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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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The Needle You Need!

 

I think we’ve all experienced it: that overwhelming frustration when, in the middle of an embroidery project, nothing is going right with the thread.

It’s tangling. It’s fraying at the eye. It’s fuzzing up. It’s shredding as you stitch. SHREDDING!!

Aaaaaaaaaaaack! You’ve had it up your eyeballs with the fibery little beast.

You might be tempted to say, “I can’t do this. I’m not good enough. It must be me.”

No no no. Pause a moment, and I’ll tell you something you might not know:

Generally speaking, with embroidery thread that’s causing Severe Frustration, the problem is not you or your stitching. The problem is the thread. Some threads are simply not made for hand embroidery. They might be made for needlepoint. They might be made for cross stitch. They might be made for knitting and repurposed (by resizing and repackaging) into an embroidery thread.

But they weren’t made with the intention of passing them repeatedly through a piece of closely woven ground fabric.

*Sigh* What to do?… What to do?

Well, you could ditch the thread and look for a substitute that will hold up to the rigors of hand embroidery. Or you could lessen the problems by changing something else in your approach.

Enter, the Chenille Needle.

Chenille Needle for Hand Embroidery

The chenille needle – which I mentioned the other day when chatting about chenille embroidery thread – is a Wonderful Thing.

If you do not have a few sizes in your hand embroidery tool arsenal, you should invest in some so that you have them on hand.

What is a Chenille Needle?

A chenille needle is a needle with a long eye and a sharp tip.

Chenille Needle for Hand Embroidery

You can think of it as a combination of a tapestry needle (which has a long eye and a blunt tip) and a crewel or embroidery needle (which has a shorter eye and a sharp tip).

Chenille needles are sized like tapestry needles, starting at size 14 (which is gargantuan) and progressing up to a size 28, which is extremely fine.

So, like any needle, the lower the number, the larger the needle. The higher the number, the finer the needle.

Chenille Needle for Hand Embroidery

In the photo above, under the red chenille thread, are the following sizes of chenille needles, from the top down: 14, 16, 18, 20, and 22. (Sizes 24, 26 and 28 are not shown.)

The size of the needle you choose depends on what you’re doing with it, but the most common sizes that are good to have on hand are 18-24. They can handle almost any normal hand embroidery circumstance.

What do you Do with a Chenille Needle?

Why, you embroider with it!

Obviously, a chenille needle can be used for chenille embroidery. The larger sizes (14, 16) are good for working with chenille thread.

But there are much more common uses for the chenille needle, too!

Chenille needles are absolutely terrific for crewel embroidery or any kind of wool embroidery. Wool just works better with them. Try it!! You’ll be surprised how much easier it is to control wool thread, to keep it intact and less fuzzy, and to stitch with it in general.

Whenever you have a tricky thread to use – a misbehaving metallic, for example – switch to a chenille needle and you’ll find that your frustration level decreases considerably.

The long eye is easier on thread – there’s more room for the thread to move around in there without getting mauled – and the sharp tip and larger shaft will make a hole in the fabric that is easier for the thread to pass through.

In goldwork, it’s good to have chenille needles on hand for plunging metal threads to the back of the work. The long eyes are easier to thread the metal threads into, and the sharp tip and thick shaft make it easy to pull the metal thread to the pack of the work.

You can also use chenille needles for regular, plain old surface embroidery with cottons and silks. With its sharp tip, the chenille needle is suited to surface stitches. And with its long eye, it’s very easy to thread.

What you Can’t Do with a Chenille Needle

I don’t normally say, “You can’t do this…” in hand embroidery. There aren’t too many cannots when it comes to the art and craft of embroidery.

But this is a can’t. You can’t really make decent bullion knots – or any type of cast-on or wrapped-on stitches – with a chenille needle.

You’ll only increase your frustration level if you try to work bullion knots, cast-on or double cast-on stitches, or drizzle stitch and the like with a chenille needle. And we don’t want that, now, do we?

Where to Find Chenille Needles

If you have a local needlework shop (there aren’t too many of us who do!), try there first.

I’m a huge fan of Bohin needles – you can read about their company and my take on their needles here – and you can find Bohin chenille needles in sizes 18-24 through Anita’s Little Stitches.

