On a website called Needle ‘n Thread, it probably isn’t too surprising that I’ve written a lot of articles about hand embroidery needles.
For those who are just getting into the hand embroidery world and just becoming aware of the Broad World of Embroidery Needles – and even for those seasoned stitchers who might like a little brush-up – I’ll include some further reading about needles for embroidery at the end of today’s article.
But today, I just want to mention three facts about hand embroidery needles that you might not know, that might help simplify your Stitching Life a bit when it comes to using, choosing, and organizing your embroidery needles.
Three simple points:
Not All Sizes are the Same
Needles made in different places may very well be sized differently.
So just when you thought you had that whole what-size-do-I-use-in-this-particular-case thing down, you may discover that those French needles you just bought are not necessarily going to be the same size as those English needles you’ve been using.
There are tools to help you size your needles, if you want to keep them organized by size and type. These Needle ID cards that I reviewed a long time ago are still on the market and they are handy if you are determined to keep your needles ever organized.
But … in case you think I’m making your life harder by mentioning the above … here’s the good news: the more you stitch, the more comfortable you’re going to be reaching for any needle that will work for you in any given scenario.
You don’t really have to obsess about size. As long as you’re using the right type of needle (and that’s easy to tell with a quick glance at the tip and the eye) and it’s working well, does it really matter what the label says, size wise? Not really.
You can read more about choosing the right type of needle for specific stitching tasks here.
Down is Better than Up
When it comes to figuring out the size of a needle in relation to the stitching materials for the task you’re undertaking, it’s always better to err on the side of the larger needle, rather than the smaller needle. In other words, go down in size, rather than up.
Needles are sized like wire gauge, so the lower the number, the larger the needle.
When you’re stitching, if you’re experiencing repeated frustrations with your thread – knots, pilling, tangling, twisting, fraying – and you can’t find another obvious reason why, it could very well be the size of your needle. Go down, my friend! Choose a larger needle, and you may very well find all your problems solved.
If your needle is too small for the materials you’re using (too small for the thickness of the thread, too small for the weave of the fabric compared to the thickness of the thread), it will wreak havoc on your thread and drive you nuts!
Some ways to tell that you might need a larger needle:
A. It requires some effort to pull the needle through the fabric, and when you do, it makes a really loud popping noise. A subtle pop is one thing – that’s sometimes a nice sound when you’re stitching. But a really loud pop, where the fabric dents in as you pull? You’re not making a large enough hole for the thread to easily pass through.
2. Your thread makes a loud zipper noise as you pull it through the fabric. It’s nice to hear your thread passing through the fabric – that’s one of the mesmerizing things about stitching. But if it’s a loud zipper noise rather than a soft wispy noise, the hole your needle made is probably too small.
An exception to the zipper noise can be the type of thread you’re using. Sometimes, perle cottons or buttonhole silks (non-stranded threads with a tighter twist) make more of a zipper noise when passing through fabric, due to their more twisted structure.
3. Your thread is fraying, pilling, dulling, or fuzzing after using only a short length. If you’re using good quality cotton floss, you should be able to stitch easily with at least a whole 18″ of floss before your thread shows obvious signs of wear. If it is fraying or dulling sooner than that, try switching to the next size larger (the next number down) for your needle.
4. Your thread is twisting up on itself greatly every time you pull through (usually accompanied by that louder noise mentioned in #2) and knotting. A too-small hole “pushes” the thread into twisting more than it normally would.
There are Two Sides to Every Eye
I’ve mentioned this tip many times on Needle ‘n Thread, for folks who have a hard time threading their needles.
There are two sides to every (machine punched) needle’s eye. Because of the way needle eyes are punched during manufacturing, one size of the eye is somewhat larger and more eager to receive thread than the other. If you’re having a hard time threading a needle, turn it around and try threading it from the other side of the eye.
If that’s not going to do it for you, there’s always a needle threader! There are a gazillion needle threaders on the market. It’s just a matter of finding the one that works best for you. Don’t let frustrating threading experiences keep you from stitching!
I’m planning to review a new-to-me threader in the near future. Keep an eye out (chortle chortle) if you have problems threading your needles.
If you’d like to read up on embroidery needles, you can find a whole list of needle-related articles here that you can browse through. You’ll find good tips and further information that will help you choose and use the right needle!
Over To You!
Any bits of wisdom about needles that you’ve learned during your stitching career? Little nuggets of gold that you’d like to share with other stitchers, that might make their relationship with embroidery needles easier, more efficient, or more pleasurable? Any eye-opening moments when you discovered something about your needle that you never knew before, but wish you had known?
Feel free to join in the conversation below! You never know when your good advice may help a frustrated stitcher keep going!