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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Life as a Needle in my Studio


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The last time I wrote about hand embroidery needles and how to choose them and use them, some of you asked how I organize my needles, so that I know which needle is what type and size.

I admit that, upon reading such an innocent question, the flush of shame overspread my Normally Alabaster Complexion.

Snort, snort! I don’t have an alabaster complexion!

Probably I didn’t feel a lot of shame, either. But I did laugh. Sort of a surprised belly laugh – almost a guffaw – that would convey this thought to anyone hearing it: Organize my needles? Oh golly. If they only knew….

I would love to tell you about my organized needle book! The one with the beautifully embroidered cover, the one divided into different sections, each devoted to a specific needle type, with each soft, woolly page full of perfectly ordered lines of needles, arranged by size, from small to large.

But instead, I’ll stick to reality and show you this:

Pincushion with embroidery needles

Sometimes, I call it The Pincushion of Despair.

It represents my longing to be an organized-needlebook-sort-of-person, but my inability to actually make myself be such a person.

After all, I’d have to pause and think about where I stick my embroidery needle when I’m finished with it.

My friend, the Red Tomato (with its inexplicable strawberry hanging from its stem – have you ever wondered about that? why a tomato and a strawberry? why not a tomato and an onion? or a tomato and a garlic clove?)…anyway, as I was saying, it eliminates the problem of thought for me.

I don’t think about where or how I put my needles away. I just stick ’em into the tomato.

Pincushion with embroidery needles

The tomato is the Great Receive of Every Needle that comes new, out of a package, to be used for one or many times in my workroom.

It is the Social Center of a Needle’s Life in my studio. This is where needles meet, where they fall in love, and where I’m pretty convinced they breed.

I’m positively certain that I did not take that many new needles out of packages this year, or last, or in fact, in my whole life time. Where did they all come from?

There’s only explanation: they reproduce.

They’re like wire hangers – the ones that breed in your closet and end up a jumbled mess. You know you didn’t start the year with that many hangers in your closet! There’s no other explanation.

It’s the same way with my needles.

The difficulty with such a set-up is that this many needles in close proximity can lead to Angry Needles. They tend to get a little short tempered when you start prodding your way into their domain.

And when you stick your fingers into that crowded, overpopulated mass of pokey, prickly needles to find just the right one, the results can be frustrating and sometimes even painful.

Instead of organizing my needles in some sort of perfect storage solution, I organize my needles before I start a stitching session. When I’m in the midst of stitching, I don’t like looking for a particular needle. So I select my needles before I start, and I line them up, ready to use.

Embroidery Needles Ready to Use

And here they stand, proudly ready to serve. To do their duty. To bring honor to their Needle Heritage. To do what they were Made to Do….

…and to enjoy a little elbow room, outside the Tomato.

It’s amazing that I have this many #8 crewel needles, isn’t it? I don’t normally line that many needles up, ready to work, but I just kept pulling the same size needles out, one after another, wondering…where did these all come from?!

Since I’m working on the hummingbird, I’ll be switching out colors and shades frequently, so it doesn’t hurt to have a lot of needles lined up ahead of time. I’ve stuck them in a piece of craft foam that I use for paper piercing when preparing patterns for transfer.

How do I know they’re #8 crewel needles? Well… I know they’re crewel needles because of their structure – medium-long eye and a sharp tip. And they’re too big to be a #10. They’re too big to be a #9. But they’re not quite big enough to be a #7.

Besides, #8 is my favorite size crewel needle, and it’s the size that populates a good portion of the pincushion. It works well for one strand of floss or two. It’s comfortable to hold. It’s easy to thread.

I use #8 crewel needles quite often. But I didn’t know I had this many – which only supports my theory that the needles in my studio enjoy a rather sociable life.

I’m working on the Organized Needlebook Thing. But in the meantime, the downright dirty truth is that I don’t organize my needles.

I just have a Red Tomato.

And You?

How do your needles spend their spare time? Do you have them organized a certain way? Do you store them a particular way, once they’re out of their little commercial sleeves? Go ahead, shame me! Tell us all about your needle storage solutions! I love hearing how other people organize. It gives me something to strive for! Feel free to chime in below!

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(176) Comments

  1. I’m so glad to know you snort too 🙂

    I have a tube of wood with a lid – it has a name, I just can’t remember it – that I bought in Colonial Williamsburg ages ago. The problem is, I’m not as familiar with different types of needles as you are so I select by guess and by gosh. I was unpicking a bit of my Philippa Turnbull (first attempt ever) crewel pattern last night, and my silver needle flew out of my hand, bounced once on something papery, and disappeared. I looked all over but my room is a mess so no luck. I pulled out my needle tube thingy, shook out some needles, picked one that looked like the gold-plated needle I had stuck in my work, and got on with it. I think I may need to invest in a magnet to wave around near the floor (although, as Gilbert & Sullivan would have it “by no endeavour can magnet ever attract a silver churn” (or needle)).

  2. Hurrah for little red tomatoes with a red strawberry. Behold and look for well they serve. They never rot nor decay, serving Mary every day. They never complain nor do they feel any pain. Life for them is just one game. I wonderful if they play the role of matchmaker during their time of play.
    I will have to get my self a red tomato as my needles tend to live in their packets. I would never know how to recognise a no 8 from a 10 and What is crew elle or not! Or maybe should I get a hedgehog?
    Thanks Mary for your joie de vivre!! Everton thoughts of putting these happy “quips ” in book form ? I would be one of your first customers. A great gift to pass around.
    Wishing you a lovely day as I wend my way to bed Down Under!

  3. LOL – we could start the “Red Tomato Club” – I actually have 2 – a big one that stores lots of needles and a smaller one that I try to use for a specific project – which doesn’t always work. They do breed – but they never produce the size I need RIGHT NOW!

  4. I had one of those red tomato things! But my cat stole it for a toy and I’ve not seen it in months…

    My needles tend to stay in the packaging that I bought them in. I got a selection of goldwork needles from Golden Hinde, and they’re till in the bit of card that they were originally packaged in, even though it’s getting a bit ratty now. I ought to make a needle case, as I like to be organised and there’s a serious risk of losing the special needles if I’m not careful. I’ve already lost 2 of the 3 couching needles. 🙁

    1. Hi, Suw – Funny! It seems that everyone I know who has cats and who sews, loses the red tomato to the cat eventually. Maybe it has something to do with what’s in the strawberry… If I had a cat, I’d test the theory.

      A needlebook is a terrific idea if you like to be organized. And it’s a terrific idea, even if you don’t. They’re fun to make. They can be as pretty or as decorative as you want them to be. And they’re utilitarian, if you actually decide to use them!

  5. I keep my needles in the arm of my chair. This way they are close at hand, and it saves my seat. Nobody want to sit in the chair with all the needles, it is too dangerous. Every now and then a stranger sits in my chair but they soon learn why no one was sitting in the most comfortable chair in the room.

    1. Hmm…I use to do this until I ended up having surgery to remove a needle that broke off in my arm and then decided to travel before the surgery. Take care.

  6. Hahahaha! You’re funny. I too have a tomato. Also needle packets. And a zipper pouch. But let us not forget the most- often-used pincushion: the arm of the sofa!

  7. I use The Needle Nest, which is a small plastic box with a weak magnet in the bottom. It keeps all my needlepoint and cross stitch needles safe.. Sewing needles? They are on there own and fight for space in my magnetic pin holder! Happy New Year.

  8. I love you honesty and wit. So many times I feel inadequate by super human bloggers who are organized and perfect. My needles are in their little packets because that is the only way I can keep track of who is who. When I first started this adventure into needlework, I bought a small plastic box with dividers that I put magnets in each section to organize my needles. That lasted a total of one minute. I thought I was so clever. HA! Back to the packets for me.

  9. I confess, my needles are one thing that stay organized in my life. They spend their days off inserted in wool felt snips with their sisters and are then stored in little coin envelopes. the outside of the envelopes are marked with type and size. I even color code between the types. Blue is tapestry, yellow is embroidery etc. Sounds obsessive I know, but it keeps me from getting more of one thing I have enough of and forgetting or not finding what I need. To further keep things neat the little envelopes fit perfectly in a small wooden box, filed by type and size.
    This system also saves me from trips to the vet to have needles removed from curious and loving pets.

