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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Why Switch Embroidery Needles?


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Have you ever been stitching along, when suddenly you notice that your embroidery needle isn’t passing through your fabric quite as smoothly as it should be?

This happens to me now and then. Even the best quality embroidery needles can go amuck after hours and hours of usage. When a needle isn’t delivering the same performance that you’re accustomed to, it’s quite ok to switch out for a new needle and throw the old one away!

But when a brand new needle acts up on you, it helps to inspect it closely.

This happened to me the other day. I was using a relatively new needle that I had taken out of its package only a couple days before, and suddenly, I felt like every stitch I took had a little pull or snag to it as I pulled my needle through the fabric.

Upon inspection, this:

Embroidery Needle Flaw

Here you can see the coating coming off the needle and the peeling coat has formed a little sharp burr.

Burrs like this snag threads and fabric, and they can make your stitching experience frustrating, because you might not necessarily realize right away what the source of the problem is!

Often, flaws like this on the outside of a needle are difficult to detect with the naked eye, especially if you don’t have great eyesight. If you’re used to using magnification while you stitch, for example, you might not notice a flaw on your needle unless you’re examining it under the magnifier. And how many of us sit around examining our needles under a magnifier? We just expect them to work – to do the job they were created to do!

This particular needle I took from a multi-pack of what I’d consider somewhat generic “craft” needles that I picked up somewhere. When I took it out of the package, I did look at it closely, because it wasn’t one of my tried-and-true, more reliable brands of needles that I have sitting around. It seemed fine when I examined it, but admittedly, I only looked carefully at the eye, because this is normally where a burr will nestle itself, waiting for the first time you use the needle to make its presence known.

A burr inside the eye of an embroidery needle will wear the thread at the eye more quickly, and it tends, in fact, to shred it up and weaken it. So when I’m using needles I’m not really sure of, I do check for burrs in the eye.

But after using this fella for a couple hours of stitching, I was dismayed that it started feeling draggy as it passed through the fabric. I didn’t see the flaw right away – I had to put it directly under the light and turn the needle slowly until the gleam was interrupted.

And then I took out my camera! To see the detail on something so microscopically tiny, the macro setting on a camera does a terrific job.

If you enlarged the burr on the needle up there to life size, think of the harm you could do with it! Now, imagine all the little fine fibers that make up your fabric and your embroidery threads. And each time that tiny little slice of metal comes in contact with them, it wreaks havoc. It’s truly a weapon of minuscule destruction.

The Moral of the Story

Use good needles! The most reliable brands I’ve used available on the market today include Bohin and John James. I’m a huge fan of Bohin needles. I’ve written about them before, and you can read about them here.

When something isn’t feeling right with your stitching – maybe there’s a slight drag as you pass through the fabric, maybe your thread is fraying sooner than you would expect it to – the needle may be the culprit. Inspect it, and, if it isn’t perfect, pitch it.

Need Needle Insights?

Not every needle is made for the same task. If you’re unsure of the types of needles available out there, or what needle you should be using for specific embroidery-related tasks, then you might enjoy the following articles:

Hand Embroidery Needles: How to Choose Them & Use Them
All About Embroidery Needles: Types, Storage & Resources
The Needle you Need! (On Chenille Needles)
Keeping It Simple: On Hand Embroidery Needles
Gold Embroidery Needles: Are They Any Better?
5 Things You Need to Know About Embroidery Needles
Spiral Eye Needles – If You Have a Hard Time Threading Your Needle!


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(13) Comments

  1. Wow! I’ve been stitching for years, I use hand and machine and I’m really good at keeping an eye on my machine needles and chucking them when they blunt or snag, but stupidly it’s never occurred to me to check the needle when I’ve had unexpected issues hand-stitching! Thanks for the eye-opener!

  2. Thank you for insights about needle quality.
    Beyond burrs, needle eye-flaws built in, needles bent or broken, could you give some advice how to know it’s time to change needles.
    I understand the drag or the resistance you describe but, are needles – craft or high quality- designed for a certain number of hours of work? New needle every new project? It’s really hard for a self-taught embroiderer to judge when to discard the needle. Any advice would be appreciated.

    In exchange, I offer this request: please discard all needles in sealed containers (ie pill bottles). Trash collectors, hate getting stuck by a mystery sharp object. Sealing in discarded needles may protect trash scavenging animals, too.

  3. Wow! Great post! I never thought about examining my needles! I’ve never thrown a needle away unless it has broken in two – although I’ve shunned a few for misbehaving. My favorite needles become misshapen from being tightly gripped until finally they fit my hand, and then are so comfortable that I always reach for them first. Sometimes the tip gets a little barb, but I use a fingernail file to knock it off, and keep on stitching… The only time I change needles of the same size is when I can’t find the old one, or if one snapped under pressure. From now on I’ll be looking closer.

