Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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On Pins and Needles


Amazon Books

When talking pins and needles on a needlework blog written near the end of the school year by a teacher, I guess we could approach the subject two ways: metaphorically or literally. Metaphorically, I’m in the same state as most students at this time of year: a bright cloud of anticipation is hovering over me as we get closer to The End. But in every end, there’s a beginning, and in my case, the beginning of the summer signals a time for fulfilling all those solid plans and even wispy daydreams of the Creative. So, yep, I’m on pins and needles in that regard, kind of floating in a state of suspension while struggling to remain very focused on my job.

Literally, though, let’s talk pins and needles – you know, real pins and needles. The-tools-of-the-trade pins and needles. You know the kind!

Needlework Needles and Sewing Pin Storage

I have a lot of needles on hand – probably more than I will use in the next ten years. This surplus of embroidery and sewing needles has led to some strange consequences. How often do you have neighbors, friends, family members, and so forth stopping at your house to ask if you have an extra needle? I envy the folks who get to lend eggs and cups of sugar – cooking ingredients seem so much friendlier, after all, than a needle!

Another consequence of having a plethora of needles and types of needles on hand is having a storage solution for them. I’ll admit that I don’t have a “solution.” I just have storage! I use “archival” acid-free photo boxes for a lot of my needlework supplies, especially goldwork threads, some floss, and even some fabrics (though I prefer rolling fabric to folding it). And pins and needles.

Needlework Needles and Sewing Pin Storage

I don’t think it’s necessary to use archival boxes for needles and pins, really. But for me, they’re a good size for stacking on shelves (some the size of a shoe box, some a double shoe box), they were inexpensive (I found a heap of them on sale at a camera shop – all white), and they have this handy-dandy label spot on the front, for labeling the contents of the box.

Needlework Needles and Sewing Pin Storage

But while all that “stacked box stuff” may sound very organized when talking about the shelf, you can see that the inside of the box is not so impressive. And yet – everything I need, needle-wise, is there. I’m considering putting little file separators in my box, so I can sort by type and size, but it’s not high on my To-Do list right now!

The majority of my needles are John James needles, because: 1. they’re good needles; and 2. they’re pretty widely available. I also use S. Thomas & Sons, Richard Hemming, Bohin, and occasionally (if I need a specific needle I don’t have and I’m at a local craft store) DMC needles. I use Mary Arden needles, especially for beading needles. I use needles from Wendy Schoen Designs. I use Foxglove Garden needles, especially milliners, because they carry them up to a size 11. For really fine embroidery, I look for sizes 11 & 12 crewel (embroidery) needles, but they’re often pretty hard to come by.

The moral of the story is, I don’t stick only with one brand of needle. But I do believe some needles are better than others. Just an example: I’ll always choose a John James needle over a Richard Hemming, if given a choice, because I’ve experienced too many eye burrs in Richard Hemming needles.

So there’s a little Needle Talk for you today, along with some resources and a link to a good reference chart. (Incidentally, as far as pins go, I store them in the same box as my needles!)

What about you? How do you store your surplus needles? Are you very organized with them? Go ahead – leave a comment and let’s talk needles!


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(55) Comments

  1. I struggled all winter with DMC needles doing just inexpensive dishtowels to replace my 50+yr. old dishtowels and was not happy at all with any needle I tried. Finally went to the Stitch Store and got James needles and I could not believe the difference. If they made such a difference in the lowly dishtowel you can bet I would Not use anything but James needles on something more important!!

  2. How about an article on thimbles, I seem to have a “tween” size finger and cannot find a thimble deep enough and skinny enough to fit my fingers.

  3. Mary,thanks for the interesting article on pins and needles. It made me think of the tip that was given to me some time back. Namely, when you are battling to thread a needle, turn it round and try threding from the other side and you will be instantly successful! Why? Because needle holes are punched and therefore have a definite entry and exit of the hole and this is where finding the original entry helps with threading. Since being told this, it has my such sense for me and threading has become a dream and very quick!

  4. I am SO ORGANIZED w/my pins & needles.
    I made pads (looks like pot holders – but bigger) and EACH PAD holds a type of needles. One holds tiny quilters, and small eye needles, and bead wire needles. One holds blunts & glovers, still another holds sharps and general, all-purpose types and finally, one holds curved and bent-tips, and unusuals (12″ leather upholstery needle) etc. The pads are hung around a worktable for easy retrieval.
    PINS (yes, I’m serious) – go onto separate tomatoes and strawberries, according to thickness and length!
    I’d have taken a picture but my digital camera is broke!

  5. LOVE the chart. I think I will print the chart and use scrap booking double sided tape to attach it to the inside top of my storage box!! I do have a few stray needles every now and then (just a few, teehee)
    Thanks OOdles!
    ~SandiR, Happy stitcher in FL

  6. Dear Mary, I very seldom leave a comment but I so enjoy and look forward to your daily blog. I have printed out the C.B. section on needles. Thanks for that. God bless.

  7. Interesting point about eye burrs. I hven’t had that problem, but will watch for it.
    On another subject, you mention that you are nearing the end of the school year – can we see some pics of the work that your embroidery students have done. We saw the beginning, it would be nice to see the end.

  8. Hi Mary, Whoa, and I thought I had needles! I have stored my needles in a metal cigar box that has a clear window on top. Cost $1.00. I printed the info on needles and placed it in a folder for reference. Thanks.

  9. Thank you for the article regarding needles. I store my needles similarly to the way you do. The only thing extra I do is keep each different types of needles in small separate bags that I made from my quilting scraps in the storage box. I have printed out the needle info from Country bumpkin. It is a great chart.

  10. Good Morning Mary,

    I store my needles in a drawer of a small three drawer plastic cart, and it very much the same as yours, that is, all jumbled in together. I do put them in small zip lock snack bags and keep all of one kind together. I don’t have quite the variety that you do, but I make it up in quantity as my drawer is stuffed!

    It’s funny you should mention Piecemakers, I was just there last weekend, as it’s pretty close to my house.

  11. A needle Mary?
    I’ll get back to you when i’ve found one. They tend to migrate into all the different UFO containers, bags, pouches etc, which in turn tend to scatter all over..well, just all over!
    Cheers, Kath.

  12. This reminds me of an internet article that I read a while ago (can’t find it now of course, but if I do I’ll share a link)
    I don’t remember all the details but I think it was about a missionary barrel that was being prepared after WWII. The town where is was to go had been sharing ONE needle for the entire town! How blessed we are!
    I was also thinking small manilla type envelopes that could hold several needle cards inside the box? i can picture a pretty list on the top of the box with a different colored dot sticker that would match the dot on each envelope. Red dot=John James

  13. You have a nice collection of needles! I like the photo box idea, my sewing themed tins don’t really have a way to mark contents and they don’t stack.

    I keep the sewing machine needles separate from hand needles, also sorted somewhat by type. Schmetz in an old wooden Wilson & Wheeler(?) box. Singer needles in a plastic drawer.

    As for hand needles, I mostly have John James, DMC, Mary Arden, Dritz (all brands found in local stores) as I’ve not gotten to the point of needing a really specialized needle. They are separated with “normal” needles (sharps, tapestry, etc) in one tin, and the “odd” needles (curved, doll-making, craft, etc) in another tin. The upholstery needles are left in a drawer as they are just too long for a tin. I admit some needles I got because they were on the shelf at the store and it was a 50% off sale. And some of the odd needles I thought “interesting – could come in handy someday”. And some of them have!

  14. My favorite needles are Bohin needles (a French company). They are triple polished (very, very smooth), burrs virtually non-existent, and they have a “pointier point” (not to say that the tapestries are “pointed” — but are just more “pointy”). Before I discovered these needles, I shared your view on needles. Once I used THIS needle, it made me take notice.