    1. Finally a kindred spirit, even if only in spirit. I love organizing, but never seem to follow through. Forever I have had plans to make a different needle book for different techniques; a needlepoint book for needlepoint needles; an embroidered book for surface embroidery needles; a crewel book for crewel needles; etc. That way I would just look at the needle book cover find the right needle inside. your way seems like the way to go while I try to get around to my way. for now all needles go in a drawer in an organizer on my desk and whatever is there that I can thread is generally what I use.

    2. Doreen, what an ingenious way of sorting/storing your needles. I’m a big color coder. Wonder why I didn’t think of that? but then, they’d (the needles) probably still wind up in the red tomato. I do use it though, the strawberry, I always run whatever sharp needle i’m using through it to keep it sharp and make it just right for sewing.

  10. I purchased a wonderful multi page needle keeping book from an Embroiderer’s Guild in CA.- then lost it within a year with all my needles! While I had it I was delighted to actually learn what each of the needles was & how many of each I had! Each page was a different needle type in all its sizes.
    Sadly I am more creative in a mess. When I clean everything up It stifles my creative juices.

    1. I have seen that book. It is fantastic. I got the address to order one, but have not gotten around to it. Hope you find yours.

    2. The Needle Index book has come up on Mary’s site at least once. There’s a nice description with photos on 10-25-2011. And seems like I saw something recently, because I decided I had to have one. (I love nice needles — one of my guilty pleasures.) Although I was unable to find it listed under Valley Quail Chapter, EGA or anywhere on the EGA website, I did find it at http://www.alabamachanin.com/the-needle-index when I googled “The Needle Index book.” I purchased it in November as an early Christmas present for myself.

  11. Guilty as charged! Alas – I have that same red tomato and where I put all my needles as well. I have my favorites and usually will stitch with them til they are either lost or misplaced – then will either go to my tomato or “search” for my packets or tubes of new ones and start again. A needle book sounds like a super idea! I may need to check into patterns for one of those. . . . any plans for one Miss Mary???
    Barbara in TN

  12. My tomato pincushion looks just about the same – maybe more pins than needles, but equally crazy!

    I laughed when you said that you think they must breed! I say that about magazines all the time. I can look through them, recycle them but the next thing I know– it seems like there are twice as many as before. Somehow they must come back and bring their friends!!

    Thank you so much for this site and for sharing all you do with us. You are so talented and especially generous – I’ve learned a lot from reading ‘needle ‘n thread’. You truly inspire us with your creativity and knowledge.

    And a very Happy New Year to you and your family!

    1. Recently sent my favorite 25 year old chair out to be reupholstered, warning that there may be some pins and needles in it. When the chair came back I asked if there were many pins and needles found in the chair. He laughed and said there were lots and lots of them, also dog hair and peanuts. ha ha

  13. OH Mary this email was my giggle (big giggle LOL) for the day. It has started my day on the right foot.
    I do have a needle book but I really don’t know if they are in the right order. Half the time when a project is done I have gone through a couple of needles and they end up in the Garbage.
    Thanks for starting my day with a very Humorous email. Have a great Day and
    Happy 2015

  14. I too treasure my red tomato. On occasion I try to get organized by using the wood tube needle holders, writing the size and type of needle on it. When it comes time to use the same needle I need to locate the tube, which seems to have disappeared. However, I am in the process of making some needlebooks for the different kinds of stitching I do. Such as a Blackwork design on the front cover for the needles I use for this technique. That is a goal I have to complete in 2015. In the meantime, by tomato will stay by my chair.

    Have a good day. Look forward to other suggestions on needle storage.

  15. Well, why not get started by taking a sharpie pen and label each section of the tomato with a needle type & size? It may take more than one tomato, but they would be cute lined up on a shelf…I do that with pins, but I’m slightly CDO…OCD with letters in the correct order…

    1. Lynne,

      I like your idea as I have several tomatoe . So, for the time being, I think I might start this technique. Thank you!


    2. Lynne, I really like the idea of marking off sections of the tomatoes! I might do that and see if it helps my organization any. I could be beyond help though lol You know, old dog and tricks? LOL

  16. I posit that the need for a needle cleaner/ sharpener and the availability of supplies overrode the need for logic. I suspect someone thought “I need a big one filled with sawdust (very readily available around a farm) and just a small one filled with sand (a rare commodity of sorts). I have red fabric already, what is small and red?” Enough musing now to organize my cone if shame.

  17. I like your friendly tomato. It makes a good meeting place. I am sure your needles learn from each other, because they do such good stitching – they must be passing on your tips to the newcomers.
    I’m fairly organised with my odd needles – I have two 35mm film canisters: sharp-pointed needles in one (points down) and tapestry needles in the other. My precious gold-plated tapestry needles from Jane Greenoff at http://www.thecrosstitchguild.com stay safely in the pretty little packets they came in.
    That is the theory. In practice, all I can be sure of is that the needles I am using on a project will be parked in the top right corner of the fabric when not in action. (I’m left handed, so they don’t sting me too often up there.)
    One tip – I don’t know what material your craft foam is, Mary, but please warn people that they should never, never stick needles or pins in expanded polystyrene for storage – it blunts them.

  18. This isn’t organization, per se, but presevation. I stick needles and pins into a pincushion I’ve made from 100% wool–fleece or yarn–and felted. Or into one made from clean dog hair.

    I also have the tomato/strawberry and usde it… right up until I found a lot of rusted pins and needles in it. Whatever it is filled with, or perhaps the cotton covering, retains moisture and rust is the result if things are too long without moving.

    A much older lady suggested make one from dog hair because it has a small amount of oil in it. I gave my dog a bath, brushed him, and used the hair to make a small pincushion. And, I tossed a wad of fleece into a nylon stocking and into the washing machine till it felted into a ball the size and firmness I wanted. The small amount of oil that remains on the clean fleece or hair apparently is a barrier on the steel against rust. (You can make a felted ball lovelier by wrapping it in bands of yarn, a la temari, and then felting. Make sure to use 100% wool–not the washable kind, which does not felt.)

    These two worked so well that I made a lot of fleece balls and a few dog hair pincushions so I can have pins and needles in project bags, work stations, etc. NONE have ever let me down–no rusty pins or needles since I quit the tomato.

    BTW, I do not cover my pincushions in cotton. The felted fleece is fine as it is. The dog hair is held in by cheesecloth, so no moisture is trapped to cause rust though covering it with woolen fabric would work well, and be more attractive.

    1. WOW, i’m glad i’m taking the time to read all everyone’s comments. So many great ideas for our needles and their care.
      Skeeter (my precious Papillon)told me she’d be honored to give up some of her hair for my pin cushion. So i’ve copied these directions and saved them to make one. All I need now is some wool to felt and i’m in business. Thanks Ruth for the suggestion

  19. I have several needle books and keep one in a small sewing tin that I carry with my current project. I also tend to store a couple of needles along the edge of the project/fabric I am working on. At the end of the project I try to return the needles to their correct packet. It is probably the only bit of neatness that I come close to achieving in my life. Everything else seems to be in stacks and layers. I am thrilled to discover that there are other people who believe as I do in the reproduction of inanimate objects.

  20. Oh how I enjoy reading your blog! I laughed out loud this morning reading about your needle organization! I am really into quilt piecing right now but you have ignighted my love for hand embroidery again. I embroidered five Christmas stockings for a friend this year and had your stitch videos at my side for inspiration. I came up with an idea to organize my sewing machine needles that would work well for hand needles also. I use the Tomato cushion and “grid” it using a fabric marker. I use a flower head pin labeled with my sewing machine name to keep track of the needle currently in my machine. I will try to attach a picture.
    Thank you for sharing your gift of sewing and writing!
    Sorry , I can’t seem to attach the picture . . . Could I email it to you?

    1. THANK YOU so much for the tip on sewing maching needles. I have both sharp and round point needles, so that makes quite a few. I am forever throwing away needles, because I haven’t a clue which one goes in my machine! No more, thanks to you Julia!

    2. Julia, what a grand idea!The perfect answer for keeping track of which needle is in your machine. With glaucoma and cataracts both, even using a magnifying glass, it’s near impossible to read the needle size for my machine.
      Thanks for the idea! I actually have a few of those flower head pins. I’ll be using one to note the needle in my sewing machine from now on.

  21. I read your fun remarks about needles and got the first laugh of the day. I know they gain in number, talk to each other, play hide and seek, then suddenly appear all shinny and ready to stitch. I have them on flannel in small booklets then they have a way sliding out running around and hide some more. They change their eyes sometimes getting smaller and refusing to let the thread slide through.

  22. Ah there’s hope for me to organize yet in my life? A friend gave me the Thistle Threads mini-casket last year on fabric with acrylic painted design. “Do something with it,” she said. So the top of the little casket holds a needle threader and tiny pair of scissors, along with a “dead needle casket.” The bottom opens to reveal flannel “pages” with one of Susan Elliott’s needle labels on each. It’s helping!

  23. Organized? well I have a needlebook which I made and beaded the covers, front and back to see how I liked beading on felt, and there’s an array of needles all over the place in there. Since I go to stitch ins, I like to have an array in case someone needs to borrow.

    At home, however, well…there’s a nice wood box crammed with cards and bags of needles. And various other little caches here and there. And probably a few in the sofa where I often work…and my cleaners now and then rescue one from the rug and put it out for me to retrieve. Semi organized, I guess this is.

  24. you made me smile today! I was in the middle of sorting out my needles,
    Took a break to ck. emails and there was your post! I have TWO
    Beautifully embroidered needle books which start off the year in order
    And finish the year quite the opposite, and I always do a clean up
    At years end, discarding any which are no longer worth keeping.
    I have several smaller needle books which I load with the needles needed for
    A project and keep it with that project. THEN there is my floor lamp
    Which has a metal upright on which I have a bunch of magnets which
    Hold the needles I am currently using while I sit and stitch. Often have
    Thought I should name my house the needle nest!

  25. With my embroidery, I tend to search through my small box of loose needles to find a fine needle. For applique, I have a Needle Nest for my super fine Ellie Sienkiewicz needles. I had thought when I retired I would get more organzied – not happening….

  26. I, too, had a tomato with a strawberry pin cushion until our puppy got ahold to it. He was okay, no injuries. I just have not replaced it yet. I keep my needles in the little sleeves they came in.

  27. Good Morning Mary, Some time ago you made a needle roll from wool. I made one similar to the one you made though I added categories and lines for the sizes. You see I have collected over 200 needles over 30 years of moving. When I finally stopped moving and found them all I was overwhelmed. The roll I’m using is what I call a prototype. Not very pretty but it works till I am inspired to make another one that is nicer. I have to admit it makes me happy to see them all lined up in order so I know just where to find what I want.
    Happy New Year, Victoria in VA

  28. I must be stuck between 2 worlds. I do have mine organized in a book I bought from one of the EGA chapters out west. Everything is organized….but I also have my version of the tomato-actually I have 3 one for beading needles( a scrap of velvet), one for sharp needles of all kinds and one for tapestry needles. I usually grab a needle that will fit my thread and my need. The book is handy for travel or if I need to replenish my sock of a particular type.
    I also do what Mary does if I have a project with a lot of color changes, I thread up several and have them available as well. Works for me!

    1. I agree that the Needlebook that the Valley Quail Chapter (Walnut Creek) of EGA sells is a wonderful little item. When I first received mine I was embarrassed to find out just HOW MANY needles I did have. But now it is so easy to find the exact needle I want and to find out which orphan belongs where.

  29. The arms of our furniture are wooden, so I use a needle tube when my needles are put away, and a tomato-style cushion when I am working. It is actually a small pot saucer with a bubble shaped scrap of fabric and filling hot-glued into the saucer. 🙂

  30. I have 2 tomatoes! One for sewing machine needles and one for all other. On the one for machine needles, I mark with a pin on each section of the tomato what size the needles are for that section. When I take a needle out, I put a red topped pin in its place, so I know where to return the needle.
    My other tomato looks like yours, only worse. I leave a bit of the thread I use in the needle, so I can tell what kind of thread worked in the needle. I think I need to try my way of keeping the machine needles – it might be more organized! I feel your pain with this.

  31. Mary,
    After reading this post, I’m wondering if we aren’t twins! (Except you got all of the talent).
    Thanks for sharing. You really are an inspiration sprinkled with a bit of normalcy.
    ~ Nancy

  32. I have a marvelous needle book I purchased from the ‘Brazilian Dimensional Embroidery Guild’. It identifies and organizes all the needles I have. You name it and it is in the book. No, they don’t always stay in the book but when I am finished with a project I return the needle to its proper place. It is a joy to have them ready when I am gathering for my next project.

  33. I love your honesty and wit. So many times I feel inadequate by super human bloggers who are organized and perfect. My needles are in their little packets because that is the only way I can keep track of who is who. When I first started this adventure into needlework, I bought a small plastic box with dividers that I put magnets in each section to organize my needles. That lasted a total of one minute. I thought I was so clever. HA! Back to the packets for me.

  34. I have several needlecases and one of the smallest holds my goldplated needles – if I remember to put them back there when I have finished with them! However about 70 years ago I was given a red leather one which does have the type of needle on each page ( a little paper label which in several cases has lost part of it)
    but the needles have got all mixed up over the years so I ought to spend some time trying to sort it. Mostly though my needles go into the arm of the chair when I no longer need them.

  35. I now have a needle book. But the real kicker is that I have a piece of paper with all the needles I use copied on it. I use mostly Brazillian needles, so they aren’t that different one size to the next…so it is important that I have the right one for my thread. I just pick up the one in my pincushion and measure it against the copied and numbered sheet to make certain it is the right one

    1. P.S. I made my needle book out of craft felt. The needles do not slide out, each page has one type of needle, I put small pockets on the inside covers, and attached small magnets so I could store my NECESSARY needle threaders there and not have the fall out. I also added a packet of dessicant that I got out of a purse or something, and put one inside both the front and back cover. The inside pages are plain felt, the outside is wild colored flowers.

  36. Like you, I have a large red tomato — with its strawberry. =) However, the still-packaged needles are sorted out in a small plastic drawer unit.

  37. Hi Mary
    I keep promising to make a 3 fold needle book with transparent pockets to hold the various packets and needles can be put back into the correct packet after use (I have all the materials needed to do this) but something more interesting comes along and it goes to the bottom of the “to do” pile. I did think that I might do it over Christmas but it is almost New Years Eve and still not done. Oh well there is a full year ahead not touched yet.


  38. Playing with stumpwork and planning to also try classic crewel work, the variety of needles I now use has expanded significantly. I used to be happy with my little wool pincushion (grey with black & red spots). If the needle was sharp, I’d place it in the red. If tapestry, then it would go to the black. Not quite as simple as that, but pretty much. However, I could see this technique would not work for my current needlework activities. I’m hoping I found the solution in my recent purchase of two large pincushions at Amazon (called “large multi-color ewesful felted wool pincushion). I just received it, so not sure yet how this will work, but I’m hopeful.

  39. Well, i have a pincushion beside my machine but most needles end up higgely piggely on my magnets which are attached to my magnifier, and then once in a while, I go through them, throw the worn ones away and put the rest back in my seahorse needlecase. Wish I could post pictures for you….

  40. Dear Mary;
    Be not ashamed. I too am needle disordered. Generally I put the needles in my tool chest but some stay on table until my cats knock them to the floor. Then my husband finds them the hard way if you know what I mean. I’m impressed by your des the idea of a book of needles. A.new project. WOW. I’d better get going and buy the supplies. Thanks, Mia of Indio, Ca

  41. Mary,
    I know there are more of your readers out there with a bit of OCD but they haven’t spoken up so I will be brave and be the first.
    I made a needle book out of felt pages, all different colors with a hand-lettered, laminated label sewn to the top of each page. QUILTING, EMBROIDERY, SASHICO – CHENILLE, TAPESTRY (BLUNT), MILLINERS – BEAD, SPECIALTY. The colors are: blue, white, purple, light pink, hot pink and brown (for specialty). And I stitched a little sample on most of the pages.
    My idea was to put all the various odd needles on the SPECIALTY page: leather, mattress, sail, huge needles you rarely ever use but the display is pretty. That got too heavy to carry around so now on my specialty page is, to my surprise — a hand-tied fishing fly that somehow flew in there! Gasp!
    I also have a page that’s separate for all my current needles for traveling. But I always take the needle book with me traveling, because you never know what you’ll need on a road trip! There! I bravely opened the door for others to come forward and tell about their orderliness obsession. Thanks Mary for such a fun post today!