You can also find a whole assortment of practically any kind of embroidery needle you’d ever need at Colonial Needle. Type “chenille” into the search bar, and you’ll see all the choices. They have size 28 in John James and in the Colonial Needle packaging. They also have the larger sizes (14, 16) in S. Thomas & Sons, which are nice.

And You?

What about you? Do you use chenille needles for any particular embroidery task? Have you ever tried a chenille needle and liked it, but didn’t know what else to use it for? Any thoughts on chenille needles in general, or tips about using them to pass along? Feel free to chat about chenille needles below!

 
 

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(61) Comments

  1. It’s not exactly needlework, but I like chenille needles (or tapestry needles) at the sewing machine. They work great for burying the seam threads when you don’t want to cut them after tying off. You can easily fit 4 or more threads in those nice long eyes, which really helps when you have only 3-4 inches of thread.

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    1. My Grandma kept a massive one on a ribbon loop by her sewing machine for wrangling flippy seams and tight corners. They’re also very nice for threading elastic in narrow channels- run the needle through eye first and it’s a breeze

  2. Like JustGail said, I use it to weave “tails” in whether it’s sewing, embroidery or yarn when I crochet/knit. I have more control weaving the yarn tails in with a tapestry or chenille needle than with the crochet hook. I opt for chenille needles if I need a sharp tip (crochet thread, sewing/embr threads) but tapestry when a blunt tip will work (usually yarn).

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  3. Dear Mary

    Oh I do know that feeling of frustration with tangling and fraying thread in fact I’m finding that at the moment when I’m hemming with nylon thread which twists, frays and knots all the time but I never thought to use Chenille needles when using thread that is tricky, what a great idea I am going to try this now. Thanks so much for the tip on needles and sharing this technique with us, great article and very useful advice.

    Regards Anita Simmance

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  4. I use chenille needles for my ribbon embroidery. They work great. Also for heavier threads that are hard to thread into a needle eye, that I sometimes use in crazy quilting.

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  5. How do you keep with with the type of needle you have? Example: I know my cross stitch needles due to their tips and because that is just about the biggest needle I have. Do you have individual pin cushions that are labeled? Also, how to know which size they are?

    Thanks for the feedback.

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    1. Hi, Donna – I’m actually going to cover this point a little bit later on. Normally, though, while I’m in the throes of work, I don’t separate and organize and store needles any particular way. I have a pincushion that I stick them in, and that about covers it!

    2. Hi Donna – I have a simple circular pincushion that’s drawn up into flower ‘petals’ with thread. I use post-it notes to mark each petal with the size and type of needles I happen to be working with, and I keep the post-its in place with pretty bead-topped pins!

      For identifying ‘orphan’ needles, I use Needle ID Cards (Access Commodities) which I purchased at The Stitcher’s Muse in Nanaimo, B.C. Canada. Hope this helps!

  6. Something I learned about needles some time ago is that when they are made the hole for the thread to go through is actually stamped out. This makes a right and a wrong side to the needle. The wrong side is not as smooth as the right side, Not readily noticeable – until you work with fine threads.

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    1. Barbara, thank you- very interesting note. Did not know this!

      Mary, with this in mind, does it matter how we should tread the needle (direction? from the smooth side or “wrong side?” Would it make any difference to the thread fraying?)

    2. It’s easier to thread from the “stamped” side. Unless you’re working with a very large needle, it’s difficult if not impossible to tell the difference by looking at the needle’s eye. With a regular needle, the rule of thumb is basically this: if you’re having trouble threading the needle, turn it and thread it through the other side of the eye. It may go in more easily. I wrote about this a while ago in another article on needles, which you can find here: https://www.needlenthread.com/2011/08/hand-embroidery-needles.html

    3. I learned this from Erica Wilson. It seems a little esoteric but can really help when you’re having trouble threading a needle . . . if you’re having trouble, before looking for a larger needle, try turning the needle around.

  7. Hi Mary! My “go to” needle for most all my crewel work is a #22 Chenille. And, of course, ribbon embroidery — the large eye doesn’t mash up the width of the ribbon. Probably my “most used” type of needle.

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    1. I’m going to have to try Chenille the next time I do crewel. Thanks for the tip Mary and Bobbi

  8. I LOVE chenille needles! they are my first go-to needle for everything that isn’t a bead and needs a POINT. I use many sizes and do most everything with them! (except needle weaving where I don’t want a point) Beware however, they are VERY sharp and poke through everything, hold all different types of threads and are easy to thread.

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  9. This was a very helpful article. I am currently revisiting surface embroidery after many years of being away from it. Love all your tips and videos.

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  10. I use chenille needles for tying quilts and for hand embroidery with crochet pearl cotton thread. The bigger holes and sharp points work better than tapestry needles used for needlepoint or cross stitch which often are not as sharp.

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  11. I ordered a cross stitch kit from a UK company earlier in the year. The needle they provided had a sharp point, which I wasn’t used to. But I LOVE it. I suspect now that it might be a chenille needle.

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    1. That’s strange – the norm for counted cross stitch is a tapestry needle. They work better for counted cross stitch. Some tapestry needles are sharper than others, though. It depends on the manufacturer. If you’re used to “very blunt” tapestry needles (as in, a practically rounded tip), it could just seem sharp to you, because of what you’re used to. So it could still be a tapestry needle – unless the tip is really sharp-sharp (as in, touch it and ouch…) – then yes, it’s probably a chenille needle. I love chenille needles, too, but I wouldn’t use them for counted work, because they’ll split the threads in the ground fabric.

    2. Actually I do use chenille for some of my cross-stitch. Some patterns do full cross-stitches but then draw backstitch ‘outlines’ which cross over them … to me it looks a bit like a child not colouring within the lines. As I really don’t like that effect I often do a partial stitch using a chenille needle to deliberately split the ground fabric.

  12. You know, I found the info on this needle the other day enlightening, but today’s post made an even bigger impression for some reason. Maybe it takes longer to sink past the “blonde” or something. LOL. At any rate, this is going on my shopping list!!! Thanks Mary, another oh,so informative, simply said and easily understood post.

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  13. For pearl cotton #5 (and any thread thicker than that), chenille needles are essential for me, because I have trouble threading them into crewel needles. Ordered some of the Bohin crewel needles and they are great — very sharp. I’ll have to try their chenilles.

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  14. The good thing about a chenille needle (and a tapestry needle, come to that) is that its widest part is at the eye, not at the shank. (This is why they are a bad choice for stitches that wrap around the shank – those bullion knots and the like.) So you can get thread through the fabric with minimal wear on the thread – the fat eye makes the fabric gives that bit more just as the thread passes through, and by the time it closes up again, the thread is safe on the other side. If the fabric is closely woven or the thread is delicate, a chenille needle lets you work with longer lengths than you could safely use with a crewel needle – because the thread is not so stressed.
    The bad thing, as Barbara Miller notes, is that the eyes are punched out. You do need to check that there are no sharp edges left inside the eye to catch on your thread. (This also applies to tapestry needles.) Thread the eye with a scrap of silk or rayon and pull it to and fro, like flossing between your teeth: if it frays very quickly, you’ve got a poor needle.

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  15. Chenille needles are my favorite needles to work with especially doing crewel embroidery for all the reasons you state. Ido much less now that I can no longer
    get gold needles except for the tapestry type. Does any one know of a supplier.

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  16. I keep a large chenille needle on a ribbon attached to one of the feet on my serger. I use it to thread those pesky run-off threads back through the serging on the edges of my fabrics, whether needlework fabrics or when I’m sewing!

    I also keep a variety pack of Bohin chenille needles in my crazy quilting project box. I agree, once you’ve tried Bohins the others just don’t compare.

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  17. I too am a fan of chenille needles – I also use them for sewing together knitting especially for mohair yarns.
    I have found variability in tapestry needles – particularly size 26 and 28 can be quite sharp.
    Thanks for the tip about turning the needle over if you have difficulty threading it. my other tip is check if the needle is still straight – if bent in a certain way it can close-off the eye quite a bit.

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  18. I use chenille needles for doing in crewel work. I first was introduced to them when I did candlewicking back in the 70’s/80″s. I really like them but have found them to rather hard to locate as well as crewel needles. I other needle work such as fiber art pieces and some times use hemp threads and I find the large eye on the chenille needles will do the trick. Thanks for the information and I alway love you conversations.

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  19. Thank you for your wonderful tips. This might be a good needle to try using to embroider the little clown and doll faces. I have had troubles fining a needle that will fit the pearl cotton but have a smaller point to embroider little tiny eyes, nose and mouths. I look forward to your emails.

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  20. Love chenille needles. I have been doing two massive projects, embroidered quilt squares for my daughters, insects and Shakespeare. Chenille needle 22 is my go to needle of choice. I don’t seem to have problems with the wrapped stitches, but have developed special techniques, so maybe that’s why.

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  21. Until a few years ago, I didn’t know what a chenille needle was. I was using one to do needlepoint. I was stabbing my finger and my leg with it. I went looking at needles and saw both chenille needles and needlepoint needles. Needless to say, I bought a package of needlepoint needles. I have since found some more chenille needles in my stash.

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  22. I really like chenille needles. I use them in all kinds of surface embroidery. #28 is very good for delicate work, like shadow embroidery. It is very, very good for needle painting. In cotton or heavy linen the #26 works very well. I don’t do bullions and cast on stitches with this needle, I think that tapestry needles are much better for this! Yes, I know all about milliners needles and don’t like them – the point needle ruins the thread!

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  23. Ahh! You have answered a problem that I have had. I have ALWAYS used Chenille needles for preference when doing embroidery. Those cross stitch kits will blunt needles ugh. Tapestry needles, crewel needles, umph! Yes, I know they are “correct” but I can’t cope.
    However I have never been able to master Bullion stitch. Now I understand why!!
    Now where is that tapestry needle, crewel needle anyone?
    Thanks Mary.

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  24. Thanks for sharing the info on chenille needles. Needles are obviously important in embroidery and getting good information makes embroidery so much easier!

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  25. Changing needles also helps as sometimes the problem is … the needle!

    It took me a while to realize that sometimes a needle has a slight rough spot in the eye which is fraying the thread. Now I try changing needles first unless I have heard that a thread is particularly known for fraying!

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  26. Very informative post; thanks for sharing these tips 🙂
    I didn’t know they’re called “Chenille” needles, but my Mom always used these for hand sewing as well as embroidery. I, however, switched to crewel or other daintier needles to get neater, shorter, more compact stitches.
    I did recently use a long Chenille needle for Needle Tatting, though !
    With waning eyesight, these long-eyed needles have an added advantage in threading ;-D

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    1. Forgot to add : I use these for cross stitch on Aida, too. I dislike the blunt needles & much prefer the pointed tips.

      Secondly, when embroidering, I frequently move the thread about through the eye. This prevents the thread from fraying/stressing out at one spot. By moving the thread (shifting positions) one is reducing the strain of repeated insertion through fabric on just a single spot/area of thread.

  27. I discovered the many uses of the chenille needle when I bought some #24’s in bulk for a class I was teaching. I have even used them for hand quilting on a quilt that for some reason felt as if I was quilting thru steel wool. They hold up so well and are almost impossible to bend.

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  28. I’ve prertty much always used chenille needles for crewel. I buy a lot of old 1970s crewel kits on eBay and the better ones (e.g., the Sunset/Jiffy kits) pretty much always include chenille needles.

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  29. I love chenille needles for all the reasons you outlined – they are nice and fat so they make a little hole for the thread to just fall through and then it closes up again around the thread. And the thread doesn’t fray as much. But the crowning glory of chenille needles is their use for silk or other ribbon embroidery – again for the hole-making thing. Silk ribbon especially is pretty fragile stuff and pulling it through tightly woven fabric time after time tends to mess it up some, but with a large (I have used a size 13) chenille needle you have no such problems.

    So I am with Mary, these are fantastic creatures and now I am off to look at her chosen websites.