  15. I use needlecases for my working needles. Stitching up a small project in a new technique is lots of fun and I usually make them up into needle cases. Then I can put a different case in each project I’m working on. The ‘extras’ live in a small set of wooden drawers from IKEA. Are they organized – well, kinda, sorta maybe! I’m curious tho’. When do you decide a needle is dead – other than obvious breaks?

  16. Yup, I am like you have so many needles don’t know which one to use. Well I keep using my favorite one all the time and when I misplace it I panic, no other one will do. Isn’t it funny how we get sometimes. I have so many packages of needles I never will use them all but being a seamstress and needlworker we just have to have too many needles and pins.Just like me with 40 years of fabrics don’t know when I will sew it but its there when I am ready. And the embroidery threads and needlework fabrics same thing.

  17. Needle Topic;
    I once had a terrfic round eyed beading needle, perfect for metallic floss. One day I put it in a “safe place” for a minute and it disappeared and never did find it. I spent about 3 years looking for a replacement (before Internet). Never found a round eyed beading needle in the shops. One day it dawned on me, it really wasn’t a beading needle at all but a sewing needle with a round eye small enough to be a beading needle. Ha ha ha.

  18. Hi Mary,
    My needle storage looks much like yours though I do keep my machine and hand needles separate.

    Thanks for the tip on the Hemming vs. James needles. I usually use either of those or Piecemakers and now realize it may not always be my thread that is the problem.

  19. Dear Mary

    Thanks for this article. I was just thinking yesterday how I could organise needles I’ve collected over the months I have been embroidering.
    As a beginner just something I don’t understand in a packet of needles I have there are 16 needles size 5-10 but which are size 5 & which are size 6, 7, and so on, does that sound silly. Also what size straw/millner needle do I need for the buillion knot.
    Thanks for all your links on where to buy needles I just ordered some from John James I seem to use needles quite quickly.

    I’m in the throws of the long & short shading samplar. so engrossed it takes all my concentration. But loving it.


  20. About pins and needles I also Use John James Needles I store them with all my other sewing needles in my Sewing box the Kind that is like a accordian..I find if I start storing them someplace else I forget where I have put them so into my sewing box they go…Pins,needles all go into the same sewing box..
    Have a great day and keep stitching

  21. I have a flat plastic box (maybe a tackle or craft box) that I put my machine needles in. the divisions are just the right size for Schmetz needles and I can divide by size and type. For my other needles I use a hardware organizer for screws, bolts, etc. that has little drawers. Very good size for putting in a cabinet and you can put lables on the clear drawers to tell you what size is inside. Helps with restocking also.

  22. I am really enjoying your site and your stitchery projects. Thanks also for sharing all your knowledge and tips.

  23. Good topic Mary! Thanks for posting the link to the free needle chart. If anyone wants a more detailed summary with storage, check out The Needle Index available thru EGA. When I first started stitching, I didn’t know one needle from another so relied on an index made by a friend. Then I found the Index! What’s cool about this little book? Two (facing) pages are devoted to each common type. Example: Embroidery/Crewel on the left has a description & applicable techniques plus a size chart where you can measure your needle. The right hand page has a piece of felt in which to store needles. The felt flips up to reveal a chart of applicable strands, threads & silk ribbon. I’ve owned mine for more than 10 yrs & it’s a little dog-earred so I just bought a new one at GLR seminar. New needles go in the Index so I can ALWAYS find one. Others are scattered about in wips & ufos. And of course there are all those little class projects that got made into needle books, various tubular peyote beaded wood cases & some of the carved ones from Lacis. So–there is no “one & only” best way to store them. Just what works for me or you.

  24. Hi Mary,
    I also store my needles in a heap in a drawer of my rolling cabinet. They’re sort of organized by what I use them for. I also like James for the same reason. However, sometimes anything the right size will work.
    My larger tapestry needles are almost always on a piece of burlap or my colcha embroidery pin cushion. I often teach groups and it’s handy to have them see where to return it when they finish. Rarely do they lose them! They also like seeing the colcha they will make already on something.
    The pins are another story. I have two drawers for them. As a lacemaker, I need to have the appropriate type for the lace. It’s very dry in NM, so I don’t worry so much about rust anymore. But that is still an issue for storing my pins and needles. My tip for keeping the moisture low (if you don’t live in a desert!) is to save the little silicon packs from shipping boxes and bags and just drop them into the box or drawer where you store them.
    Thank you for your blog! Always learning something!

  25. Hi, Mary
    All my needlework supplies are arranged in a circular hors d’oevre turntable, with my needles, separated by size, in round, wood tubes, placed in the center bowl. Each tube has the size number on the cap. However, I find that the Bohin crewel needles have a long, thin eye which frays and breaks my crewel wool – even size 3 and 4. I am searching for the “old time” OVAL eye crewel needles, as the 4 (!) that I have used for almost 40 years need replacing ASAP! Can you suggest a brand of such crewel needles and/or what site to look for them? Your article is wonderful and SO timely for me! I REALLY look forward to your daily Emails each day!!!

  26. enjoyed the articles, have several different brands of needles, usually use a packet up on my different projects….have a good summer.

  27. I love this article. Me? I love the JJ tapesty petites. Others swear by the Bohin, but I don’t like them near as much as the John James needles, they fit the best in my hands.

    Storage, well, I keep my backups in a snap-it sewing box, but those that I am using on a project, I keep in a teddy bear in a mug (that had come with some flowers at one time or other). I keep my needles(at times threaded), my threader and even my small stitching scissors in this mug, and the stuffed bear keeps it all in place (as it fills the mug). It makes it easy to cart around (for clearing away for company), but easy to keep track of, and it looks like a knick knack, as I only have to put it on a shelve…

  28. Hello Mary and Anita
    I am a beginner too and was puzzled by sizes until I found a chart on a site that gave the number plus the length. I measured all my needles! Am frustrated that I cannot locate the site for you now but I have a printout and for Crewel the lengths were 5=41.5mm, 6=39.5, 7=38.0,8=36.0,9=34.5,10=32.5mm. Hope this helps.
    Something Mary said previously made me organise mine just a few weeks ago. They are stored in a plastic box, pinned into felt rectangles cut to size, with a sticky address label on the back denoting the type and size. I used different coloured felt for crewel, tapestry, milliners. Turned out to be a useful exercise as found I had been repeat buying the same size Crewel and have more than I could use in my remaining years!
    Lynne St Albans UK

  29. My needle storage saviour is a handy dandy book called The Needle Index. It has a page for every type of needle. On the right hand page is a 3 X 5 piece of a sort of felt for sticking your needles through. Each will hold a couple of dozen needles depending on the size. The felt is a bit abrasive so I imagine it helps sharpen the tip of a needle when you push it through. On the left hand page are life size illustrations of all the sizes of that needle as well as a description of the needle and its uses. Under the felt is an index of all the fibres (and how many strands of each) any given size of the needle type will accommodate. These index books were (and may still be)availabe from the Valley Quail chapter of the EGA. I love my needle index. It is a compact sensible portable way of storing every needle I can imagine needing. As long as I return the needle to its proper page I no longer need to worry whether I have a size 5 sharp or a size 5 crewel needle in my hand.

  30. Hi, Mary! I store my needles in my large sewing box (with a kitty pattern on it). I’ve always had a confusing time with needles – that’s why I’m so grateful for the chart from Country Bumpkin. Now, I hope, the ladies at JoAnns won’t think I’m crazy for standing in front of the needle rack for so long! I’m sure it will help me when buying them online, too. Thanks!