  42. Honestly! I don’t know my needles as well as you, so the difference between a crewel and an embroidery needle and a Darner is lost on me–kind of like the difference between one red car and another. They are both red, what more do I need to know? Out of desperation, i bought a needle book with drawings of the needles that you can compare your needles to to find out what they are and what size. But I use mostly milliners and so that page is stuffed with needles. I need a page for each size. My local shop sells needles in packages with one needle of each size. I keep saying I will buy a package and leave it closed, so I can always tell what size my needle is, but inevitably, the package is opened and the needles are messed up and I don’t know what is what, so I need a new package! Too frustrating! Glad everyone else has that problem. I am always impressed when I read a needlework pattern and it tells you the type and size of needle to use. I usually use whatever needle the thread fits through!

  43. I like to do English paper piecing…which led me to small boxes…which led to a small box containing a little pin cushion…which led to lots of small boxes, lots of pin cushions from lots of fun fabrics, and needles everywhere! Alas, for the days of only one red tomato (the strawberry departed its partner decades ago)! Is it worse to be the custodian of only one bristly tomato, or the drover of a drawer full of little boxes, each breeding its own needle progeny? Curious minds seek to know. . .

  44. I use several red tomatoes, one for each type of needle (crewel, needlepoint, etc. I use a marker to write the size and try to keep them in line.. I keep hand sewing needles in a separate red tomato. Sewing machine needles in their original case. I keep the container for the one in my machine on the side so I remember what is in the machine.
    I must admit there are times when I just stick a needle in the nearest red tomato.

  45. Mary, it’s been a wonderful year of learning with you — thank you! But I think that knowing that your workspace can be just as “free-flowing” as mine when in the middle of a project, was the best part! So good to be able to identify with a great artist like you!

  46. Witaj Mary, ja używam poduszki magnetycznej firmy PRYM. Igły się nie gubią. Te, których rzadko używam trzymam w etui, które sama zrobiłam.

  47. Nope. I have a 3″ x 1 1/2″ piece of blue felt. That’s where all my needles reside. I’ve thought about making myself a needlebook, about how handy dandy such a thing would be. But I’ve not actually Done It. So I just stick with my trusty piece of blue felt.

    No need to feel ashamed, Mrs. Corbet 😉


    I’ve always wondered about that dangly strawberry on tomato pincushions. Why didn’t they just make it a mini tomato?

  48. Dear Mary,

    I think this blog shows us your true humor! You gave me a good belly laugh when you confessed about your red tomato! (Why a strawberry? Why not a cherry tomato?)

    I too have the tomato and once ( and I agree with the reproduction problem) a needle is in there, I have no idea what size it is. If I dont have the package with that size in it, is there another way to ‘size” it?

    I was also wondering what is that strawberry for?

  49. Haha! It appears this post hit a sympathetic nerve.

    I have a half dozen pincushions on my table. One for crewel and tapestry needles, one for straw and milliners needles and one for applique needles. Plus assorted small pincushions I’ve made that store the needles I’m currently using.

    I’ve made several needle cases, but I only use those when I travel.

    The only needles I consistently put away are my #12 crewel needles. And that’s just because they are so hard for me to find. If the rest of them weren’t pretty easy to come by, I dare say I’d do the same with them!

  50. I keep mine all mixed up together in an Alltoids can. I have no idea what size they are and just use what I think feels right. I like kits that come with the right size needles. HA!

  51. I remember well the days of rummaging through my sewing basket and in drawers were I keep some embroidery supplies looking for a specific size needle with, very often, not much success.
    One day last year, while enjoying a new embroidery DVD I purchased from Amy Bunger and Tony Minieri, I found the answer to my prayer, The Needle Index.
    The Needle Index is a great little book for keeping track of my needles and also to help me figure out what size needle I have in my hand at any given moment. I believe The Needle Index, created by the Valley Quail EGA, helped me be one step closer to organized. Each page in this book shows a different needle type complete with scale imagesof that needle, as well as a piece of wool felt to keep your needles in.
    This little book can be found at various needlework shops across the US and the cost is minimal – I’ve seen it ranging from $8.00 to $8.50. It was definitely one of my best investments.

    1. Norma, that is where i got mine. I could only remember it was the guild Mary belonged to (I think LOL)I might even be wrong on that, nevertheless, I bought mine the same week she did her article about it and I, too, think i’ts the best money I’ve spent on sewing.

  52. I have my Bohin Box, My John James Box, my DMC Box and Other. I love Bohin needles the best. I’m one of those people who can only do one thing at a time (age related) so I have to be organized. May I say if your tomato works for you, good for you. When I drop a needle I pull out my sword needle magnet finder and walah! I find it. There is a lady I know who had a needle slip up her big toe and had to be operated on to remove it. Since then, I find lost needles.

  53. Lynne,

    I like your idea as I have several tomatoes . So, for the time being, I think I might start this technique. Thank you!


  54. I use the gimp trim that goes round the bottom of the lampshade by my chair in the living room. I used to use the arm of the chair, but my family, after years of putting up with it, convinced me to change. My cats always notice the tomato, but they ignore the needles on the shade. I can just turn it around 90 degrees so it’s out of sight, out of mind.

  55. I, too, have a jumble of needles. I put them all in a pincushion (or 3), depending upon where I am when I get finished with it. I have made a pretty needle book, but I can never find it when I need it. And I don’t want to waste my precious studio time by organizing them in something I can’t ever find when I need it! 🙂

  56. LOL !! Mine are jumbled as well but on needle rests velgroed to the frame of the piece they are being used on. I do have a needle page(s) in my etui. But there are several of them, however, not in use yet with pages labeled for size. There are several places that have packets of new needles not yet put into service as I seem to go through gold plated needles at a mad rate. Once the plating is gone I can’t use them anymore so they find a home in a peppermint tin for donation some day to a woman who takes them to the Dominican Republic to a charity she works with.

    Sometimes they get stuck (the ones I am working with) in a pin cushion or the Strawberry frame weight and scissor fob by the place I like to sit in the living room.

  57. The reason I have an organized needle book is because in one of the first silk ribbon embroidery classes I took the project was a needle book. Since I was new to serious embroidery I was excited to finish and start using my needle book. The project itself used a plastic case for business cards with about 8 plastic sleeves to insert the cards. We cut felt the size of business cards and inserted it into the sleeves. Each piece of felt was labeled what type of needle would be stored on it. The fabric cover was embroidered and slipped over the front and back of the case. I’m still using it 25 years later. Dolores in Michigan

    1. I like this idea.
      My organized needles are in their original packets, which in turn live in a large plastic box. (So all can be mislaid together.)
      Their friends, which have not been returned to their packets, are all over the worktable behind me in a jumble of leftover thread.

  58. Hi Mary! Happy almost New Year! I am pretty obsessed with my needles, they are among my favorite objects list. I have a square tray with different pincushions I make, each with different kinds and sizes of needles. I cannot resist buying needles, they are so useful! They are actually great friends who help me sew my dreams!

  59. Mary, I, too, use the red tomato; in fact, several of them. However, what I do is write a size number in each of the “vine” divided sections in order to keep each needle size separate. Within some of the sections I draw a horizontal line across the tomato “vine” divided section in order to get more than one type needle (same size) within that size section. With so many different needles and sizes, that’s why several red tomatoes.

    Abundant blessings throughout the New Year; and sincere thanks for all your sharing and helpful tips in your wonderful emails!

  60. Dear Mary

    Ha, Ha, mine don’t breed they continually disappear or bend out of shape with continual use, ‘me thinks they are not happy’, I wish they would breed that would save me buying more. Although in retrospect if I looked in all my needlebook cases there are stacks of them put away for a later date but then forgotten, maybe thats why they are unhappy because they are not on show, ha, ha. Two minds, or three or four…….think a like, I also have a tomato pincushion sitting quietly on my work desk waiting, waiting in anticipation that I will fill it with those delicious needles where they will be snug and happy and in love and breeding away. Thanks so much for your post today really funny and for sharing with us your dilemma of the needle problem.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  61. I have a two needle books but mine seem to get stuck into my red tomato. What happens is my husband will stick himself sitting down on the sofa and then take the needle to the tomato. My tomato is also covered in pins as I sew also. It can be harder to find the needles in amongst the pins.

  62. Wow! I am so excited! My needle organization method is just like Mary’s. Honestly, this gives me a great deal of relief!

    A few years ago I bought a plastic box with smaller boxes within and really organized and labeled all my needles. The system lasted for about one-half of a project. Now I am back to the tomato! I think I would rather spend my time stitching instead of organizing. It’s just how I’m stitched together.


  63. Not only do needles breed in a red tomato, they also die and get buried there. They sink in never to reappear. I have several pincushions and lots of needle books because I like making them, but organized they are not. How do I pick a needle? I look at the thread, I look at the eye and I look at the point., and if nothing looks right I go to my box of packets,and find a new needle. The packets run the gamut from $0.25 to present because the new ones in the store look so appealing!

  64. LOL, I do have a beautifully stitched needlebook with needles according to type and more or less according to size. And I do use the book! However, and this is really sad, I hate to throw away needles. So my needlebook contains mainly needles that are slightly to really awefully bent… So, now the secret is out.

  65. I use a tomato as well (I have a red one and a pink one). The only difference is that I took a Sharpie and wrote needle style/size in each section so they are somewhat organized when I stick them in

  66. What do you use to stand the needles up in while using them? I like that Idea. I do have a question about needle breakage. I seem to break a lot of needles usually breaking at the eye. Annoying to say the least. It doesn’t seem to be any size in particular any needles will break in my fingers. Got any suggestions? Thank you

  67. Well, I had a tomato I used as the Homemaking teacher with one section labeled for machine needles. It is long gone. Now I have a very special, wholly corner piece of yellow folded paper. It has about eight needles in it with many empty holes from other needles lost in the wrist pin cushion, arm rest of my favorite chair and a few in a clear pink rectangle compact with a magnate on the bottom. I do dream of making a needle case with wool felt to replace the yellow paper but just haven’t gotten passed the dreaming stage yet.

  68. Loved this post! So glad to know someone else is disorganized! My excuse is that I’ve never had space to have a “studio” or workroom, etc. So it’s always an adventure to find a needle, but I usually do….

  69. I enjoyed your post immensely. Even though my husband accuses me of being “compulsively organized”, my needles all seem to end up in a pin cushion as well.

  70. LOLOL!!! I love your writing 🙂

    I use those little needle books that quilt shows give out at the door. I have about 20 of them so my embroidery and beading needles are loosely organized by type. For each project I grab an empty one and fill it with whatever needles I’ll need and stash it in the project bag.

  71. Oh dear. I must confess. I buried my tomato long ago in favor of the arm of the sofa. There my needles reside and they seem to like it for they burrow in quite nicely and I have to pull them by their tails to get them out. Kinda like pulling a pig’s tail to get him away from the feed trough. Plus I discovered if I put my needles in any type of pincushion, they always end back up in the sofa. I’m convinced it’s because they like watching the television and eagerly anticipate a crumb of Christmas cookie to fall amongst them now and then…..

  72. Apologies if this has been mentioned, but have you considered somehow coloring or otherwise marking the portions of the tomato so you can at least sort the needles by type? Something pretty would be fabric paint at the top of the tomato, a different color for each section needed. More practically, use a paint marker to write something on the top of each section so that you can tell what needle goes to which section. Now that I’ve had the idea, I’ll have to do that to my tomato!

  73. LOL! Thank you so much for the snort :). Yes, I have a tomoato for pins and needles, altho it is green. I also have 2 pincushions by the sewing machine with pins and needles, at least one scissor fob that is a pincushion (with pins and needles in it) and waaay to many needlebooks to count. They were fun to make so I couldn’t stop at one, and thought it would be handy to have one with each project bag. Yeah. Right. Oh, and then there is the small plastic box that has all the needles not yet out of their packets.

    I want to do one more needlebook to use as a reference ‘manual’. Nice neat wool pages with each size and type marked that I can whip out and use to identify mystery needles. I’ll keep it safely tucked away….somewhere :).

  74. I – like so many others – certainly enjoyed and chuckled over your post today. Another day of “Mary isn’t perfect”… my kind of gal. Heeheehee. I enjoy reading and seeing other bloggers who seem to “have it all together”, but you know Mary, yours is the only one I “religiously” read each and every day and miss when you take a day off (well-deserved, may I add?)
    I did your survey awhile back, but had no new ideas for you for upcoming posts. How about a lovely project for us to do along with you, involving… a needle book!!! 😉

  75. I don’t even use a little red tomato – I have one that was my mother’s but the strawberry is missing. I have an ort bag that has a needle minder/weight made of sand on one end to hold it on the arm of the couch. I stick all my needles in there. My needles are not prolific breeders tho – wonder if I could send them to you for lessons? Anyway, mine just seem to disappear – I have no idea where they go, but when this house is demolished someday, someone will find a huge stash of needles that have been hiding out from the ‘breeding’ process.

  76. I have 2 ways to “organize” my needles. I have a tomato that looks very similar to yours, LOL. Then I have a Beautiful needlebook that I take to classes where I have all the needles I may need, plus some.The needlebook is very organized so choosing the correct Needle is the last thing I stress over. At home the tomato is my close companion! Enjoyed the fact I’m not alone!

  77. I was always losing needles when I put them down and long ago got into the habit of sticking them in my shirt instead. Then I usually forget to add them to the pincushion when I’m done stitching for the moment and end up wearing needles, still dangling bits of thread, wherever I go. My kids both learned as toddlers not to fling themselves headlong into my lap, as adults they still check for stabby things before giving me a hug.

  78. I never seem to accumulate that many needles between breaking them and losing them. My husband is my champion “find the needle I dropped” person. I have my favorite long darners that I use for hand sewing that seem to stick around for quite awhile, even though they are bent. I am pretty hard on needles. I do have a question, though. With sharp needles, do you feel they wear out like sewing machine needles do? Lately it doesn’t seem that my sharp needles are very sharp.

  79. Oh, Mary, I did enjoy that blog. But I do believe my practices are even more shameful, way more shameful. You see, I do have one of those fabulous needle books with a page for each type and with illustrations showing what each type and size looks like. And where do I put my needles? On whatever magnetic needle
    minders that come to hand. I have several that range along the metal stand of my floor lamp. Oh blush indeed!

  80. Mary,

    I sent a comment to the comments about needles. Hope you will answer the “do sharp needles wear out” question.

    In looking at your post again, I am surprised to see that you will be working on the hummingbird. I thought that was done. I thought you had rather given up on doing it another way. Maybe I have just lost track.

    Is there a place where different people have posted their hummingbirds? I snooped around and didn’t have any luck finding such a spot. I am curious to see other color ways that people might have done.

    Love your posts. I don’t know how you have time to post so much.

    2014 was a great year. Loved the hummingbird articles.

    I wish you the very best for 2015

    Mary Doerder

  81. Thanks for the chuckle!

    If you were to use a Prima pen, you could mark the tomato with say a C-8, or whatever you would need to remind yourself what the needle is–do this with each section and you would have your needles organized. OK, I will admit, you will have to stop and think about where you are sticking said needle.

    Happy New Year to you and your needles–may they always be sharp.

  82. Mary! That is NOT what I expected! A pincushion? I am shocked. I keep all my needles in a “etui” which I made (actually my second one). Works rather well. If I did what you do, I would not know which needle is which. At least you know what size they are. Maybe you could put some kind of case on your bucket list.

  83. A lady in my guild has a beautifully-embroidered covered business card holder, which holds her needles in their commercial packets. Pretty, practical and a brilliant idea.

    Me… well I have a few tins, with a magnet in them, that get carried around in each project packet: I have several on the go at any time, each with their yarns, design/chart/ideas, fabric, needle tin etc. It’s not pretty, but it works for me. The challenge is, when the project’s completed, I don’t always remember what the needles are 🙂 With enough years, I guess I’ll recognise them like you do.

    Tessa in Stellenbosch

  84. In between frantically looking for the unused ones that fall while stitching, I try to store them by type in The Needle Index you referred to in a previous posting. The expandable magnet wand is also a well used accessory, as I stitch wherever I can and don’t want to leave too many needles behind.

    The needle book a great accessory and tool to teach about needles; makes me feel so organized as I find the right page for each needle, after I find them.

  85. I designed a beautiful needle book with those fuzzy pages you spoke of. Giving me lots of room to house every needle I have plus new ones. It housed a page for every kind of needle I was involved with. I never finished the cross stitch on the outside so I never have used the book. It remains in my UFO’s and the needles???…they remain scattered in small needle holders, not in any order and not labeled and I have to guess which is used for what!

  86. Glad to know that there is more than one of me out there. I don’t think that I have a tomato anymore, but the big, rolled, hand-dyed felt one is always full. I use everything from tapestry to beading to embroidery to chenille needles and the challenge is to grab a tapestry instead of a chenille and not puncture the skin on my fingers (and I never grab the desired size the first time). I do know someone that has all her needles organized by size and type, but then her house is always organized as well. Good to know someone like that. I always hope that she will rub off on me, but I know that it won’t happen. One of my best tools is the extending wand with a light and a magnet on the end. Keeps the needles from burrowing into the carpet and reproducing down there for my husband to walk on. Thanks for the lovely column, I enjoy it every day.

  87. I seem to be extremely gentle on my needles. 1 needle seems to last me 1-4 years at a time.

    That being said, different projects have different needs, and I’ve had a few kits where the eye of the needle was bent, or the fabric was totally inappropriate to the pattern (aida with fractional stitches everywhere?). So I raided the sewing box for a needle with a *huge* eye for when a project requires 3-6 strands at a time, and I’ve got some sharp embroidery needles to pierce aida. (If I ever do that bambi kit for someone else, they *will* be getting evenweave instead of aida!)

    How I organize is I bought some rare earth magnets and any magnet not on a project sits on the back of a pack of needles to hold my spares that are not needed on the current project. I try to put needles back into their pack/s, but that doesn’t always work. (I do need to find a pack of blunt needles as all my blunts from kits are finally disappearing/breaking) and the pack I bought awhile ago feel too big in my fingers.

    Sewing needles, about half the sewing pins, and the occasional safety pin on the other hand have a 30 something year old tomato in the sewing box. Specialty needles like those for leather or upholstery stay in their packs in the sewing box.

    What was that strawberry for on the tomato? We always cut it off as it ended up being in the way more often than we would use it.

  88. Needles! I have a zippered pouch/purse where I store packets of all types and then a wool flannel needle book where I store an assortment of needles by type on each page. I sometimes find a crewel or a sharp mixed together. Then I have a little pincushion and a small piece of wool flannel on my work table when I am working on a project. Sometimes they escape on to the table, into a little chocolate box I use for bits or onto the floor. Thanks to Mary’s suggestion I have a telescopic magnet thingy I use to find them on the floor. But I haven’t worked out how to seperate my new & old needles, I have decided to be Ruthless and throw away any that don’t seem to be up to the task!

  89. Ah yes, the tomato or other pin cushion into which everything is put. This is very familiar to me – I have a biscornu I made into which all the empty needles I’m using for my current project/projects get put. It’s very prickly and I have to watch out that needles don’t disappear into its belly.

    I do, however, have an organised streak. I store my ‘spare’ needles (needle hoard) in little bead tubes, each of which is labelled with the size and type of needle. Other needles, ones still with thread in them, are stored with the project they are for … but that’s another story.

  90. I keep my needles in “The Needle Index”. A booket sized needle organizer made by Valley Quail Chapter of EGA. I then put the needles I am going to use for a project into the Emory strawberry which sits in a small tin. I can close the lid and pack away my project without worrying about getting a needle stick.

  91. I organize my needles by type, crewel, embroidery. I use the little thing dangling next to my “tomato” frequently as it is filled with metal shaving which keep my needles sharp.

  92. I read a suggestion years ago that the wire hangers don’t breed. Instead, safety pins metamorphose into wire hangers, which is why you can never find a safety pin when you need one.

  93. Oh, Mary, with my Pinterest filled with so many cute pincushions and needlebooks I am staring at that red tomato sitting on my sewing table – with a myriad of needles – (though not quite as many as yours)!! You make me laugh, being so candid with us. That is, perhaps, so important to me – the imperfect sewer, quilter and embroiderer that I am. Blessings!!

  94. Ohh, this was fun to read. Yes, yes I know quite well “the shame of red tomato pincushion” – it’s been hunting me for a while. To justify my deeds I can say that only “workable unperfect” needles ends up in old as world pinpillow (mine is inherited from god only knows whom and there have been several generations of moths there even before my birth), broken needles I keep in nice jar (i just can’t toss them in bin, can I ?) and those who are almost brand new I keep in lab glass tubes. But as you sad, nobody uses pinpillow while embroidering – normally it is nice felt pad where I keep the in good company with my pressssssious beads. Yet mine tend not to breed (they are as unsocial as their owner) but have serious case of scoliosis … inherited i guess 🙂 Happy new year Mary!

  95. I DO have about 2 or 3 NICE needle keepers and even a booklet with the printed example of the needle size and type on one side and a piece of flannel on the other side…..do I use them?? NO! I tend to use a piece of material, usually an offcut of something else and keep the needles specified on that. After I finish the project, that piece usually stays with the left-overs, or, if it becomes an UFO (shame on me!!) it just stays there until the mood takes me there again! I have ooooodles of packets of needles, I am sure that would a giant hold up a magnet above the house, the whole house would lift! I am sure my packets multiply!

    Just smile and keep going ladies!

    Cheers and lots of stitching in 2015

  96. What is it I’m doing wrong? Is it because I dislike tomatoes and don’t have one that my needles never multiply? I too have a little wooden tube (mine came from New Salem, IL} that I have some needles in but much of time they are not anything you could use for needlework. Since I usually cross stitch; I use one needle until I loose it or it breaks. If it doesn’t go thru the holes easily, I look everywhere until I find one or just go buy another package. And yes, I have stitched with a large eye sharp because that was all I could find and I couldn’t get to a store. Fabric organized; yes. Patterns organized; pretty well. But needles……they must be lost somewhere in a black hole but hopefully organized.

  97. I’m convinced they do a strawberry to go with the tomato because it means they can re-use the fabric scraps from making the tomatoes and they don’t have to buy more fabric.
    My mother has a tomato and I remember playing with all her needles and sewing pins and organizing them into sections when I was a small girl. I do not have a tomato. My needles tend to live on the needle magnet on my chart holder.

  98. I think the strawberry and tomato are together because they are part of the same plant family.

    Does the strawberry have some …. stuff inside
    (can’t think of the name) that you can sharpen your needles on??? sort of like emery??

  99. Love this post! My needles usually mysteriously vanish instead of multiplying though LOL 😉 I have several pincushions, but for everyday use I prefer credit-card sized magnet sheets! Some of the promotional fridge magnets – the rectangular “business cards” and calendar tops especially – companies give away work great for this, depending on the strength of the backing.

    I usually keep my tapestry needles and threader in easy reach on the right, with sewing pins, beading needles, darners or other specialty needles on the left-hand side of the card. You can buy magnet sheets and cut to size, and I’ve had lots of success using the small super-strength round “noteminder” magnets from the dollar store for project boxes.

    Also, I’ve used a plastic needlecase by LoRan for years, which has a clear compartment for needles and a magnet strip on the back. The only problem with those is that the needle threader (also LoRan) doesn’t fit into the case for easy storage and the magnet isn’t quite as strong as the fridge ones.

    A great and simple to make idea I once saw was a hand-made square patchwork pincushion, where the maker kept certain sizes and types of pins in each differently patterned/coloured fabric square! Hope this helps someone 🙂

  100. Bhwaaa a ahahahahahah! I am ashamed to say that I don’t even have a tomato. after thinking about it, I have a tube thing-I guess I don’t use it. Do suppose it would be best to whip up a nice little needle book. UMmmm.. That reminds me that I do have a pattern to organize stitchery with a needle book. I have a quilt retreat coming in a couple of weeks and I could get one whipped up…..

  101. Dear Mary, I LOVE your use of metaphor in describing your needle community. I do have an organized needle book, just a plain cardboard/plastic-covered one, which I purchased through my guild from my guild. Oh, how my needles long for a life such as yours enjoy, but, like children at boarding school, they are rarely allowed the opportunity to hobnob with others not of their kind. Occasionally one will slip away from its kith, only to be sought vigorously and summarily returned to its place. Thank you for sharing your vision and freedom. May your needles continue their happy existence in the new year.

    1. My needle book IS the one from the Quail Valley chapter of EGA. A great thing to have, especially when stitching away from my home.

  102. Glad your needles are having fun. Did you ever cut open an old tomato pin cushion? I did and found at least 20 needles hiding inside, completely lost to the world.

    For needle and pin pickup I recommend the magnets on an extendible wand. You can find them in the automotive repair section of a dollar store or hardware store. Terrific tool. Saves feet and family tempers.

  103. You mean you don’t have alabaster skin? Wow, who knew? My needles are pretty much exactly organized like yours. I made myself a wonderful pincushion with 7 sections (looks like a flower) and resolved that I would positively definitely decidedly sort my needles and use each ‘petal’ for each type. oops.

  104. Chuckle! Chuckle! Love the tomato. I’m so organized compared. From a 50 cent potholder with the loop in the middle of the side, I made a needle case. I added 2 squares of wool felt and stitched them through the middle horizontally to the loop. A button on the opposite side to the loop is the way it all closes up. I now have 4 pages for embroidery, chenille, beading, and applique needles. Know where my needles are?! The ones with thread in them are in 4 bottle cap pincushions that are corralled in a box so they don’t run away on my work table. Each pincushion has a specific needle type and the needles are loaded with thread. Had to corral the thimbles with them too.

  105. After years of complete disorganization and frustrating hunts for the ‘right’ needle, I purchased this fabulous “Needle Index” booklet. Made of cardboard pages with felt pads on each page it is indexed alphabetically,approx. 10cm x 14cm] of all the needles one is likely to use when pursuing our embroidery enthusiasms. It is bound with a plastic ring binder to allow ‘growth’ as one enters more needles and contains brief information and pictures of each size and type of needle within the Index. I cant live without it. It has to be one of the most useful buys of my embroidery pursuits and bought it in NZ via Australia.
    The last page has the address for any reader interested in gaining a copy: The Needle Index – 1996, Valley Quail Chapter, EAG Walnut Creek, CA.

  106. Mary…

    Somehow, three or four of the tomatoes that I have owned over the years have just totally disappeared. So have the hundreds of needles that were stuck in those tomatoes. I have always imagined that “Scottie” just “beamed them up” without my knowing that the “Enterprise” was flying over my house…

    However, the four little bitty strawberries — those that were suppose to be connected to those tomatoes — must have jumped out of the way of the Star Trek Beam and they have always followed me around! I notice them suddenly in my quilt room…in the living room…by my embroidery hoops…they just appear out of no where! And, magically, the little strawberries get filled with needles…and then the needles disappear…and then reappear! It is a mystery to me!

  107. I do keep mine organized. 😉 I keep a lot of new needles in their packs in the wicker goose on the little table by my chair. My husband also has a wicker goose for his needles and Thread Heaven. Then we both have biscornus. Those odd corners come in handy for organizing. One corner for beading needles, one for quilting ‘tweens, one for 24 tapestry and one for the I’m-not-sure-what-they-are-needles. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. LOL

  108. LOL! I had such a good laugh because my tomato looks just like that! Mine is even decorated with bits of thread in the needles. I don’t feel so bad about my sloppiness now. But since we adopted new kitties, I’ve had to keep the tomato out of sight. So now when I work and have to put the needle down for a moment, I put it in my jeans leg – carefully, of course! I like the idea of lining them up in craft foam which doesn’t look like an enticing kitty toy.

  109. Oh Mary, you’ve helped me so much. Yes, this weekend is my first embroidery course for the year and I’ve been asked to bring size 10 crewel needles and I couldn’t find them. Then on reading your post I remembered: yes, I’d washed my red striped needle case before Christmas and before doing that had put all the unknown myriad of needles therein into my little pincushion. Voila! Now I’ll fish my needle case out of the bottom of the ironing basket and my needles can all go back into their delightful profusion. There’s sure to be a size 10 crewel somewhere in there. Although I must admit a particular preference for my size 12 needles (must remember my magnifying glass!!).

  110. I laughed out loud…had to read some of your blog to my 14 year old son. Huh! He didn’t seem to find it as funny as I did. You bring a lot of joy, Mary.

  111. I have several pin cushions I keep in a round plastic dip tray. I keep needles that I use for 2mm silk ribbon in 1 and I have 1 for 4 & 7mm silk ribbon. I have 1 for large embroidery needles and 1 for small needles and alas 1 for a messy collection of a variety of needles. I do the same thing Mary does. When I start a project I line up the needles I will be using. By the way I don’t have a tomato, I made little animal characters for pin cushions.

  112. From:http://www.ebay.com/gds/Tomato-Pin-Cushion-with-Mini-Strawberry-Emery-Sharpener-/10000000176330302/g.html

    The traditional tomato pin cushion is a popular and reliable pin cushion. It is used for storing needles and pins safely and in an organised way.

    It has a small strawberry attached to it which has emery powder inside. This powder is abrasive and allows the strawberry to be used to sharpen pins or needles and to clean off any rust. (I thought the whole pincushion had emery in it, but if it did, it would probably be heavier…so that’s why a small strawberry is attached)

  113. I was given a commercially made needle book that is divided into needle categories. One side is Doctor Flan to put the needles in and opposite is a page is a shadow of different size needles in that category, which you can put a needle over to find the size of needle. I never go without it. I am not experienced with the different types of needles and this book is great and luckily I got it as a present

  114. Dear Mary,
    “Yes, I’ve actually got a plan in the works. It’s a half-attractive, all-utilitarian in concept. Will share it when it comes to fruition!” This sounds very exciting! I hope it comes to fruition soon.
    My needles live in the packet they came in. I’m organised – I get them out and put them back. Not the best way to care for needles I know. Especially as I have natural sheep’s wool that’s good for preserving needles. Of course I have ideas to make the perfect needle book ………. just when in another matter. I’d love to see your version Mary! I’m sure it will be a beauty!

  115. What a fun discussion for the end of the year! I was guilty of parking needles/pins in chair arms as a teen, until my Mom made me feel guilty enough that I quit.

    I have collected a bunch of small plastic containers…small pill bottles, the Lo Ran brand needle cases (plastic with a magnet), and best of all, empty cases for mechanical pencil leads. I mark each with the size and type of needle and keep all in an organizer case. Of course, as I work on a project, the needles wander off, so I have to periodically hold a round-up and corral them all again.

    I never had a tomato; I always envied my mother hers until I realized her needles inevitably rusted (and this is in not-so-humid NE!). I haven’t had any rusting problem with the plastic tubes. I did make an emery cushion (kit from Nordic Needle) since that is a wonderful tool.

  116. Yes, my needles are organized. I purchased a package of assorted needles with pictures and sizes included on the inside. I then copied the picture; laid out each needle and matched them by length (size). They are stored by threes, in a small piece of felt; each size in a small plastic box from a deck of cards, candy, throat lozenges, or pins.

  117. Well, (giggling)I won’t pretend that I’m an organized person either, BUT, I did order that little book that the Embroidery Guild that you belong to sells.And it was, IMO, one of the best things I’ve ever purchased. After receiving it, I dutifully sorted and organized all my needles according to size and use in the pages assigned to them. And then, one by one, as I use them, they seem to wind up in exactly the same place yours do. actually I like to believe that, on the one hand, I have become so accustomed to working with each one that I can recognize the exact one I need when attacking a task at hand.
    But, on the other hand…….
    Do you think the tomatoes might be trying to take over our sewing rooms? LOL
    Hope you had a very merry Christmas and you’re gonna have a swingin’ first!
    Deonia on a chilly, dreary looking,Florida day.

  118. Your reference to wire hangers breeding made me smile. I read a short story when I was younger about never being able to find a safety pin and the abundance of wire hangers. They found out that safety pins were the larva for the wire hangers. Thanks for the memory.

  119. I figured they used a strawberry with the tomato, because they are both red with green leaves. That way they only had to have two colors of fabric.

    My Mother always kept her needles in the strawberry emery, and I always stuck my hand when I picket it up. (They stuck out the bottom as well as the top.) I wonder how many needles are inside her tomato? She was always loosing them. I left some thread in my needles, so I could pull them back out if they got pushed all the way in.

  120. One day I could not find a single needle that I needed. My poor old tomato pin cushion was very squishy and occasionally I would be stuck by an invisible something. Seeing as how I needed to replace my tomato, I decided to see what was actually living inside. During tomato surgery, I found 20+ needles of various sizes and lengths, much to my delight. A trip to the store in the middle of a snow storm was not needed……at least for tonight.

