Embroidery is the process of using a needle and thread to decorate fabric. It’s used to embellish many different types of items, including hats, dresses, blankets, shirts and denim.
There are endless types of embroidery, each of them requiring a different type of needle.
Defining Features of Embroidery Needles
There are generally four defining features of an embroidery needle: the eye, shaft length, point and shaft thickness.
The eye of the needle is the hole at one end. The primary purpose of the eye is to keep the thread attached to the needle, and the size of it differs depending on the use. Machine needles usually have an irregularly-shaped eye, while hand-sewing needles tend to have a more rounded, circular eye.
The eye of embroidery needles is important because in most cases it is the largest part of the needle that passes through the fabric, meaning that it is the most likely part to leave an undesirable hole behind.
The shaft of a needle is its length connecting the eye at one end to the point at the other. Needle shafts vary in length, and this generally is in proportion to the needle thickness.
The point of a needle is the very tip of it, at the opposite end to the eye. Due to the fact that it is the part required to puncture a hole in the fabric, needle points vary in sharpness.
Generally, sharper points are used for tightly-woven fabrics that are harder to pierce, whereas blunt tips are more useful for loosely-woven fabrics that can be easily pierced.
The shaft thickness is another defining feature of a needle, and will vary depending on the fabric that is being used. This is because thicker embroidery needles will be more likely to leave a hole in the fabric, which is undesirable in most cases.
1. Crewel Needles
‘Crewel needles’ is often synonymous with ‘embroidery needles’, as they are the type most commonly used. The word ‘crewel’ is thought to come from an ancient word describing the curl in the single hair of wool.
Crewel needles have a fairly long, oval-shaped eye, which allows them to be used with a variety of different threads. Their shaft is slightly thinner than the eye and they have a sharp, pointed tip to allow them to pierce tightly-woven fabrics.
They’re generally used for surface embroidery such as blanket stitch embroidery and crewel work, but can be used for pretty much any form of embroidery that requires a sharp needle. Crewel needles come in sizes 1-12, with 1 being the largestand thickest, and 12 being the smallest and thinnest.
2. Tapestry Needles
The word ‘tapestry’ is derived from Old French ‘tapisser’, meaning ‘to cover with heavy fabric’. Tapestry needles have a long, oval eye, which allows them to accommodate many different types of thread, similarly to crewel needles. Their shaft is slightly thinner than the eye but, unlike crewel needles, they have a blunt, rounded tip.
Tapestry embroidery needles are most often used for cross stitch and needlepoint, and the regular pattern of thread and holes means that the tip must be blunt as no fabric needs to be pierced. Tapestry needles come in sizes 13-28, with 13 being the largest and thickest and 28 being the smallest and thinnest.
3. Milliner Needles
The term ‘milliner’ refers to a person who makes or sells women’s hats, but the name originally meant a person from Milan. It is unsure how the name evolved over the years, but it is thought that it is because historically Milan has been city known for its fashion, including hats.
Milliner needles have a small, round eye, and a shaft that is the same thickness as the eye. The shaft of these embroidery needles is long to accommodate for the thread that needs to wrap around it when doing particular types of stitch, such as a French knot, cast-on stitch or blanket stitch embroidery. They have a sharp tip and come in sizes 1-10, 15 and 18.
4. Chenille Needles
The word ‘chenille’ is derived from the French word meaning ‘caterpillar’ which was used to describe the feeling of Chenille fabric.
Chenille needles have a very long, oval eye to accommodate any type of thread, including wool, and to prevent it fraying while in use. The shaft is generally slightly thinner than the eye, but thick in comparison with other needles. Chenille embroidery needles have a sharp tip, designed to piece tightly-woven fabrics, and they come in sizes 13 – 28.
5. Curved Needles
Curved embroidery needles are similar in appearance tocrewel needles, with fairly long, oval-shaped eyes. In contrast, the shaft of a curved needle is curved rather than straight, as the name suggests. The curved shape means that it is easy to secure the threads on the back of an embroidered piece, especially when the stitches are small.
Sharps are the most universal of embroidery needles. They have a medium-length, round eye and come in a variety of shaft lengths and widths. Their sharp tips mean they have a wide variety of uses: applique, blanket stitch embroidery and patchwork being some common ones.
7. Beading Needles
Beading needles, as the name would suggest, are ideal for adding beads and sequins to a piece of embroidery as a form of embellishment. Beading needles generally have very long, oval eyes and very sharp tips. They have long shafts, making them ideal for threading many beads at a time.
8. Darning Needles
Darning needs have very large eyes, which make them suitable for threading bulky wool yarn and wide ribbons. In general, they have long shafts, and very sharp points.
Darning embroidery needles are ideally suited for mending a hole in knitted material (darning) and doll making.
9. Quilting Needles
The origin of the term ‘quilt’ is linked to the Latin word culcita, meaning ‘cushion’. Quilting needles have small, round eyes, short shafts and sharp points that are designed to pierce the many layers of your quilt.
These embroidery needles are designed for use in joining different layers and sections of a quilt together, and are also used for blanket stitch embroidery.
10. Canvas Needles
Canvas needles are designed for doing embroidery on a plastic canvas. These needles generally have small, oval eyes, and very thick shafts. Their points are blunt, since canvas is not difficult to pierce.
|1. Crewel||Medium Oval||Thin||Sharp|
|2. Tapestry||Long Oval||Thin||Blunt|
|3. Milliner||Small Round||Thick||Sharp|
|4. Chenille||Very Long Oval||Long, Thick||Sharp|
|5. Curved||Long Oval||Curved||Sharp|
|6. Sharps||Medium Round||Variety||Sharp|
|7. Beading||Long Oval||Long||Sharp|
|8. Darning||Very Large||Long||Sharp|
|9. Quilting||Small Round||Short||Sharp|
|10. Canvas||Small Oval||Thick||Blunt|