  4. “It’s truly a weapon of minuscule destruction.” This made me giggle, but it is so true. My needles seem to want to bend at the needle. I’m not sure why. I throw more away for this reason than finding any burrs. But your article made me think. Recently, on an ongoing cross-stitch project of mine, I was noticing that the thread seemed to be shredding more than I recall for that brand. I have been using shorter lengths to stitch with and that helped some, but I will have to go back now and look more closely at the needles I am using for that project. Maybe it isn’t the thread after all.

  5. Dear Mary

    Like you I really like Bohin needles and use these most of the time. I’m surprised at the sharp burr on the new needle, I shall definitely check my needles from now on for any unexpected burrs. But hopefully good quality needles like Bohin should be safe, I’ve never had any problems with them. I shall definitely check my needle next time it isn’t feeling right. Thanks for the tip on the problem of the burr and thanks for sharing with us your solution to the dreaded burr needles, I hope you have a great weekend.

    Regards Anita Simmance

  6. Very sage advise Mary! This has bitten me more than once with both hand and machine needles. I now keep a loupe in my needle case and examine my needles. I did a mass culling after I burned an hour on a machine sewing project where the stitching went all wonky. Did the same with hand needles.

    I also follow your advise about not licking the thread end. Instead I apply clear nail polish to my thread end, flatten the end and let it dry. Helps a lot to thread those tiny eye needles.

  7. Hi Mary

    Wow! I thought you must have a microscope to get such a fine close-up of that needle.

    It’s a good job that you spotted it before it did too much more damage to your fabric and thread, and possibly your fingers, too.

    I don’t think that I’ve ever had any trouble with needles, apart from the eyes bending with vigorous/over-use. I use very fine (28s) gold-plated needles, which are lovely to stitch with as they glide through the fabric nicely, and don’t irritate my fingers like the nickel-plated ones did.

    Here’s hoping you don’t find any more dud needles in your collection!

    Best wishes

    Hazel (Sunderland, north-east England)

  8. Hi Mary,

    Your experience with the plating on the needle peeling up and causing a burr brings to mind a couple questions I would like to get your input on, maybe in a post, or a message.

    There certainly can be imperfections in the plating, as well as a problem with the eye. I sometimes feel a burr at the tip of my needle, due to misuse.

    However what I am concerned about is the use of crushed walnut shells used to sharpen a needle. It seems to me that this practice would eventually wear through the plating and cause more harm than good.

    Similarly the use of emery on today’s plated needles. It seems that emery would have been very useful in times before plated needles to remove corrosion or rust. I’m wondering about using it now.

    I have had discussions with quilters and some needle workers who feel the walnut shells are very beneficial. My other thought is that most of us have the means to buy new needles when one gets bent, burred or worn out, so why not just do that? I’m guessing that would be your advice in order to get the very best results in one’s embroidery projects.

    Thank you very much for any thoughts, comments, and/or advice you can offer. Best regards, Lynn

  9. Karen Parry from John James came to talk to our textile group in September. (And yes, we got freebies and bargains, as well as useful needles size guides and charts.) A fascinating talk. I’ve been taking a lot more notice of the state of my needles since then. I do try to keep them in airtight containers rather than left stuck in my work, a pincushion or a needlecase – except when I’m actually working. I don’t always remember: and then I can often see the faint signs of rings around the needle shaft just a few days later, from the natural moisture in the fabric.

  10. I’ve noticed I tend to enjoy the needles that come out of cross stitch kits better than needle packs from the craft store. No idea what brand/s come in kits, but they almost always just feel right.

    So I save them and use them until they wear out. If I run out of kit needles, then I’ll turn to the packs until my next kit.

    I bought 2 dmc gold plated needles a few years ago and they’re terrible. No idea why, but a gold plated needle in a craft kit is working beautifully. (Thinking of that kit, why do cross stitch kit manufacturers put aida into kits where fractional stitches are used? If you’re going to do that, at least give us an embroidery needle to make the necessary holes in the fabric to do the design as designed or an evenweave fabric >.<)

  11. May I ask if there is a way to sharpen needles? Like years ago that little tomato pin-cushion with the strawberry hanging off it was full of some white powder that used to smooth out the barbs on the needle thus making it sharper for a little while … If not is there a way to recycle or reuse them into something else. Love your social media…. so informative and so inspiring…your work is so beautiful, I am in awe with every newsletter, so detailed, such great info.

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