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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Hand Embroidery Needles: How to Choose Them & Use Them


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Lately, I’ve been needled a lot about hand embroidery needles – lots of questions from beginners and beyond about this mysterious tool that we certainly can’t live without.

Today, I want to share a few points about hand embroidery needles, so that you can make a good choice when you select the needle you’ll use on your next embroidered masterpiece.

Hand Embroidery Needles: How to Choose & Use Them

While we all have our favorite specialty tools, our most basic and most important stitching tool – the one we can’t do without – is the needle.

And choosing the right needle can make the difference between a frustrating or a pleasurable stitching experience.

Types of Needles Used in Hand Embroidery

The type of needle you choose for your embroidery project depends on what type of embroidery you’re doing, but for those who embroider a lot, there are five categories of needles that you should have on hand.

Here’s my list of five necessary types of hand embroidery needles and what they’re used for.

1. Crewel Needles

Crewel needles are also called “embroidery” needles.

Hand Embroidery Needles: How to Choose & Use Them

Crewel needles have a medium-long eye, a shaft slightly thinner than the eye (the eye bulges slightly at the top of the shaft), and a sharp tip.

They’re used for general surface embroidery, crewel work, goldwork, whitework, and practically any embroidery technique that requires a sharp needle.

Their sharp tip makes them perfect for piercing tightly woven ground fabric and their slightly longer eye accommodates embroidery threads of various weights.

Crewel needles come in sizes 1-12, with 1 being the largest and 12 being the finest.

For beginners who aren’t used to selecting needles to fit their thread, purchasing a variety pack is a good idea. Variety packs commonly include sizes 3-9 or 1-5. Both packs are good to have on hand.

2. Tapestry Needles

Tapestry needles have a long eye, a shaft slightly thinner than the eye (the eye bulges slightly at the top of the needle), and a blunt tip.

Hand Embroidery Needles: How to Choose & Use Them

Tapestry needles come in sizes 13-28, with 13 being the largest and 28 being the finest.

They are used primarily for counted thread work (cross stitch, blackwork) and needlepoint, or any needlework on fabric or canvas that has open holes that determine where each stitch is placed.

The blunt tip of the tapestry needle helps us avoid piercing the fabric threads while we stitch.

Tapestry needles are also used for whipping or lacing embroidery stitches. Whipping or lacing stitches involves passing under and around stitches that are already worked on the ground fabric, but does not involve passing in and out of the fabric often. The blunt tip of the needle helps us avoid snagging the foundation stitches.

Whipped and laced stitches can be worked without a tapestry needle, too. If the needle has a sharp tip, just pass it eye-first under the foundation stitches.

3. Chenille Needles

Chenille needles have a long eye, a shaft slightly thinner than the eye (the eye bulges slightly at the top of the needle), and a sharp tip.

Hand Embroidery Needles: How to Choose & Use Them

Chenille needles come in sizes 13 – 28, just like tapestry needles. Size 28 chenille needles are relatively new on the market, and they accommodate very fine threads.

In large sizes (lower numbers), the chenille needle has a thick shaft. Size 13-18 chenille needles will seem positively huge to a stitcher who’s used to working with finer needles.

Chenille needles are used in surface embroidery, crewel embroidery, chenille embroidery, and any time you want a large, long eye to accommodate your thread, and a sharp tip to pierce your fabric. In fact, many crewel embroiderers prefer chenille needles for crewel work because the eye is easier on the wool thread and the sharp tip and large shaft make a good hole in the fabric so that the wool thread can pass through relatively unscathed.

The long eye of the chenille needle also makes it ideal for stitching with specialty threads (braids, metallics, chenille thread, and other fibers) that have a tendency to shred.

4. Milliner Needles

Milliner needles – also called “straw” needles – have a smaller, roundish eye, a shaft that is the same thickness as the eye (the eye does not bulge at the top of the needle) and a sharp tip. Milliner needles are quite long compared to the other needles listed above.

Hand Embroidery Needles: How to Choose & Use Them

Milliners come in sizes 1-10, with 1 being larger and 10 being finer. They can also be found in sizes 15 and 18, with 15 being larger than size 18, and 18 larger than size 1. Confusing? Yes. I have no idea why they are sized that way.

Milliner needles are ideal for any type of stitch where the thread is wrapped around the needle several times and the whole needle has to pass through the wraps. Bullion knots, cast-on stitch, drizzle stitch, and even French knots are easier when worked with a milliner needle.

