them in the store.

Susan Hoic' said:
Susan Hoic''s picture

Great info! Been sewing off & on for 40 yrs., but never really knew the specifics, thanks.

I do alot of cross-stitching & would like to better understand the different types of needle work needles. Also, found a package of needles in the attic of the house I bought & would love some info on them. 3" Sack Needle; 3.5" Curved Mattress; 2.25" Sail Needle; #14 Couching & finally , size 4 Glovers Needle (it has no eye). Any info would be appreciated.

Olive said:
Olive's picture

Straws for millinery. Betweens for tailoring, Crewell for embroidery

Kathy C said:
Kathy C's picture

I'm just starting to get into hobbies at age 40 and I figured hand sewing might be better and less scary after my ordeal in 8th grade sewing class. It was awful. I was also trying to get info on knots and stuff, which I think I found, because I really don't think that generic knot & stitch my mom taught me, and used on every garment when I was a kid, is really a stitch. After researching hand sewing I'm sure she made it up. Anyway thanks for clarifying the different needles.

Sandy Fidler said:
Sandy Fidler's picture
Thanks for the info about needles for hand sewing: I have never had anyone tell me there is a differance other than for Emb. and upholstery: