August 16, 2007

needle in a haystack

Enjoy this guest post from Erin (rectangel) - a super-cool Craftster embroiderer. Some of her amazing projects are on Flickr, but check Craftster for the real deal on this chica. :)

Recently I realized what a difference the right needle can make and wondered how I had completely ignored it up until now. It is like a deep dark secret of the sewing world and thank goodness for the internet or I would still be walking around Michael’s wondering if this time I had gotten lucky.

Chenille vs. Tapestry Needle
I can now say with confidence that my favorite needle is a number 26 chenille needle and I will never buy the mixed package of “embroidery needles” again. Chenille needles are shorter (which is great for tight spots) and easier to thread in my opinion but still have a sharp point:
chenille needles

I previously bought a package of Tapestry needles (they look the same as chenille needles) but their dull point can really make your chain stitch look uneven. Tapestry needles are good for cross stitch and thus abound everywhere but are not good for precise embroidery.

Another thing I hate is needles that tarnish and bend, and needles where the eye doesn’t seem smooth inside so I recently ordered some fancy needles from Needle six-packs are under $2 which is a great investment for the pleasure of perhaps stitching with the perfect needle.

Needles Unstuck
: What is the difference anyway?
Below are some great diagrams from Colonial Needle to help you see the differences in types of needles and how the sizing works. (view their complete list)

embroidery needles
embroidery: the ones I can thread are always too big. Oval eye, sharp point, finer-shanked than chenille and tapestry needles.

chenille needles
chenille: sharp point, long oval eye (and my fave).

tapestry needles
tapestry: same as Chenille but blunt point –good for loosely woven fabric (can be curved), long oval eye.

sharps / sewing needles
sharps/sewing: round eye, sharp point, medium length.

quilting needles
quilting: same as sharps but shorter, round eye, sharp point.

Some other things I’ve learned:
  • Needle eyes have right and wrong sides - choose the larger smoother side to prevent thread wear or if you aren’t happy with your needle's performance try threading it from the other side.
  • If your floss starts to fray the needle eye may be flawed or you might using too much floss.
  • A larger needle will help prevent wear on the thread if your fabric is rough.
  • A needle that leaves holes in your fabric is usually too large unless you are making bigger holes to protect the floss from the fabric.

What I love the best about the embroidery I do is that there are no rules. The back doesn’t have to look as good as the front the colors are up to me and so are the stitches and how my design comes out is not predetermined. It puts the art back into this craft for me and makes me extra proud of my designs. I have Jenny Hart to thank for that because she makes designs that I want to stitch and has never made a kit detailing the colors and number of threads. Everyone’s comes out different and they all look great.

I found my needle in the haystack I hope you find yours too :) and if you are working on an unconventional fabric maybe test out an unconventional needle!

Hi, I'm floresita, editor of Feeling Stitchy. I'm an avid stitcher, knitter, and crafter. You can see more of my stitching on Instagram and my blog. My vintage transfer collection is on Vintage Transfer Finds.

Feel free to email me with any ideas for the blog!


  1. Thanks to Floresita for her awesome work coding, editting and polishing up my ode to needles!

    Happy stitching,

  2. Wait - what? There's a right and wrong side to needles?! You are rocking my world.

    I recently switched to a smaller needle and I must say it's made a huge difference. I only have ONE of this length though, and I'm desperate to match it up with a full pack before I inevitably lose it! I'm sure this article will be helpful in identifying "my" needle - thank you for posting it.

    On a related note - I also recently switched to a smaller embroidery hoop. Also a big difference in the ergonomics of the stitching!

  3. I'm gonna take a closer look next time I go to the notions department. I like the really long slender needles that come in the multipack. I think since I usually use only 2 threads, the eye size isn't a big deal.
    Thanks for the tips rectangel!

  4. Thank you Erin! This post has been really helpful :)

  5. EXCELLENT post! yes, the chenille needles are fab. why isn't that common knowledge by stitching stores? it took me a long time to figure out to use chenille. thanks a million for the link to needle shopping. i am going to bookmark it right now and then get out my credit card.

  6. This post could not have come at a better time. I've been trying out some embroidery lately and was just swearing at my needle last night! thank you!!

  7. How come no-one ever told me about the right and wrond side of a needle?? And I've seen Chenille needles too and never really known if I should use them or not. Going to try them now.

    Thanks for a super-informative post!

  8. Thanks so much for these details! I'm a new embroider-er and had NO idea!

  9. This was really, really helpful! I'll keep an eye out -- ha ha, get it? -- for these chenille needles. (I can't say with any certainty what I'm using now.) Thanks!

  10. Your favorite needle is my favorite needle, too! I love a short needle. Great informative post!

  11. I was riveted to this post - what a great overview! I didn't know there was a right and wrong side to the eye of the needle! I tend to use short, sharp needles (much like myself...), and have definitely found that you should not use a length of thread too long or it will get damaged and fray before you complete it - and it's more likely to get tangled.

    Loved it! Thanks Erin and Flor.

  12. Wow! I'm so glad you all found this useful. I still had a few unsolved mysteries so I thought I'd post them here.

    I was wondering if anyone has tried out the easy/self threading/calyx eye needles? Verdict?

    Those of you who add beads what is your favorite beading needle and do you use embroidery thread?

    This week I've been embroidering on t-shirt material again and I think I'm leaning toward a blunt point on this fabric.

    Erin aka rectangel

  13. Erin- read this about those self threading needles:
    I guess that user finds that those needles are best for burying threads after machine quilting, but not so great for regular use.

    I went to the notions department and found my particular favorite package of needles: Milliners needles. I like the middle size. The most threads of floss I can use with these needles is 3 because the eye is so small, but they are long and I do prefer that.

  14. This post is possibly the greatest blog post ever! I'm still new at embroidery and I've been frustrated by needles: which needle for which project? what's the difference? etc... and all answered here. Seeing as I just snapped a needle in half in the middle of a project, I am so glad I stumbled onto this post. This is exciting stuff. Hopefully reading this will make for easier stitching and needle shopping.

  15. oh this is wonderful THANK YOU! I am quite new to stitching and have found this invaluable!!!!

  16. My mother gave me all her cross stitch stuff and I was using her needles, when I went to buy some for myself I got the wrong ones. This description is great, its more complicated than I thought.

  17. I absolutely love this blog!!! my new favorite find!

  18. I need #6 thread for my project