  121. Mary,

    I’m so glad you ‘organise’ your needles that way! I don’t feel so bad anymore: I usually embroider in an armchair in front of the telly one eye on what’s happening on the screen and one eye on what I’m doing, I stick my needles on the arm of the armchair and there they remain (a forest of them). Very organized. They are always ready and when I need a size or sort that isn’t there, I dig around in the rest of my stash: in neat little tins.

    Happy New Year to you.

  122. Well, I have a tomato too. It has a “bunch” of sharps in it, what size, I don’t know!! I usually use tapestry needles, #24 in the green biscornu and #26 in the blue biscornu. I’ll admit one of these has some #22 and #20 taps poking in it as well. I do have a needlebook that I made several years ago that is chock full of needles of all kinds. I keep ignoring it because it needs sorting. Maybe someday I will take the time to see what is in that bundle.

  123. At some time in the distant past I made a needle book. Quite a large needlebook compared with others I have seen and each page was devoted to a particular type of needle, eg, crewels arranged by size, straw/milliners arranged by size, etc. But as so often happens when one is working, the needles don’t necessarily get put back in exactly the spot they came from and before you know it you have … well, you have a mess.

    I have now given up on organising needles although I think I will have to Grit My Teeth, and Just Do It. Throw away all the cheap and all the nasty (not necessarily coincidental) and begin again with nice new Bohin needles which seem to be the best I can find. Any other suggestions would be gratefully received.

  124. I made some pieces of felt to fit inside a small tin can.
    Each piece of felt has the type of needle written on it as well as the needle sizes marked.

    As each needle type has its own feltpiece and they all stack inside the tin can together with a small scissor I don’t have to worry about sharp bits poking me or other things

  125. Mary, thank you for sharing! On the tomato/strawberry pairing, is it not possible that the strawberry is in fact a chilli pepper? Just a thought…

  126. Ha,ha,ha,ha, this is so good. What on earth is a pincushion for if not to use it? I want to know who is the millionaire who came up with the tomato? To be honest I’ve only recently come up with the ubiquitous tomato fairly recently, and it’s an ancient grandma tomato that is surely older than I of my spry 55 years. It was picked up at some yard or estate sale with a bucket o’ fun full of this ‘n that. What I have been using is one of my earliest embroidery projects worked in yarns. A kit with a picture of a brown rattan basket of sunny yellow daises,and twining green leaves with a fuzzy bumblebee hovering overhead. I worked it when I was probably in seventh grade. It was to be a framed picture on the wall but I decided to make it into a plump perky little pillow about five inches square, that I backed with a piece of forest green poly/blend crepe that was a remnant of one of my sisters’ bridesmaid gown and was stuffed with polyester batting. After that I decided that it would make a nice pincushion since it was really too small to use as a decorative pillow on my bed. I tried it out, and discovered that the roly-poly character that it had was actually a benefit for keeping it from attaching to current works in progress. That it was wide enough to take wild stabs at it and it will still do it’s job handily. It still looks new albeit with the porcupine spines all over it. White and yellow glass headed pins, and many many needles collected over the years. It still makes me smile!

  127. Happy new year to all!!!!

    The traditional tomato pin cushion is a popular and reliable pin cushion. It is used for storing needles and pins safely and in an organised way. It has a small strawberry attached to it which has emery powder inside. This powder is abrasive and allows the strawberry to be used to sharpen pins or needles and to clean off any rust.

    All you need to do is push your pin or needle into the strawberry, whilst holding it firmly between your thumb and forefinger. Carefully push the pin in and out until it has been sharpened or any rust removed.

    Found this very interesting tidbit at foxtrotdesignsuk on Ebay. Alors, ce soir je me coucherai moins bête !

  128. I am overly blessed in needle supply. There is my tomato which belonged to my seamstress grandmother, holding my carefully sorted coloured glass top pins used for temari balls. My crewel & other sharps look like Mary’s but are very happy reproducing in a handcrafted felt apple. My tapestry needles are in a bargello square pincushion looking rather like an angry hedgehog. And then of course there are the three random needlebooks and needles hiding in scissor fobs and unfinished pieces. And finally new packets in storage. Anyone want a needle?

  129. Yes, the Strawberry is usually filled with emery and used to keep your needles smooth, sharp and clean. As a seamstress, my grandmother was very fond of her Strawberry, my mother as well.

  130. I am the needlebook person that you talk about. It is blackwork/Assisi, and it has 4 ‘pages’: tapestry needles, sharp needles, millinery needles, and miscellaneous. And I keep the needles roughly in size order. I love the needlebook, which has a cat on it.00

  131. I am laughing so hard I can’t drink my coffee. IF you ask my dear hubby he will tell you there are needles and pins everywhere he steps here. IN the whole house. IF I have one, this is one thing I must have at least a few hundred! YES they multiply [incestuously] I might add. I have just about every sewing needle known to sewing. [not much for leather/heavy sewing stuff]. Some needlebooks, many pincushions, some ‘boxes’ for new packs. and then in a project or two or more. AND many needlebooks started, designed etc. Resolution? NOPE..it is what it is…they will deal when I pass..LOL Happy New YEAR!!

  132. I was lucky to have several wooden needle cases that I labeled with different sizes. A friend several years ago learned to bead and beaded covers for three of the cases. I am not real good about putting the needles in them always have needles running loose. Not a good thing.

  133. I have several pretty needle books I have made. I do love a sweet needle book! I enjoy making them…but using them??? No…my needles end up in a pin cushion I made with a piece of vintage quilt that sits on top of a mason jar. Now with my dry winter hands I hate to admit that there are a few needles that I keep on the floor. They seem to fly from my fingers and disappear somewhere in that vastness of carpet. Yesterday I lost a needle. Problem? My big old dog was sleeping at my feet. I searched the carpet, eyed the dog and started searching through the his fur. I couldn’t believe it when my finger found the point of the needle! Some how that needle got down into the undercoat of my sweet boy! It took both my husband and myself to get that needle out of there! How the heck did that needle get down into the fur so badly in just seconds?? I’m relieved I found it! The dog does not make a good pincushion!

  134. I seem to organize my needles like you do. Only mine
    is a felted turtle a friend made for me instead of
    a tomato. I do have needlebooks, but why mess them up
    by taking the needles out and using them. So much
    easier to just use the turtle.
    I too have wondered how they grew a tomato and a
    strawberry together. Your ideas for an onion or garlic
    make more sense.
    I do enjoy your newsletters.

  135. I am like you and have many different types of needles. I purchased a clear plastic box at the Container Store and it holds small boxes about 2″ long, 1″ wide and 3/4″ high. I have labeled each box and they are usually in the larger box with all the like needles together. Someday I will have to get a larger box. I also, have the old pin cushion sitting near my slate frame.

  136. Who knew that a cute little reflection on needles and their storage could spawn such a huge and diverse set of responses. I have hugely enjoyed reading through all the feedback. I also have aspirations to keep my needles organized by size and type but it never lasts long. I don’t have a tomato but two other cute little pin cushions that have seen a lot of love over the years. I will figure out how to send you a photo of those.

  137. I have a small needlebook, and every few years I put my needles back into it. But mostly I have a small square of fabric (2 inches square, I think?) that lives in the large ziploc bag that holds my current project which slowly accumulates needles as I need different sizes for different projects. I think it currently has about half a dozen needles stuck in there right now.

  138. One day I opened one of my old tomato and I was so surprised to find at least a hundred of lost needles. I was really surprised that nothing let me detect it. If I pressed the tomato I was able to feel one or two needles but never that much.
    Now the tomato is used for needle with head and I use a little index like mention above.
    I am always happy to read your comments.

  139. First let me say that I am learning so much from your articles and they are beautifully presented. I realize that I am like you regarding sticking my needles in the tomato. It occurred to me why not take a sharpie and label the sections at the top of the tomato, even drawing or sewing more sections. It wouldn’t totally solve the problem but there would be a section to start looking for that particular needle. Please continue sharing your knowledge, we appreciate it.

  140. I’m new to hand embroidery, but I do have lots of needles of different types and sizes…how does one know what size an embroidery needle is? Is there a tool to measure the size and width, etc? I knit as well and a knitting needle guage has holes to stick the knitting needles in to tell what size they are. Is there such a thing with embroidery needles?

  141. Mary… Has anyone told you lately that you are LOVED? If Not then I’m telling you now. I so enjoy your daily posts.
    Take Care,
    Judyth in Kansas

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