The longer shaft of the milliner needle makes it easier to wrap the thread around the needle many times.

5. Specialty Needles

By specialty needles, I mean especially curved needles, and,for those who do a lot of beading on their embroidery, beading needles.

Hand Embroidery Needles: How to Choose & Use Them

Curved embroidery needles usually have a medium-long eye, like the eye of a crewel needle.

Curved needles come in a few different sizes. Some are very large (used for upholstery), while some are much finer. The size used for most fine embroidery threads is a size 10 curved beading needle.

Curved needles are used to secure threads on the back of embroidery, especially in situations where the fabric is very taut and the backs of the stitches are small and tight. A curved needle is easier to use than a straight needle, when trying to run threads under the backs of stitches in these situations.

Curved needles are also very handy for finishing techniques, because they can pass in and out of areas where a straight needle won’t work.

Beading needles are very fine needles with long, narrow eyes, long shafts, and sharp tips. For most embroiderers who add accent beads to their embroidery, a regular crewel needle in a size 10, 11, or 12 will usually suffice in place of a dedicated beading needle. But for stitchers who pick up a lot of beads on the needle, and who use very tiny beads, a beading needle will come in handy.

Needle Size & Thread Weight

Experienced embroiderers generally acquire a feel for what size needle will work best in specific stitching situations.

Hand Embroidery Needles: How to Choose & Use Them

Here are four tips to help you decide what size needle to use:

1. The needle should be able to pull the thread (including the doubled thread near the eye) through the fabric fairly easily, without allowing too much abrasion on the thread as it passes through the fabric.

The rule of thumb that I always heard growing up is that the shaft of the needle should be about as thick as the embroidery thread. But the only situations where this really works are in counted techniques, needlepoint, stitching on open weaves, and any other time there’s already enough space between the fabric threads for the needle to pass through easily. For surface embroidery, you have to consider not only the thickness of the thread, but also the thickness of the thread at the eye where the thread is doubled, and the weave of the fabric. A tighter, close weave is going to require a needle that can make the right-sized hole for the thread and the needle to pass through.

2. Although you may hear a pop as the needle passes through the fabric (the pop is usually most evident on very taut fabrics), there should be no real resistance in the fabric when pulling the eye of the needle through. If there’s resistance – if the fabric is pulling and denting, and you really have to fight to get the needle through – that’s a sign you should be using a larger needle.

3. Although there might be a soft noise as the rest of the thread passes through the fabric, there should not be a loud zipper noise. If the thread makes a loud zipper noise and you can feel resistance as you pull the thread all the way through to the end of the stitch, chances are, your needle isn’t big enough.

4. The hole the needle makes should be large enough for the thread to pass through, but not any larger. The needle should not leave a visible hole around the thread.

Keep in mind that there is no absolute formula or rule for what size needle to use for specific threads. While general suggestions might be made, the selection of the needle is often based on personal preference – what needle are you comfortable with in this stitching situation? Over time, it becomes second nature to know what size needle will work best.

Where to Find Various Embroidery Needles

In the shop, we carry a wide range of Tulip needles suitable for all aspects of hand embroidery. You can find them here. If you want to read more about Tulip needles, and I why I think that they’re particularly nice needles to use, check out this article.

Over to you…

Do you have any tips you’d like to share on needle types, uses, and sizes? Feel free to join in the discussion below! Many heads are better than one, so do weigh in with your own bits of stitching wisdom!


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(131) Comments

  1. Hi Mary,

    Thank you for this information. I have some needles I used in Brazilian Embroidery. Now I know they are also called milliner needles. I have also purchased “straw needles” from the quilt store. Although they are much finer than my Brazilian needles they are also milliner needles. Thanks for clearing all of this up.


  2. I found this very helpful, Mrs. Corbet. I need to expand my range of needles. All I have is a pack of sewing needles that are all the same size (which work quite well for most of my embroidery, actually), and a few miscellaneous needles that were my mom’s: one tapestry needle (which at first when I just did cross stitch, I called it my “cross stitch needle”), a few smaller crewel needles, and a very large crewel needle that I hardly ever use.
    Thanks for this article πŸ™‚


  3. Great article, Mary. Years ago I was not aware that there were different types of needle and just used whatever there was to hand. I’ve since learned that having the right needle can make so much difference when stitching.

    It is not so very long ago that I learned that the eye of a needle has a ‘right’ side and a ‘wrong’ side and that it is easier to thread a needle from the right side. It is not easy to see which is which but if you are having difficulty threading the needle, rotating it 180 degrees might just make it easier!

    1. Aye, that is what I was taught as well- the right side to thread the needle is where the manufacturer has plunged the awl that makes the opening. But then again I was told NEVER lick the thread, while being also taught that if you wet the eye, as well as the thread, it will go through easier as well. I would only resort the that on gold-plated needles, though. :o)

    1. Being brand new to the world of stitchery, how do you “store” your needles once they are out of the package. So that I know which one is which? Do you eventually just know by sight? Or usage????
      Or do you just put them back into the package?
      Maybe separate pin cushions or separate pieces of marked felt???

    2. Well, I just stick mine randomly in a pin cushion or a needle roll. I don’t keep them separate by size. Eventually, you’ll know what you need by site. But if you want to keep them separate, consider making a needle book and marking what page has what needles on it. That would help, if you don’t have a ton of different types of needles. In January, I’ll be showing a needle organizational project here on the website. It’s kind of fun, and definitely suitable for beginners! ~MC

  4. Great post, as always! I’m definitely going to purchase some Milliner needles to have on hand for French knots.

    Question: do tapestry needles differ in size from one manufacturer to another? Is there a way to identify the size of a tapestry needle if I’ve accidentally put the needle down or it’s become separated from its unique holder I use to keep my 24/26/28 sized needles separated?

    I just wondered if there is an industry “standard” (like length, perhaps?) to distinguish one sized tapestry needle from another? Thanks!!

    1. As far as circumference goes, yes, I think most needle sizes within certain “families” of manufacturers are the same. I can’t necessarily guarantee that’s the case for Pony needles that are made in India, but I think most English needle brands (John James, Richard Hemming, Thomas & Sons, etc.) are pretty much all the same as far as circumference (and even length). I know that French needles (Bohin, for example) might vary in length from English needles, but I think the circumference is about the same. Their eyes might be slightly more or less long, too. The standard sizes are based on wire sizes; that’s why needles are sized the way they are – they’re sized just like wire is, with lower numbers being heavier and higher numbers being finer.

  5. This is most helpful, practical information. I have many times wondered about tip #4, just how big of a hole the needle should leave behind.

    Thank you very much, Mary.

  6. QUESTION about applique needles! I recently bought some and discovered that the hole was too small for ANY kind of thread I could find in my stash! Do you know of a reference chart that correlates needle size to thread size/weight?

  7. Dear Mary

    Great article very informative and very useful information on different types of needles. I always look on Needle n’ Thread when I start a project to see what type of needle I need for my current project and I’ve used most of the above needles for all different types of embroidery, Crewel needles for general embroidery, Milliner for bullion and french knots, I’ve used tapestry needles for whipping and laced embroidery and chenille needles. My favourite crewel needle is made by Bohin which is easy to stitch with when passing through fabrics and I first read about these on Needle n’ Thread. The only needle I had difficulty with was the curved needle but I need to practice more with the needle to feel comfortable with it. Thanks so much for reviewing needles and the different tips and techniques on using the most fundamental instrument in needlework.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  8. This is a wonderful coincidence. I just finished collecting all the required needles for my new little Jane Nicholas stumpwork project. Had to go searching through a couple different books to make sure I had the right ones and even had to make a couple purchases. That was yesterday. And here’s your website today! Thank you. I’m keeping this information.

  9. Hi Mary:

    Thanks for the info! I have the talent of bending the heck out of any size needle when I embroider. Any tips for me?


    1. My needles eventually bend, too – especially finer ones, like #10 crewel needles. But it usually happens over time. If it’s happening every time you take up a needle, I’d work on purposely relaxing your hand while you stitch – as in, think about what your hand is doing and how hard it is gripping the needle, and relax it. If you pay attention to that, over time, you can break the habit of stitching with a killer grip. Eventually, if you’re gripping the needle too hard or your hand is too tense while you’re stitching, you’re going to end up with hand pain. So I’d address that now, by being aware of your grip and purposefully relaxing your hand while you stitch. Remember, it’s supposed to be fun, not stressful! πŸ™‚

  10. I have a glut of needles,using whatever type looks appropriate. Never can figure out the sizes but I do know some brands are better than others. By the way, I believe gold eye needles are for some of our older eyes!

  11. I had been taught that needle sizes run from large to small 1- x and thread sizes from small to large. Now that has been blown out of the water with the information that a milliner needle 18 is larger than a milliner 1. Thanks for a very informative report on needles. Do you have an tips on threading needles?

    1. My solution to threading needles is to have my daughter thread up 4 or 5 needles so they’re lined up ready to go!

  12. Excellent article Mary, very clear explanations of each which also highlights the differences between the various needles. This makes choosing needles for me in the future quick and easy – less confusing! Before I didn’t know why my fabric was pulled/dented as I was being
    careful with my tension, but now I do thanks to the explanation given in #2 under the tips. Think I’ll print out and keep this handy for future reference. Thanks again.

  13. I always check for your posts as soon as I open my email.

    Yesterday’s book reviews were welcome. I have already ordered both.

    Today’s article is very helpful. I especially appreciated the four tips for choosing the size of the needle.


  14. Hello,
    I have been going through all of your super helpful tutorials recently, but this article is particularly helpful right now. Thank you so much!

  15. I have found that I love using the Chenille #24 on almost all of my embroidery. I’m not an accomplished embroiderer, so the redwork is perfect for me especially since I’ve developed arthritis and the larger size makes it easier to feel. I’m wondering if anyone out there knows where I can find size 8 or 12 cotton pearl thread. I can find plenty of #5 but the 8 & 12 are elusive. Thanks.

    1. Go to Threads n Bloom to find the size pearl threads you need. I’ve placed many orders with them, never to be disappointed. Jo in SC

    2. Better late than never – Lacis in Berkeley California has EVERY color & size of DMC peael thread you could imagine. If it isn’t on-line give them a call. They are super helpful & have an insane amount of unusual stuff.

  16. Thank you for the great info on needles. I so enjoy all the wonderful info that you share with us. Once I take my needles out of the package that they come in, I put them in a wood needle tube. I use a permanent marker to label the tube. Now I do not have to guess what size the needles are and I can easily take them with me.
    Thanks again for all the great tips, Mary.

  17. Where to do categorize betweens: I use this tiny fairy needles for stumpwork, and if some smaller petals call for two threads, I have a very hard time getting two threads through the eye. I have solved it by pulling through a single thread and then lying it doubled & pulling it through the fabric. But are there any other suggestions?

  18. Great survey article, Mary! Milliner needles are used for smocking, too. The equal-sized eye and shaft make a perfect hole through which to draw LONG lengths of embroidery thread or ribbon without abrading the fibers.

  19. This is one of your very best columns. Will you allow me to print it in my EGA chapter newsletter? I know our members would really benefit from your advice, and they will probably join your daily emails.

  20. Great article. My latest project involves metallic thread and size 11 seed beads on a cross stitch work and it has been taxing and needle breaking to say the least. So I’ve been forced to go through my stash to find substitutes. Since my stash consists of a plethora of needles picked up in estate sales, I didn’t know what I had! Reading your article has helped me identify what I’m looking at and know now what the heck some of those funny looking ones are used for and why. Thanks for the tutorial.

  21. Mary, thank you SO much for this post. I’m teaching a beginning embroidery class for my local branch of a historical re-creation group. I’m lucky enough to have a grandmother and mother who taught me the basics.

    I was feeling odd about saying, “And use this needle for this purpose. It works best…and Mom said so.” Now I can say, “And Mary Corbet says so too!”

  22. Hi My name is Cherie Syme and I am a member of the Canterbury Embroiderers Guild in New Zealand.
    I put together information for our new members and would like to include this information on needles with your permission please. Under your name and also your website in the document.
    Thank You
    Cherie Syme

  23. Thank you. One thing I’ve noticed is that other sites hardly ever mention the fact that milliner needles are designed with the shaft and eye the same size, which makes them ideal for French knots and bouillon roses. I have been looking for a “primer” on hand sewing needles to send to my daughter-in-law since I made her a needle case / needle roll for Christmas and she wanted to know what the different needles were for; I think I found it!

  24. While on needles, what is your favorite way to thread a needle. I can go thru a threader every day!!!!

    Love your blog and work.

    Superior Thread had a quilt today that I think was embroidered with the tools you just explained. Awesome work.

  25. thank you for that, I’ve been looking for this information for a long time.

    Question: I love love working with the Millner. I just wish I could find one a little larger eye..does such a needle exist?

    1. Hi, Sandra – milliner needles come in a variety of sizes, from very fine to quite large. They are numbered 1-10 or 11 with 1 being the largest and 10 or 11 being the finest. There is also, strangely enough, a #13 or 15 (I can’t remember which it is) made by one company, which is larger than the #1

  26. I can’t find the perfect needle for me and I have looked all over the place. I have arthritis, so I need a strong needle, 3 inches long (so I can grab it), a nice sharp point, and I need it thick enough not to bend, but thin enough to make the little stitches.
    If the needle isn’t long I can’t grab it and I have trouble feeling it, so I have to be able to see it. I don’t know if this makes sense to anybody… but I have to see the needle with my fingers and my eyes… lol.
    If anybody knows where I can buy this wonderful needle, I surely would appreciate it and I would love you and put your name in my prayers forever & always… lol.
    Thank you for your time and attention.

  27. Is there a large eye needle (for thick threads) that has a short shaft?

    I use a size 10 big eye needle for hand applique and find even a size 26 Chenille needle large and awkward. I’ve been doing some practice embroidery and cannot get comfortable or make even stitches.

  28. I make corsets in USA and I go thought hard fabrics I am using a size 10 needle but find it’s hard to go through the fabric, and hard on my fingers . I think I need a pointer needle 1/2 size smaller in length ? It would make it easier maybe , I do a lot of my corsets by hand on the trimmings ! Can you tell me if you think there is a better needle thank you Di-ana

  29. Thank you for this! I’ve been going crazy trying to figure out what my Instagram friend meant when she told me I should get a crewel needle for my big stitch quilting!!!

  30. Hi Mary,
    Not only does your article on Embroidery Needles: How to Choose and Use…, your explanations fill in the holes (sort of a pun) not only to what I’m doing, but also what is going on with the fabric as I stitch. Thank you for making my Embroidery Life much better. Jo in Port Royal Island

  31. Thank you, Mary
    I have heard of “straw needles” but didn’t know what they were used for.
    Your website is such a treasure of information. I do appreciate it, thank you so much.

  32. I’m very new to hand embroidery, I love the look of using all the strands of floss for some of my projects. What size needle would I need for using all strands of the floss to embroider. Thanks

    1. I’d go for a #3 crewel (or “embroidery”) needle, for starts. If that doesn’t do it for you, you can use a #1. But I think a #3 would suffice.

  33. I’d like to incorporate seed beads or similar small beads into my embroidery and I’d like to know what needs do you use for this? Thanks so much!

  34. so, what size would you suggest for 10/2 pearl cotton? would a #7 work? or is there something more suitable.

    1. I think 10/2 is the classification for pearl cotton yarn that’s used in weaving, etc – it’s more of a “yarn” than the pearl cotton used in embroidery, which is three ply and a little sturdier, so it holds up better when passing through fabric. However, if you’re using 10/2, I’d guess a size 7 or 5 would work. Not sure if the results will be the same, but it’s worth trying!

  35. What wonderful information!!
    The delima of choosing the right needle for the tbe job is no longer
    A problem!!!

    The info regarding the straw needle for French knots and bullion stitches
    was invaluable!!! Think I will give them another try using the right needle….

  36. I googled the 11-14 sized needles and found them available!
    I was just too curious about why they’d be missing. I’ll keep looking for that answer, although apparently the issue is solved.
    Thank you for your wonderful videos! and helpful embroidery tips.

  37. Where do I order these milliner needles the ones you have pictured in here that are long? They are used For Bullion or Cast on Stitches.

    Thank you
    Gracie from Texas

  38. My favorite tip to share is to marry the needle to the thread. When I learned how to do this I had much less knots… if two threads are desired I use the half hitch method and cut one thread double the length of my forearm and then I fold in half and thread the two ends through the needle and then I pull it all the way down to the fold and slip the fold over the needle to secure it into place. These two techniques have save me from pulling out my hair with all those tangles and knots that get in your working threads from the twisting of embroidery or sewing.

  39. Where do you find hand embroidery needles size 9 and up in one size packages. The smallest needles Joann fabric has is an 8. The project I’m working on seems to need a smaller needle(larger number) than a size 8. tia

    1. Hi, Julie – You won’t find a combo pack of #9 and higher. You can often find #9’s in a combo pack that covers sizes 3-9 or you can find #10’s in a combo pack that covers sizes 5-10. But if you want individual sized needles like 9, 10, and 11, then you normally have to order them in individually packages that are all that size. You can find a good selection of needles for embroidery on a couple different sites. I like Anita’s Little Stitches – they have a great selection of Bohin needles. Also, Colonial Needle has a good selection of other brands in all kinds of types and sizes. Any local needlework shop (if you happen to have a shop nearby that’s devoted just to needlework) will usually have a good selection of needles. Hope that helps!

  40. Hi Mary , Would it be possible for you to explain about the milliners needle again ….the sizing numbers seem very confusing . I want to perfect my bullion knots in crewel wool thread …so I need the largest for this . At the moment I am squishing and forcing it through with a chenille needle..what should I be looking for ? Help ! Debbie πŸ™‚

    1. Hi, Debbie – Milliner needles are sized like other needles – the lower the number, the larger the needle. It depends on the type of crewel wool you’re using, but I’d probably look for a size 3 or 5 in a milliner, if you’re using a relatively fine crewel wool. Hope that helps!

  41. This is amazing! Thank you so much for the wealth of information! I will be perusing your site in the coming weeks for more embroidery basics and can’t wait to get started on some projects!!

  42. I am sorry to hear of your need to withdraw…take rest don’t come back too soon…enjoy time…but & however i hope u answer this when there’s opportunity only…i am a beginner to embroidery, as a craft that it is, but i do other fiber work knitting,crochet, & artwork. my question comes from working those other crafts…is there such an object as a needle sizer? or is size only understood by packaging? Thanks for your patience & attention
    m montroy

  43. Ah. Mary darling you never cease to amaze me. Thank you for this valuable information. My choices of needles have been trial and error. With your information, I will have more success. I’m so thankful to have found your site a few years ago. Your tutorials have been a blessing. Again, thank you!

  44. i know this is an old article, and i know my question doesn’t directly involve embroidery, but i was hoping you could tell me what size of cheniile needle to use for 10/2 perle cotton. i’m stitching through 10 oz cotton duck, both single thickness and up to twice or thrice in the case of seams. would cheniile needles be good for that, or is there a different kind of needle more suitable?

    1. Oh gosh, would any needle be good for that? I pity your fingers!! πŸ™‚ But in any case, yes, you’ll need a sharp tipped needle, and a chenille has a sharp tip. The larger eye will accommodate the perle cotton. I hope that helps! Best of luck!

    2. haha, fingers do pretty well thanks to a tailor’s thimble. oh and sorry to have wasted your time. after i posted my question, i found out i asked this very same thing last year, but could do nowt about it at that point. cursed feeble memory of thine. ta’ for the help, again. god willing it be the last time on this question.

  45. I am getting ready to start learning to do embroidery. I do plastic canvas and I assume that embroidery is kind of like that except on cloth and using so many needles. I like the looks of embroidery on cloth. Is there anything else a newbee should know, like what kind of cloth, threads and would I be into all those needles right now?
    As far as I can see there are no places in my area that teach embroidery. Help if you can please?

  46. When you buy a new pack of needles and they have multi sizes in the pack how do you choose a spercific size needle from the pack eg a 16 pack of embroidery needles size 3-9 how would I choose say a size 5 needle from the pack?

  47. hello, I want you to know how much I appreciate your dedicated distribution of experience & information in an art- embroidery….which seems to be on a wane that should hopefully wax as it did when I was younger. this may be a redundant question,however, other than a handmade needle case that could label the type & size of needles, is there a needle “sizer”, as there is in the knitting & crochet supplies. They are used if, for instance, the needles are loosed from packages or containers? again gratefully awaiting your reply marsha

  48. I am hand embroidering a tea towel using size 5 pearl cotton. What size needle is ideal?

    Thank you for your assistance.

  49. Dear Mary,
    Such a helpful guide. Many thanks for the tips along the way too. This has helped me greatly πŸ™‚

  50. I find your web page helpful but one needle type I haven’t seen yet. I used to see a needle that has an open nitch at the top. I find it impossible to thread a needle now. That special needle would allow me to slip the thread in through the open side of the top of the needle. I used to have one needle like this but have lost it. I hope I am explaining it well enough. I have a pretty table cloth I would love to finish working on. My eyesight has become so poor. I have so many different packs of needles but none work for me. I hope you can help me find this special needle. Thank you. God bless you precious lady. Nancy

    1. Yes, it’s called a self-threading needle. John James and other manufacturers still make them. That said, for self-threading needles (or easy-threading), you might look up Spiral Eye needles: http://www.spiraleyeneedles.com They are quite good and the designer who has them manufactured is always developing the line of available sizes, etc., further.

  51. Hi! I follow your site closely and learning more and more. I do mainly hand applique but want to start adding embroidery to my blocks. I’m having difficulty trying to decide what needles to use or how many or what kind of strands to even start with to embroider thru 2 pieces of cotton. Mary Corbett, you do the most beautiful work!! I love your tutorials. Sharon

  52. Howard Skolnick wrote that people often ask “Why does the thickness of steel diminish as the gauge increases?” (i.e: 16 gauge steel is thicker than 20 gauge steel). The explanation comes from the original development of a gauge measurement system in which the control measurement was based on 1″ thick steel plate. From this base thickness, the steel was measured in diminishing fractions such as 1/14″, 1/16″, 1/20″ and so on. The bottom number of the fraction was adopted as the “gauge” and so 1/16″ became 16 gauge, 1/20″ became 20 gauge. The concept makes sense but without explanation, the converse number is often confusing. Therefore by taking the gauge number and returning it back to a fractional format, one can discover the actual nominal thickness dimension, in inches, of sheet steel. The gauge of the needle refers to the thickness of the steel (metal) used to make it.

  53. thank you for the article on the correct needle to use . It clarified information I have heard about at various classes .Very easy to read

  54. I only want sharper pointed needles for cross stitching , what do I get? The blunted end needles I find hard to run thru back threads to end my work. I use 14 Aida or 28 linen only. I have now 25 would 26 be better?

    1. You could probably use crewel needles if you want sharp needles, or you can use chenille, which are shaped just like tapestry needles but have a sharp tip. The size really depends on the number of strands you’re using. I’d guess a 24 or a 26 would be adequate in chenille, or in crewel, probably a 7.

  55. I have embroidered since I was a child and I am 73, but I never really knew anything about choosing needle size. This was very helpful.

  56. Hi, Mary

    I would like to start hand embroidery I sew and I do machine embroidery, after looking at the inauguration in seeing the beautiful ensemble that First Lady Boden had on inspire me to challenge myself to learn how to do hand embroider. I asked the question on the google what size needle should I purchase and your page came up. I will be purchasing a variety pack as you suggested and looking for some beginner projects to do.

    Thank you

  57. I have 3 needles that have the hole in the middle of the needle instead of at the end.
    On the container (not the original) it simply says: 24 tapestry 2 ends.
    I have searched the internet for information on this type of needle and can not find anything.
    It was among a large statch of embroidery needles from a lady that belong to an embroidery guild.
    I hope you can help.

    1. It’s a two-pointed needle, used for cross stitch and tapestry (canvas) work, when working with two hands. So, you’d have your frame held in a stand, and usually your dominant hand underneath the fabric and your less dominant hand on top. The needle feeds straight up and down into the fabric, without having to turn it. It is supposed to eliminate the thread from twisting and save time.

    1. I think a chenille needle is your best bet, if you’re looking for a large eye in an embroidery needle. They have long eyes, like tapestry needles, but they have sharp points like embroidery needles.

  58. Thank you! This is very helpful. Not every tutorial tells you this tips. I am currently trying to set up a personal website for my journey on embroidery. Wish me luck!

  59. Hi, thank you for creating an informative platform on embroidery. I am very interested in using embroidery but at a much larger scale. I hope you don’t mind but what is the largest needle one can get? I am actually considering working on a large scale with this medium! This past year I have been fascinated with the textile arts.
    Thank you in advance.

    1. Depends on what you’re looking for and what you plan to stitch through and with! There are many large industrial needles out there. But if you’re talking typical surface embroidery, probably the #13 chenille is going to be your best bet. And if you’re looking for a typical embroidery needle, the largest size they come in is a #1.

  60. Found your Pinterest post on choosing the right size needle very helpful. Not a very good embroiderer but rather a self-taught sewer and quilter, so there’s never been anyone to ask these kinds of basic questions. Thanks!

  61. This was very helpful. I’m a beginner and want to improve my stitching. Your information, resources, and tutorials are wonderful, thank you!