  31. Thanks for the chart!

    I hang my needles by size in their original containers on the pegboard behind my workspace. If that can’t be done, I hurl them together in a box. And the box changes because I find it soothing to organize my area, so periodically I just re-do everything.

  32. I’m impressed that they are all together in the same box. I can see that my organization has a long way to go.

  33. Liked your article and the chart will be very useful. I want to pass along a tip I have passed along elsewhere for years. When you get pills or some other items, often you will get a small packet of silica gel or something to keep moisture away. If you are in a humid area, pop one of those packets in with your needles and pins…it really works!

  34. And here I thought I was a needle nut… I have managed to out grow my gallon sized zip-loc bag. Each type of needle: crewel, embroidery, tapestry, etc. is organized between snack baggies and quart baggies… all stuffed into this gallon bag. lol May want to get you a box of snack baggies 🙂

  35. My needle storage looks a lot like yours! I have too many needles (is that common?) so I use small rubber bands to put like sizes and types together. But I do keep my hand sewing needles separate from my sewing machine needs, thereby only having half the problem of finding what I need. I love J. James and S. Thomas needles but am finding it does help to use a strawberry emery to keep them smooth and sharp as the ones I use all the time are years old. I was having thread shredding problems until I started running the needles clear through the emery, that seems to help some. Thanks for your tips!!

  36. Mary,
    Having your stuff in boxes even if not organized inside, is a step above at this point. I am using my ironing board as a computer desk today, which is worse than usual. Needles are kept in the corners of projects, in the sewing machine cabinet, and I even have a rosemaled needle case from my mother-in-law, but mostly they are usually buried in a drawer or stuck into a pin cushion. Sometimes they are left in the plastic cases they come in and palced in the sewing basket, but buried under the other stuff in the basket. I also stick them into the center of thread spools at times as well, but somehow I always seem to have one when I need it.

  37. Organized? hah! I wish I was, but just haven’t settled on a system that would work well for me. My system looks remarkably like yours. A box with enough room so all my needles that are in cases or envelopes aren’t jammed together, I can sort through them easily. Then there is the other, smaller box that is just about 1/3 full of loose needles. Sad, but if I need I needle, I can find one.

  38. I store my needles I am using in wood needle holders that I can write the name of the type of needle on. I store my extra needles in a box with a silaca packet to help keep moisture away.

  39. Hi Mary idea of dividers in your white box sounds like a good idea when you get around to it, in the mean time you could sort the packets and put a rubber band around the bundle make for quicker easier searching for a needle type. It is nice though some times to just fossick, like in the button jar.
    Thanks for the emails.

  40. Hi Mary
    The needle problem seems to be a big one everybody has.A while back a friend of mine seemed to hit on a solution to store all the packets of needles. It is the plastic pockets that the people use for business cards and these can then be stored in files for the business cards. Have not done it myself but it is one of my future projects.

  41. I saw this comment, but do not know what the origonal was. A needle index book is the best solution I know of. I sell them, but the book is the masterpiece of EGA. I also had more needles than it would hold, so I took one apart and used the index in a large needle index loose leaf binder 7″x9″ I made with Brazilian Embrodery cover.

  42. What a great topic. I find myself with a needlebook full of needles, roughly sorted as to type and size, plus a box (just a regular cardboard-type box) with the excess. Machine needles are stored in drawers in one of those ‘nail and screw’ storage thingies with lots of little drawers.

    As to brands: thank you for your input and advice. I have always liked John James best without really knowing why, but not always used them because they are not readily available in my town and I have to buy them online. And you know what they say, needs must … and all that, I use whatever I can get my hands on.

