Hand Sewing: Needles

Needles, needles, needles!

Hand sewing is a great skill to learn; not only can you tackle some small mending and repair work on your wardrobe, but there are a host of fun, crafty projects to can stitch up by hand. This is the first in a few posts about hand sewing in an attempt to get you stitching!

In hand sewing, there are a lot of different types of stitching you can do. And each specific type of stitch and sewing job uses a specific tool, that being a sewing needle. Yes, there are many different types, sizes, and shapes of needles, but you only need to know a few basics to get started!

Hand needles are categorized in many groups, but we will focus on General and Hand Sewing needlesSome of the other major categories are: Quilting needles, Needlecraft needles, Darning needles, and Heavy-Duty needles. And there are even packs of needles out there sold under the name "Crafting" needles, which are generally a mix of a few other types.

Let's talk needle terminology. A needle has a pointed end to go through the fabric and an eye to carry the thread. Pretty simple design and highly effective! The shape of the needle eye, type of point, needle length and thickness of the needle determine the needle type and size.

Needle sizes are specified by a number. Generally, with the kinds of hand sewing needles we're discussing, the larger the number, the smaller and finer the needle. When picking a needle for a hand sewing task, think about the weight of the fabric when choosing a size. Fine fabrics such as silks need a finer needle, like a size 10; and a thick denim needs a larger, stronger needle like a size 4.

Needle points come in a few different types for sewing different kinds of fabrics: Sharp points (a very sharp point for woven fabrics), Ball-points (a rounded point to go between fibers of knit fabrics), Blunt (for needlepoint, cross stitch, or tapestry) and Wedge (for sewing heavy non-wovens like leather, vinyl, or plastic).

Sharp pointed needles and Ball Points are the most common for general purpose sewing or crafting. Choose which point to use based on your fabric choice: Sharps for all wovens and Ball Points for knits.

Needles packaged for general sewing and crafting are Sharps, Betweens, and Ball-points. Let's take a closer look at each of these types of needles.

Sharps are the most common hand sewing needle. They come in sizes ranging from 1 (really large) to 12 (really small and fine). Most often they are a medium length, great for any hand sewing task, and sometimes can be found in "long" sizes as well. A really good bet for any hand sewing project using stable woven fabric (like woven cotton prints, solids, or quilting fabrics).

Betweens are similar to Sharps, but are shorter in length. Sometimes these are labeled as Quilting needles, because they are great for making short, fine stitches. They are also available in  sizes 1 through 12. Also a good bet for most hand sewing projects but not quite as easy for a beginner to handle because of the shorter length.

Ball-points are similar in size and shape to Sharps, but have a rounded off point for use with knits. These needles are made to move between the fibers of a knit fabric instead of puncturing through them - it makes a much better, stronger stitch with knits. You can find these needles most often in sizes 5 through 10, and work great for any project using a stretchy knit fabric.

So, when choosing a needle for hand sewing, think about the type of fabric (stable woven or stretchy knit) to determine if you will use a Sharp or Ballpoint needle. Think about the weight or thickness of the fabric (delicate like silk, medium weight like quilting cotton, or tough like denim) to choose your needle size. And, think about what kind of stitches you will be taking to pick a short, medium, or long needle.

Sewing Susan

There are a few tools made to make your handwork with needles even easier. Using any of these tools is a totally personal choice, some sewers do and some don't.

These little tools come in all shapes and sizes, but the most popular is the little silver tab featuring a person in profile. (There seems to be a different "head" in all three of my little needle threaders. What the signifigance of these portraits are I have no idea, but I bet it would make a great story!) Super simple to use: insert the wire point through the needle eye, pull the thread end through the large opening in the wire, and pull the wire back out through the needle eye. Presto - your needle is threaded!

Simple in design, these babies protect the end of your finger from repeated pushing of the needle through the fabric. Also great for helping push a needle through super thick fabrics. They come in all shapes and sizes and made from all types of materials. Try one on before you buy, as different types of thimbles fit and feel different.

A great invention, these are small pieces of rubber that help you to grab and pull a needle through many layers or thick fabrics. I use and love these!

Yes, you read that right, lubrication for your needle. There are both liquids that apply directly to your needle and semi-solids that you stitch through to lubricate your needle. The theory is that these lubricants help your needle to glide through fabrics quicker and easier - I personally have never tried any, so please let me know if you have used or tried these prodcuts before.

Now - grab a needle and get ready to start stitching!

Sew and Stitch

Happy hand sewing!


Sherri said…
Such an informative post...I had to smile when I saw the "sewing susan" graphic...I actually have a pack of those needles that I found in my grandmother's sewing box!
Anonymous said…
Okay... I actually read this, and found myself unexpectedly buying needles over the weekend... and new EXACTLY what I needed. Thanks, Erika!! :)
Erika Mulvenna said…
Yay! You rock those needles Andrea!
Sharrieboberry said…
The last time of hand-quilted, I used sharps. I was using the Thimblelady's method. It worked really well and you could load more fabric on the needle than on betweens.
Anonymous said…
I love it!! Now, I can teach my children the very basics of hand sewing.
bstwc said…
I've never heard of or seen a 'needle grabber'. But there are plenty of times i could've used one. What does it look like?
Erika Mulvenna said…
Hey there bstwc, thanks for stopping by! A "needle grabber" is a small circle of rubbery stuff, and the surface is super grippy to help grab a needle to pull it through thick or sticky fabrics. I found mine at the local fabric store in the same section as hand sewing needles.
Rice Paper said…
Thank you for your help - I was trying to find a way to hand stitch a denim becket back on and am now going to get a needle grabber. On the point about lubricating . . . I bet you have all seen this done and not realised . . . you pass the needle through your hair. Eveybody freaks out when I do it but that is what my mother and grandmother always did. Works a treat. No cost involved and no searching for the elusive container of lubricant. :-)
Etak said…
Hi, complete beginner here and I didn't know where to start until I happily found this article. Many thanks kind lady! I've been meaning to get going sewing for so long , I've got endless supplies and ideas, just really spoiled for choice but lacking on the knowledge 🙃
I want to make some cat beds from old jumpers and cushions and if I've read it right I should use a thickish ball needle? Hope so hehe but in any case I can ask properly in the shop hehe

Looking forward to seeing the rest of your stuff

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