10 things to remember about hand embroidery needles

10 things to remember about hand embroidery needles

Needles are the tool that hand embroidery can't do without. And that tool raises many questions in the minds not only of beginners but even experienced stitchers. So, what are the top things we should know about the needles?

1. They are cheap. 

I almost hear you say “duh” here, but I actually think it is important to consider this aspect. Why are they cheap? Because nowadays they are manufactured in great quantities in factories. So.. do they have the same quality as they used to have back in the days? Sadly, no. Be prepared that even the finest “English needle” might break in your hands. That's just the truth of modern needle industry, something we have to admit. On the bright side, it means they are easy to replace.

2. Needles rust. 

In conditions of high humidity, when your hands sweat and produce natural oils – it is better to clean the needle (and the hands). Another cause of rust might be the saliva from when you lick the thread. Yeah, most of us do (me included) but it's important to know that eventually, it might result in a corroded needle. Any moisture is better to be avoided when you hand embroider.

3. Needles can get burrs on their surface. 

That also should be avoided. There are ways to sharpen your needle with emery. You can take an emery board and rub the needle in one direction. Or, if you have a strawberry cushion filled with gritty emery powder, pull the needle all the way through it in one direction. Don't poke it in and out - it will sharpen when you insert it and blunt when you take it out. Pulling the needle through the emery sand cushion also helps to get rid of the moisture on it, which prevents rusting.

4. Why corroded needle should be avoided. 

New needles usually have smooth, sleek surface that makes it easier for them to pass through the fabric. It's important for it to glide through effortlessly because it minimizes the possibility of thread and fabric abrasion. A rusted needle is more difficult to pass through the fabric and to thread, because the surface loses its sleekness. The corrosion affects the thread and fabric and causes fraying, and it just doesn't “feel” nice in your hands. So, take precautions of the needle to not rust – use the emery strawberry and avoid the moisture – but if it still gets corroded, then it's better to replace it.

5. Needles come in various types. 

The top five types of hand sewing needles are chenille needles, tapestry needles, crewel (embroidery) needles, milliners (straw) needles and beading needles. All of them differ in the shape of the shaft and the eye.

Chenille needles have medium length, their shaft is rather thick and the eye is extra long which allows threading few strands of floss or wool and for using thick thread. The point of the needle is sharp. Chenille needle is commonly used in crewel embroidery.

Tapestry needles have a similar shape to the chenille ones, except that they have a blunt point. They are commonly used for embroidery on evenweave fabrics like Aida, where it is necessary to insert the needle in the ready holes.

Crewel (Embroidery) needles come in medium length, have a long oval eye and a sharp point. They can be used for a general purpose in surface embroidery.

Milliners (straw) needle has an extra long shaft with a sharp tip and a small round eye which doesn't form a bulge. The width of the shaft is even all throughout from the point to the eye, that's why it is commonly used for working stitches that require wrapping thread around the needle (like bullion stitch).

Beading needle is one of the finest needles with a long narrow eye that allows passing through the seed (and other types) of beads.

10 things to remember about hand embroidery needles

6. Needles come in various sizes. 

Every type of the needle has their own size map, but the general rule is that the higher the number the finer the needle (where “finer” might refer to both the narrower shaft and the lesser length). And vice versa, the lower the number the thicker the needle.

7. Do you really need all of the needles mentioned above? 

If you are a needleworker that works with a wide variety of fabrics and all kinds of thread and likes to try various styles, then probably yes. If you are a seasoned stitcher and already developed your own preferences in fabrics and thread, it is enough to have the types of needles which are relevant for your style. For example, if you never do canvas work and never use wool thread, you can do fine without tapestry and chenille needles. If you are a beginner at surface embroidery, I would recommend having Crewel needles in few sizes and a Milliners needle.

8. That being said, growing your needles collection will be an advantage in the long run. 

It's never a bad idea to have a wide range of needles available at hand when you embroider. It allows you more freedom of tools, and that's always a huge plus in any craft. More than that, with time you might grow your collection with handmade needles or any other special pieces. All in all, investing in this tool will certainly be beneficial. But you can take it slowly and gradually.

9. Choosing the right needle for your project depends on the thread and the fabric you are using. 

The size of the needle should be matching to the fabric's weave: if it is too big it will leave holes in the fabric that will spoil the look of embroidery. On the other side, if it is too small it will likely wear the thread, as it passes through the fabric again and again. There is no exact formula for choosing the needle – it is something you will come to feel with time.

10. Keep the needles safe. 

It is a good idea to keep them in a needlebook or needlecase. After all, losing them is not something you want to experience... Trust me, having one stick in your foot will not feel nice. There are lots of great tutorials for simple and pretty needlebooks out there. Normally they are based on felt and it's not that difficult to make one :) If you have lots of needles you can sort them out by types and sizes – it will make the choosing process easier. If you lost a needle, then use a magnet to find it.

Do you have anything to add? Share your tips and secrets ;)


  1. That you for your helpful comments.👍

  2. Tweezers, because everyone makes mistakes. Seam rippers because same

  3. I kept my needles in a felt book someone made for me. Came to use them, every one has gone rusty! I thought they would be toasty dry in a felt book in a needle box! Never happened before. Any ideas why? Don't want it to happen again. :( Thank you. Fran

  4. Use silica packets from RX medication bottles to keep with your needles. Perhaps sew an extra pocket on your needle notebook and tuck a silica packets inside to keep needles dry. These packets are usually white with black writing on them. They contain a small amount of desiccant that is poisonous if ingested, so keep away from children and pets. They can also be found in purses and cosmetic bags when purchased new and sometimes may be in larger packets and cylinder shapes. I save them and use the in everything that may suffer moisture damage, like family photos or important documents. Start saving them babies!! They work wonders!!

  5. Thankyou soooo much im very exited to start embroidering and this will be very helpful

  6. Do you use an emery to keep them sharp, or do you just replace frequently?

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