Embroidery needles
and how to know which type to use

Embroidery needles come in many different types and picking the ideal one can make your needlework more enjoyable.

But how do you know which one you should be using?

The basic rule is to pick the finest needle that will accommodate the thread and fabric that you wish to use. One that is too large will create holes in the fabric that the thread does not fill in, one that is too fine will mean that the thread gets rubbed unnecessarily every time the needle goes through the fabric, meaning that it will fray quickly.

Needle characteristics

The Size

Needles are usually sized with the larger numbers being reserved for the thinner needles, a fact which confuses many people.

As an example a size 24 tapestry needle (ideal for working on 14 count Aida cloth) is thicker than a size 26, which is used for 28 or 32 count evenweave fabrics. The thicker size 18  would be best suited for canvas work.

The Point

If you are working on a closely woven fabric, then you need to use a pointed needle. For evenweave fabrics, such as Aida cloth, linen or canvas, you would use a blunt or tapestry needle to prevent you splitting the fabric threads. There are even ball-pointed needles for use on knitted fabrics like jersey or sweatshirt material.

The width

The width or diameter of the shaft can be consistent throughout the length of the needle or it can taper or widen at various points.

The length

Different needlework techniques need a different length. If you are going to be wrapping the thread around the needle than a long one is essential. But for speed, such as when quilting, a short one might be more appropriate.

The eye

In addition to the size and the type of point, the other difference between them is the shape of the eye. These can be round, long, elongated or even self threading. A round eyed needle is stronger.

Different Needle Types

The following tips should help you pick the best tool for the job.

Crewel or Embroidery Needles

These are medium sized, with a sharp point and a long eye. They come in sizes 3-10. The long eye allows more than one strand of embroidery floss to be threaded at the same time. These are ideal for nearly all surface embroidery and smocking.


These are a general purpose hand sewing needle. They have a round eye, a sharp point (as the name suggests) and are of medium length. They come in sizes 3-12.


A short, blunt tipped needle, the tapestry is used for needlepoint, hardanger, blackwork or cross stitch on evenweave fabrics. They have a long eye designed to take thick or multiple strands of floss or wool. They come in sizes 18-28 and can be gold or platinum plated.


A thick, strong needle with a elongated eye for thick fibres and and a sharp point for coarse fabrics. They generally come in sizes 18-24.

Straw or milliners

These are distinctive by the fact that the long shaft is the same width throughout until it tapers at the sharp point. They have a small, round eye which does not bulge outside the shaft. They are mainly used for bullion knots or Brazilian embroidery stitches where the thread is wrapped around the shaft. They come in sizes 3-10.


No sharp point makes these ideal for needlelace work. The ballpoint tips slips easily across the pattern without piercing it, and likewise does not pierce the threads making up the lace stitches. They have a round point, and are of medium length in sizes 3-9


These very long, very thin needles have a very small, long eye and a sharp point. They are fine enough to go through the hole in a seed bead and long enough for many beads to be threaded onto them. They are not strong and can bend easily. They come in sizes 10-15.

Betweens or quilting needles

These are short, round eyed and have a sharp point. They are used by quilters for quick, even stitching. They come in sizes 3-10.

Easy thread

Made with a special eye, which is actually a slot, which the thread is pulled into they are used for the same general purpose sewing as the sharps.

Looking after your embroidery needles

Whichever type you use it is important that they are straight and have undamaged tips. Stitching with a corroded needle will make life difficult as will using one that has burrs or pits in it. They should slide effortlessly through the fabric, not pull at it or tear it. It is a false economy to continue using a needle that has seen better days.

You can keep your embroidery needles in their original packet or in a specially made needlebook. The traditional strawberry shaped emery is ideal for keeping the points sharp.




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