  62. Mary——–I just signed up as a Patreon and am so glad I did. You have been of so much help to me over the years. I am getting back into embroidery after a few years of counted cross stitch mostly. So I am studying needle sizes and types. The above article gave me a big sigh of relief and permission to decide for myself (with a few important parameters!). Thanks so very much. BTW——–I hope your eyes are getting better.
    Have a good coming weekend—–Carol

  63. I appreciate this education. I knew some things, but I taught myself at 13 from a teen publication in the 70’s (Let Youself Sew) which was very basic. I used whatever sewing needle was in the house. Up until recently I didn’t give it much thought. Now I’ve been adding many new skills as I make gifts for various special occasions and the needle clearly matters. My only problem is I’ve got lots of needles & no idea what size they are! Following your advice on how to judge the correct size is ever so helpful πŸ™‚ Thank you so much.

  64. I am having trouble getting the needle threader and thread back though the needle head so I can thread the needle. I finally found the Embroidery needle that was more round eye then the pkg I bought with a narrow long opening but have know size of the needle. I use mostly use 3 strand and a few 4 strands for cross stitching. Looking for the name and size if anyone could help Thanks in advance

  65. I think this is the best written informative blog post I have ever read. Thank you so much for spending the time and the attention, I really appreciate this. I’m so excited to start my first embroidery project now!

  66. Hello,
    I am fairly new to embroidery and I am thoroughly enjoying my new craft…
    However I have had trouble getting the little straw that I have often seen used to do CASTON STITCH. Please could you advise me of its name and how to obtain one.
    Thank you
    Best Regards
    Sara Spillett (mrs)

    1. A straw is not really necessary for a cast on stitch. You can cast on the stitch to your needle – it makes more sense, anyway, since you’ll be pulling the thread through with your needle. I think the videos that show a straw with that kind of stitch are making the stitch a specific size, or trying to keep the loops open for some reason. But with a regular cast on stitch, you can just cast the stitches onto the needle.

  67. I purchased the Tobin Blue Rose Stamped Kitchen Towels For Embroidery but the insstructions do not tell me the size needle to use or if the needle should be blunt or sharp like a sewing needle. This is my first project like this.
    Thank you for your help

    1. Hi, Patty – that’s not my design, so I’m not quite sure what the design is. However, if it’s a stamped embroidery design, you’ll want to use a proper “embroidery” needle. They’re called “embroidery” or “crewel” needles. They have a sharp point and a slightly elongated eye. A size #7 is usually a save bet, if you’re working with 2 or 3 strands of floss. If you’re working with all six strands of floss, you’ll want a heavier needle, like a size #5 or a #3 crewel (or “embroidery”) needle.

  68. Great help!! I have been looking for this. If I want to compare crewel and tapestry needles in size, how will that be? E.g. is size 9 ~ size 26?

    1. Welllll…. they’re different needles altogether, so they’re not going to measure out quite the same. I would probably say a size 9 or 10 crewel and a 26 tapestry are close, though.

  69. I have trouble seeing to thread my embroidery needles. And needle threaded seem to damage the floss Are there large eye embroidery needles? Or what do you suggest?

    1. Hi, Kathie – you might look up chenille needles. They have the longer eyes of tapestry needles, but they are sharp tipped. A #26 would handle most embroidery needs.

  70. Thank you, Mary, for having so many answers to my embroidery questions. I don’t know why I bother looking anywhere else. I always end up finding the answers I need on your site. From now on I am coming straight to you first. I wish I had all the knowledge about embroidery that you have. I love your tutorials on YouTube. Thank you for sharing all your embroidery knowledge.

  71. Which needle should be usedwith perle cotton thread size 12 for romanian stitch hand embroidery?is 12 weight cotton sulky thread is thicker or thinner than perle cotton thread size 12

  72. Hi Mary,
    Just read your article on needle sizes and there is no real guide, but is there a guide for milliner’s needles- for the numbers of threads to be used and the fabric for the actual size of French knot you want or the width of the bullion knot.
    Eg, a French knot with one thread onto felt which is couched onto muslin

    Any tips please

  73. So good to have this information! Could you also address the issue of how to keep needles sharp? And how to gauge when it is truly time to discard a needle?

    Thank you so much!

  74. I’m a retired textile conservator. I like your section about choosing a needle by how it and the thread interact with the textile. In conservation we are often concerned with passing a needle between the yarns of a textile, rather than piercing or displacing them. At times this entails either blunting or sharpening a needle, and I think it’s useful to have a sharpening stone to hand. The phasing out of the finest needles has caused us problems, and many of us are hoarding. For fine curved needles try surgical suppliers, but you need to get the ones without attached sutures. Finally I have lots of inherited old needles which I would like to pass on to be used. Are there any specialists or do I just put them on eBay?

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