  43. to store my needles and pins i make little books

    (usually i use felt rectangles for the pages and embroider the needle type on top of the page…each book has about 16 pages (8 folded rectangles of felt) as for the cover its usually an embroidered fabric (rectangles a little bigger than the pages ..i cut 2 and sew them together around the edges and ‘stuff’it with cardboard or plastic to stiffen it)….to hold it together i just sew down the middle with the sewing machine adding a ribbon as a tie to fasten the book closed…they work well..i have quite a few in various sizes and variations to hold my other tools knitting needles, crochet hooks etc)

    as for needles i use…i have no idea! i bought an old sewing box from a second hand market a few years back and its contents dated back to the 30s! the needles are still super shiny and sharp and ive not had any trouble with them yet..unlike a few modern brands ive tried …plus theres loads! cant beat vintage i guess 🙂

  44. Hi Mary,
    Great talk on needles! I use John James and Richard Hemming. For storage I keep all my needles in their original packages, once I use a needle I put it back in the package “upside down”. That way I know which needle is in “process”, I use that needle until I need to start a new one. If I use several of the same size for one project they all get put back upside down.
    I then stack each type of needle in ascending size and hold them with a loose rubber band or piece of ribbon. Not original or pretty but it works for me!

  45. I don’t really sort my needles, but I store unpackaged ones in wooden toothpick holders (I found mine in a souvenir shop). Buying several may be a good way to organize them.

  46. I have just re-read your posting on needles, and I appreciated it as much this time as I did the first time I read it. However, I have a question that I meant to ask. What is an eye burr??? I use #28 tapestry needles for almost all of my counted thread embroidery, and it doesn’t matter what the brand: the tip where the needle is threaded is very vulnerable to breaking off. My needlework friends do not seem to have the same difficulty. Any ideas as to why?

    1. Hi, Leona – After I’ve used a #28 tapestry needle for a while, I’m prone to breaking them at the eye, too. The #28 needles are fairly fine, and at the eye, of course the wire is finer. If you hold your needle just at the base of the eye and have a to hold it so that it develops a curve after a bit of use (which is what happens with me), then it’s not unusual that the eye would eventually break. Most needles I use that are fine (size 10 and higher for embroidery, and size 28 for tapestry needles) develop a permanent bend from the way I hold my needle…. and with the tapestry needles, because the eyes are longer and very fine, they generally eventually snap.

      An eye burr is a little imperfection inside the eye of the needle, that usually comes about because of the way the machine-made needle is manufactured. It’s like a little sliver of the metal inside the eye. Liken it to a hang nail, and that’s about it. A burr inside a needle’s eye can shred thread more quickly.

  47. Thank you, Mary, for your detailed and instructive answer. One of my daily boosts is reading your blog, either in my email or on Facebook. Occasionally I’ll even leave a message on Facebook; I did so yesterday in response to your simile likening pattern collections to cookbooks. How apt! That justifies my stash, and now I feel a little less guilt about my accumulation of patterns even though I, an octogenarian, can never possibly get to all of them!

  48. I have a question about how I might store threaded needles for easy access.
    I am visually impaired with loss of most of my central vision to macular degeneration at an early age. I still love to sew but threading the needles has become the bane of my existence. It takes two magnifiers, all sorts of tricks and jumping through hoops to get a needle threaded. Sometimes it can take me up to 15 minutes to get one needle threaded. I want to have my husband thread needles in asst. colors for me and keep them until needed. I am talking 20 or more. I can’t think of a good way to keep them that they will not get tangled. You know how that is. Can you think of an organization system I could use?

  49. I store all my needles in a PLANO fishing tackle box. In the top area there are large spaces which I place needles I’m currently using. In the deep bottom area I place all like needles together (example: all sharp # 10) and wrap these needles no matter what brand with a pony tail hair band (you get at a local drug store). I place a sticky note in front of each package and file/organize each row. It is amazing how much time I save and watch for sales on those needles I need.

  50. I tried to go to the link you have listed for needle reference chart and it says error. Is there a website you can give me for this?
    Thank you.

    1. Hi, Michelle – thanks for alerting me to the broken link. That website is no longer functioning – they’re now called Create in Stitch, out of Australia, but they don’t have the reference chart on their new website.

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