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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Best Sources for Good Embroidery Needles


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You can’t embroider without a needle.

Every time I say something like that, I pause and think about it. It sounds so definitive. After all, maybe someone out there does embroider (in the standard way we think of embroidering) without a needle.

Thinking…. Thinking….

But no. I can’t fathom it – not in an efficient, easy, comfortable way, anyway.

So I’ll stand by that statement: you can’t embroider without a needle.

You can get away with stitching without a hoop. You don’t even need scissors, since there are other things that will cut thread. But a needle? It’s pretty essential.

When it comes to needles, there are needles. And then are Needles.

Because I’ve gotten some inquiries about needles lately, it’s a good subject to revisit.

Best Sources for Good Embroidery Needles

You probably won’t find it surprising that I’ve written about needles here on Needle ‘n Thread once or twice. I’ll link to some articles at the end of this post for those who are looking for more specific information about embroidery needles. I’ve got some good, sound tips available here on the website to help you to help you learn which needles to choose for different types of stitching and why.

Often, when it comes to choosing the right embroidery needle for a job, you can’t underestimate the value of experience. After you’ve been stitching a while, it’ll be much easier to reach for Just the Right Needle for a specific task. The weight of the thread, the type of thread, the type of fabric you’re using – many factors can influence your choice of needle. If you’re new to stitching, you’ll learn pretty quickly what needles you like best for different types of stitchery.

But needle choice isn’t rocket science (or brain surgery), so you really shouldn’t feel stressed over choosing a needle. Your best approach should always be try it. If it works well, if your thread behaves with it, if it glides nicely through the fabric, if it’s comfortable for you to work with it, hey! You’re good!

That advice sounds great, except when you don’t have a huge arsenal of needles to try. And that’s where some of the articles I’ve linked to below may come in handy.

Building Your Needle Collection

One thing I’ll say right off the bat is this: there are good needles and there are not so good needles. A bad needle can lead pretty quickly to a bad stitching experience. It is therefore worthwhile to invest in decent embroidery needles.

They don’t have to break the bank, though! In our modern world, needles are fairly affordable things. There are actually many decent brands out there, and experienced stitchers will already have their own favorite brands that they gravitate towards. Here, I’m just going to concentrate on three needle brands because I’m familiar with their quality and they are fairly widely accessible.

So, for the sake of keeping things simple, three reliable needle brands include John James, Bohin, and Tulip.

As far as widely available needles, John James can be found in most locally owned, small business needlework stores, but they can also be found in some big box stores. This means they are probably the most widely accessible brand in the list. The others on the list are more likely to be found in locally owned small business stores – needlework shops, quilt shops, and the like.

If you have a locally owned needlework shop, the best way to buy good needles is as an add-on to whatever purchases you make there. Occasionally, throw in a new package of needles, maybe a different type or brand or size you haven’t used before, to help you build a good collection of these valuable little tools. As your collection grows and you use a wider variety, you will learn a whole lot about what needles to choose and use.

The Rest of Us

Most of us don’t have access to locally owned, small business needlework shops. I don’t. And it would be silly for me to drive two hours in one direction to buy a pack of needles.

Luckily, ordering needles online is easy enough – especially if you’re already ordering other supplies. A packet or two of most types of needles is an easy add-on item that normally doesn’t increase shipping costs.

Some good online sources for needles include the following:

Your favorite online needlework shop, where you already shop. Undoubtedly, they carry needles. Even if they don’t have them listed on their website, they likely have them. If they are a brick and mortar store with regular operating hours, give them a call and discuss needles with them. If you don’t have a favorite online shop already, I like Needle in a Haystack (Alameda, CA) as a source for all kinds of quality needlework supplies, and they have an excellent range of needles on their website.

Needle ‘n Thread! Yes, I sell needles. I stock Tulip needles and specialty combination packs of Bohin needles (right now, their vintage Christmas pack). These two brands are my favorite needles for handwork. Tulip needles are definitely more expensive, but they are very, very nice needles to stitch with. You can read more about Tulip Needles in general here, if you want to see what makes them different. Bohin needles are excellent quality needles, and the combo packs offer a great good range of needles to have on hand. (Right now, I’m low on Tulip Needles, but I have more coming in soon.)

Anita’s Little Stitches: For a wide variety of Bohin needles, John James needles, and for Bohin needles in bulk, Anita’s Little Stitches has a good supply and a good range of types.

Colonial Needle – they have a wide range of John James and other types of needles as well.

Don’t Forget the Quilt Shops!

Most locally owned quilt shops have a notions wall, and you’ll normally find a good range of needles there. If you shop for fabric online through quilt shops, they also likely offer a range of decent needles.

Special Cases – Allergies and Threading Difficulties

If you have a nickel allergy or if you have threading difficulties, read this article. It will refer you to a great source for needles for these special situations.

More Needle Information

If you’d like to read more about needles, check out these articles:

Embroidery Needles: How to Choose Them and Use Them

All About Embroidery Needles

John James Needle Guide – this is a PDF on their website, and it would be good to download to have on hand for reference.

If you want to explore more articles that are needle-related here on Needle ‘n Thread, here’s the list of previous articles that are tagged needle.


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(13) Comments

  1. Does anybody make a needle gauge like we have for knitting needles and drill bits that works for sewing and embroidery needles? I have one of those engraved wooden lipstick-tube cases from NIAH for my size ten embroidery needles, but I have dozens of orphan needles from all over the place that I need to organize.

    1. The closest thing for embroidery needles is the Needle ID cards from Access Commodities. They take into account the standard size of English needles and the standard size of French needles.

  2. Would you please talk a bit about storing needles? I’ve read that wool felt leaves in a needle book are good for needles because of the lanolin in wool (although I wonder how much lanolin is left after wool is processed into felt) and that felt is bad for needles because it holds too much moisture. I suppose one could return needles to their paper or plastic packets, but who can resist a cute needle book?

    1. Felt is excellent for storing needles. In fact, if you have ever purchased handmade Japanese embroidery needles (they are pricey and hard to come by), the storage solution suggested for them is a block of heavy wool felt.

  3. A lady that cross stitches and posts on You Tube had an allergy that turned her needle holding fingers black could only use Pat Carson’s needles which has been discontinued. I suggested the Tulip brand which is my favorite but like scissors, I need at least a small collection of most brands. I love the combination and my runner ups are Bohin (eyeing your collection) and John James. I also bought a nice stash of embroidery needles that look like a matchbook. The label says Scarlet Today, a division of McCrady Enterprises. They were hard to find but I see that 123stitch dot com is selling them and they also have them in tapestry needles for cross stitch so I’ll be buying one of each size to try. The embroidery needles have a longer eye. They also carry one that has size 7,8,9 and 10 embroidery needles in it and that’s what I started with.

    1. All embroidery needles have a longer eye than standard sewing needles. I’m pretty sure that’s what they’re implying on the product description when they say they have a longer eye – that it’s longer than standard sewing or quilting needles (not longer than embroidery needles). I don’t think the eye is any longer than any standard “English” embroidery needle. I’d be interested to see who is actually making the needles – they look like they are repackaged to fit their brand, so they are probably buying in bulk from a larger needle manufacturer.

    1. I knew someone would say that. LOL!

      But of course, I’m just talking about regular surface embroidery, which is the topic that we normally talk about here. Whenever I talk about tambour work, I call it tambour embroidery, to differentiate it from other embroidery, specifically because it uses a different tool.

  4. Hi Mary! I have found a beautiful assortment of needles at estate sales. Many of these needles are quite old, but still in their original packages, some are vintage WWII era. These older needles do not bend in my hand as readily as some of the newer needles. My favorite needles were a souvenir from my trip to London. I purchased them at the Royal School of Needlework and then bought a needle book while at the Liberty of London flagship store. Large eyes for embroidery thread and sharps for quilting and I’m a happy camper.

  5. The only way I can think of to embroider without a needle is to use a tool to poke the thread through the fabric and then pull it through. Thinking of doing that, all I have to say is “yay for needles!”.

    Some of the old no-longer available brands of vintage and antique needles are really good quality too. Even the brands that are now poor quality used to be so much better 20-30 years ago. So don’t overlook garage/estate sales, antique/thrift shops, flea markets, etc. The downside is if you find a favorite, you may never find more.

    Didn’t needles used to be so precious, that they were mentioned in wills when people died?

  6. I love Bohin needles. I buy all the sizes I use frequently in bulk. My only complaint is that they don’t make certain types/sizes, so for those (e.g., #12 crewel) I use John James needles instead. John James needles are usually ok but I’ve had a few batches that were of subpar quality (e.g., off-center eyes, burrs, etc.) which is something I have never encountered with Bohin (so far, at least).

    I’ve not yet tried Tulip needles. I think I’ll pick up some of their beading needles next time I visit Needle in a Haystack, as they’re supposed to be less likely to get bent. (I mostly use John James beading needles so far, because I have so many needles left over from doing Mill Hill kits, which I’m pretty certain use John James needles. They end up with a noticeable curvature after less then an hour of use and often end up breaking or being too much to use after a few hours.)

  7. Mary I am trying to make Xmas ornaments that call for a 5mm sequin and a 2.3mm/10/0 seed stitch.

    I don’t know what type of needle to use and what size so the seed bead will pass over the eye of the needle – I am using #12 or #16 pearl cotton thread. I am doing all of these on felt. Any help you can give would be appreciated. Barb

    1. You’ll want the needle that can fit the thread and fit the beads / sequins, and the only way you can find it out is by testing. 10/0 beads are pretty big, so I’d just start testing with a regular embroidery needle – maybe a size 8 or 9 crewel – and go from there. There’s not really a formula that tells you “this is the needle when using x size beads and x size thread with x size sequins” – that’s something you’ll just have to test.

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