Choosing the types of hand sewing needles and their sizes is a bit like finding a needle in a haystack if you don’t know what to look for. There are a variety of sizes and specialty needles used for hand sewing, and a guide to these different options will certainly help every sewer to find the best hand sewing needles.
Hand Sewing Needles Tutorial
Hand sewing needles are used for hand sewing! No surprises there. They come in different sizes and shapes for different purposes, so it is important to match your hand-sewing needle to your project. Some have sharp tips for piercing tightly woven fabric, and others have blunt tips for slipping between the fibers.
Further Reading: Sewing Machine Needle Guide
This article will discuss the main 10 types of sewing needles and when you use each one.
QUICK ANSWER: If all you need to do is quickly sew or repair some light to medium weight cotton fabric, all you need is a Sharps needle in a size matching your fabric. Purchase a packet of assorted sharps.
Basic Anatomy of a Hand Sewing Needle
Before we start discussing the different types and uses of hand sewing needles, it is important to know the 3 main parts and the terms used for them:
- Eye: This is the hole through which the thread passes. The size and shape of the eye can vary based on the needle type and size. It varies from small to large and can have different lengths.
- Shank: A needle shank is the long part of the needle that extends from the eye to the point. This is the middle part that you hold on to when sewing. Unlike sewing machine needles, the shank of hand sewing needles is usually totally round with no flat part.
- Point: The point is the sharp end of the needle that penetrates the fabric. The shape of the point can vary depending on the needle's intended use – for instance, some are sharp for penetrating tightly woven fabrics, while others are rounded (like ballpoint needles) for separating the fibers of knit fabrics without causing damage.
How Hand Sewing Needle Sizes and Types Work
Hand sewing needles vary according to the following:
- Needle size and length
- The shape of the eye and the type of point
- And the purpose of the needle
1. Hand Sewing Needle Sizes
If you look at any hand sewing needles packet, you will notice that they are all numbered. Needles with a larger number are finer and shorter. (This is probably the opposite of what you would have thought!) And, of course, smaller numbers mean the needle is thicker and longer.
Hand sewing needles come in packs and can be assorted or just of one kind, but the number range in the pack will be written on the front of the pack at the bottom. There is a chart towards the end of this article with suggested needle sizes for different purposes.
2. Hand Sewing Needles Shape of Eye & Point
The eye size and the tip size determine the kind of thread you can use and the fabric they are suited to.
The eye might be small and rounded or long and open to fit thick threads. The needle's eye size should match the thickness of your thread. A thicker thread requires a needle with a larger eye to prevent the thread from fraying or breaking.
Points can be sharp to pierce thick fabric or blunt to go through holes when you are sewing tapestries. A ballpoint tip is particularly suited to stretch knits, while the thick curved needle is best for upholstery.
3. Uses of Needles for Sewing
The purpose of the needle helps to determine what the needle is used for, and the number length and shaft size, as well as the size of the eye, determine the type of fabric the needle is suited to. For example, hand-sewing needles may be suitable for tapestry, leather, upholstery, or knit fabric.
Common Types of Needles for Sewing
1. Sharp Sewing Needles (Sharps)
Sharps is the name of the general-purpose, medium-length hand sewing needles. Used for hand sewing, dressmaking, and all household projects, it comes in different sizes and also in multiple packs. Look for the sizes on the front of the pack. It is always best to have an assorted size pack in your sewing kit so you can pick and choose the best size for your current sewing project.
PROPERTIES - Medium Length - Sharp Tip - Small Eye
Ballpoints have a rounded end so that it does not damage the fibers of knit fabrics. The rounded tip allows the needle to pass through the fibers rather than snagging or cutting through them.
PROPERTIES - Rounded Tip
Chenille hand sewing needles are used for embroidery and thicker yarn as they have a sharp point and large, elongated eye to enable you to thread several pieces at once. They are most commonly used for cross stitch and needlepoint embroidery. These can be used on tightly woven fabric embroidery since they have a sharp tip.
PROPERTIES - Sharp Tip - Elongated Eye
4. Tapestry Needles
Tapestry needles are also used for embroidery, but unlike the chenille needle, they have a blunt point. It is used on very open weave fabric where the needle can easily pass through the fibers without needing to pierce through it. Tapestry needles can be used for cross stitch on open-weave fabrics.
PROPERTIES - Blunt Tip - Elongated Eye
5. Crewel (Embroidery)
Crewel needles are also called embroidery needles and have a medium eye and a sharp tip.
PROPERTIES - Sharp Tip - Medium Eye
6. Upholstery Needles
These curved hand sewing needles are used for sewing upholstery and furniture. They are perfect for sewing where you can only access the outside of the object.
PROPERTIES - Curved Shape, Sharp Tip
7. Quilting Needles (Betweens)
Needles used for sewing through thick quilts have very sharp points and are short and fine with a small rounded eye. The shorter length is designed to produce nice and even stitches on quilts. They can also be used for fine and precise stitching when tailoring
PROPERTIES - Sharp Tip - Short Length - Fine
8. Beading Needle
Beading needles are used for sewing beads and sequins. Many are very fine to fit through the eye of small beads like seed beads. They are long as experienced beaders will thread numerous beads at once in a row. When sewing beads, it is best to use a strengthened or specialty beading thread with these needles since the inside of beads is often sharp and can cut regular threads.
PROPERTIES - Sharp Tip - Long Length - Fine
Bodkins are large flat hand sewing needles used to thread elastic through casings. It can also be used to thread ribbons and cords. Bodkins are an efficient replacement for using a safety pin to thread casings. Most have a rounded point so the end of the needle does not pierce the side of the casings, making it get stuck. They are best with longer casings as they can be a little hard to maneuver in baby clothing.
PROPERTIES - Large Needle - Blunt Tip
Darning needles are for darning socks and mending. They have an elongated large eye for thicker thread or yarn and a semi-blunt point. They are used for sewing knitted pieces together as well.
PROPERTIES - Large Eye - Blunt Point
Hand Sewing Needles Chart
The list below will give an indication of the name and size and some of the uses of different needles so that your search for the right needle is no longer an impossible task.
This list contains all the specialty needles excluding sharps that normally come in packs of assorted sizes.
|10 - 15
|Sewing beads and sequins
|5 - 12
|13 - 26
|Embroidery floss, yarn, ribbon.
|1 - 18
|Darning and mending
|Doll making, repairing
|1 - 16
|3 - 9
|3 - 10
|Leather, heavy fabric
|5 - 10
|1 - 12
|1 - 12
|13 - 28
|Cross-stitch, needlepoint, canvas
|3 - 18
|Heavy fabric, upholstery
Please note that the needle sizes mentioned here are just general ranges and may vary slightly between different manufacturers or regions.
Hand Sewing Needles & Thimbles
No article about hand sewing needles would be complete without adding a little about thimbles. A thimble is a protective cover worn over your finger to stop the hand sewing needle from pricking your finger.
Hand Sewing Needles - In Conclusion
Now you are equipped with a comprehensive list of needle sizes and their uses; looking for the right needle in the future should not be as confusing as looking for a ‘needle in a haystack.’
FRUSTRATION-FREE TIP: To prevent all your needles from getting mixed up once you take them out of the packet, use a small dab of different color nail polishes to identify them.
More Handsewing Articles
Now you have the correct hand sewing needles sorted, the next step is how to thread a needle! The other article that will come in handy for you is needle threaders. These little gadgets will help you thread a thick thread through a small hole in no time!