There is no best hand sewing needle for quilting projects, and that's a good thing because quilters can choose from a large variety of needle types to find the right tool for each task.
Hand sewing needles are all designed with unique characteristics that make each type more suitable for one type of sewing, but although needles are commonly associated with a certain technique, you might find that choosing one needle (instead of another) has advantages for your own particular style of sewing. The good news is that hand sewing needles are inexpensive, giving us the opportunity to experiment with them without spending a fortune.
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Anatomy of a Hand Sewing Needle
- The hole at the non-pointed end of a needle is called its eye.
- Needles are made with different eye shapes and sizes, each designed to suit the type of thread, yarn or other material you're sewing with and enabling the threaded needle to pass through the piece being sewn with as much fluidity as possible.
- The long portion of a needle is called its shank.
- Needle length and thickness decreases as size numbers increase. For instance, a size 12 needle is shorter and thinner than a size 9.
- Two needles often used by quilters, betweens for hand quilting and sharps for applique, are available in sizes 1 through 12.
- Some types of needles are self-threading, with slots that allow you to easily pull the thread into the eye rather than insert a strand through the eye.
- Needles are typically coated with a smooth metal that differs from their sturdy core construction to help them glide more easily through the fabric and to help prevent corrosion.
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Betweens (Hand Quilting Needles)
Betweens are short, sturdy needles that are designed for hand quilting. Their short stature and small eye allow betweens to easily travel through multiple layers of a quilt sandwich. Some betweens have a slightly larger eye that makes the needles easier to thread.
Beginning hand quilters sometimes assume they must use the tiniest betweens, size 12, to sew short quilting stitches, but we recommend you purchase a packet with multiple needle sizes and experiment with the larger sizes first to become accustomed to the quilting process before you move on to the teeny betweens. Why? Because working with a very tiny needle can be frustrating when you're not accustomed to it, and can actually result in stitches that are inconsistent or longer than they should be.
Start with a size 9 needle and work towards the smaller needles as you become accustomed to hand quilting.
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Sharps for Hand Applique and Other Tasks
Sharps are thin needles with a round eye. They are versatile hand sewing needles that are somewhat longer than an all-purpose needle.
Sharps are popular for hand applique and general hand sewing tasks. Think of sharps as a universal needle that should always be in your sewing kit. As with betweens, it's helpful to purchase a multi-size packet of sharps and experiment a bit with handling different needle widths and lengths.
You can use a sharps needle to sew the binding to a quilt and for hand applique.
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Milliners needles, also called straw needles, are very similar to sharps, but longer. They work nicely for applique and basting tasks and can be a good choice when hand-sewing binding to your quilts.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
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More Hand Sewing Needles
There are many additional types of hand sewing needles, but most of the others used for a quilting project will probably fall into the embellishments category—needles used to add beads, embroidery or other decorative elements.
- Embroidery needles are similar to sharps, but their elongated eyes are designed to handle strands of floss.
- Beading needles are long and thin, handy for sewing beads onto fabric.
- Chenille needles have a large eye and a sharp point and can be used to add silk ribbon embellishments to your work.
- Bodkins are hefty, with a large eye and blunt "point" (thread elastic or another material through the eye and pull it through a casing).
- Basting needles (sometimes called longs) are usually 3 to 3 1/2 inches in length and are used to hand baste a quilt to prepare it for quilting.
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Tips to Help You Grip Hand Sewing Needles
Try one of these methods when you find that it's difficult to grip or move a needle.
- Grab a needle with a hemostat to help pull it through the layers of a quilt sandwich if it becomes a bit stuck.
- Use a wrap-around type guitar/banjo fingerpick to pick up the needle when thread basting. The pick works like a spoon to catch the needle tip.
- Try a tacky fingertip moistener from an office supply store to help grip a needle.