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  30. They are the most versatile of all the needles. As they come in mixed package sizes in the UK you only need to invest a few pounds to have them in your needle case. Fine ones are great for smooth long and short when you are using two different coloured silks as they blend more naturally. I also find that for fine canvas work they are better than the “tapestry” needle as they ensure a clean pass through the canvas.

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  31. Mary,
    since discovering that I have too many fingers and all in the way of the needle’s sharp tip, I try to use a tapestry needle where possible.

    But before discarding old loves for “la Chenille”needle, may I point you all to the delightful

    Hari-kuyo-The-Festival-of-Broken-Needles.

    Thanks again for the fantastic blogs -you is genius!

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  32. I buy large chenille needles for my husband to use in his leather work. The large eye is easy for man-hands to thread, and takes the waxed linen nicely. The sharp tip goes easily through the holes made by the awl, and the strong thick shaft stands up well to being pulled by pliers out the other side 🙂

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  33. I use chenille needles for silk ribbon embroidery. Easier to thread the needle and because the eye is larger, the silk ribbon does not fray as easily.

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  34. I use 24 and 26 chenille needles most of the time. I do use 22, 24 and 26 tapestry needles for cross stitch but I like milliners for boullion stitches.
    I have a good assortment of needles so I can choose. If I start having problems I change to a new needle! Not worth the hassel! They are the least expensive. Tool that I use. My preference is Bohin!!!!!!!

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  35. Well, I learned something today. Thank you, Thank you. I have not used chenille needles. I never tried crewel embroidery. I have seen these needles but never knew what they were for. I am going to order some right away. Thank you again, so much.

    Barbara

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  36. I remember reading somewhere that if you were having trouble with threads that switching to a needle with a larger eye would then create a larger pass-through ‘hole’ in the fabric. What you have said here bears that out.

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  37. My absolute favorite chenille needle is from Primitive Gatherings. I use them when stitching on wool (size 22 or 24 depending on thread I’m using and size of shape I’m stitching on). I love using the Valdani #12 or #8 in the variegated colors to give dimension to my work.

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  38. The reason I love the chenille needles from Primitive Gatherings is they are just a bit shorter than any other I have tried which makes it easier to make shorter stitches.

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  39. Can chenille needles be used for hardanger and normal cross stich? I use Bellana 20 count for hardanger and need sizes 22, 24, 26 and aida 14 count for cross stich.

    At the moment I’m using John James gold plated size 24 needles and I would like to keep using gold plated ones as they don’t rust.

    Thank you

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    1. Hi, Nafeessa – I probably wouldn’t use chenille needles for Hardanger. They have a sharp tip, which can pierce fabric threads in counted work, where normally, you wouldn’t want to pierce the threads, but rather slip the needle between the fabric threads. A tapestry needle is a better choice. I think they make gold plated tapestry needles, too.

  40. Hello from Vermont, USA…I have read all the comments about the chenille needles etc and what an education!! If possible, I would like a source to order these needles, plus other possible tools, Thanks much….
    I just accidentally happened across this site and I love it….

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  41. I love chenille needles for working with perle cotton threads, especially when adding decorative stitches to wool felt or felted wool fabric. I also love pairing them with floche. I always reach for a chenille first, no matter the project, and switch to a different needle only when the chenille won’t work. They are easy for me to thread and hold.

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  42. Will love to find information about which needle size will be appropriate for Perleecottonthread Cotton Thread #5. Those I have on hand, are useful only for Perlee #8. I do have a few Perlee#5 , but unable to used so far. I’m quilting a project with big stitches, which recently I’m learning. Any help will be appreciated. Thanks

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  43. Hi, I’m using #12 Valdani floss to embroider on muslin and cannot find a suitable needle. The chenille seems to make to large of a hole in fabric and the finer suze 8 Redwood needles the eye is too small its too hard on the floss and my tapestry are not sharp enough I need to go thru my muslin background material and a muslin backing. Please help me choose a needle. I’m working on the Crab Apple hill Over the River and through the Woods quilt. Thanks, Kim

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    1. Hi, Kim – you might try about a #5 embroidery / crewel Needle. You can buy a combo pack of embroidery needles that have a variety of sizes in them, so you can try different sizes. You can find combo packs in the needlework sections at different craft / hobby stores.

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