5 Minute Guide to Sewing Needles

In this 5 minute guide to sewing needles we cover every kind of machine needle and hand sewing needle you may need as a quilter and crafter. suzyquilts.com

By popular request I'm here today with a 5 minute guide to sewing needles! Did you know that there are approximately 50 million different types of sewing needles?

Ok, ok. Maybe there aren't that many. But if you've ever gone to the store to buy new needles and seen a big wall with rows and rows of different kinds, you know it can be intimidating to know which ones to buy for your project.

All those needles have a different purposes and are designed to be used for specific fibers or sewing techniques! But sometimes the sewing needle's name doesn't make it easy to understand how to use it.

In the latest installment of our 5 minute guide series, we're tackling the most common needles to use in both machine and hand quilting, and some helpful (and cute!) needle accessories.

Set your timers for 5 minutes, and let's go!

In this 5 minute guide to sewing needles we cover every kind of machine needle and hand sewing needle you may need as a quilter and crafter. suzyquilts.com

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Quilting-Needles

Universal Sewing Machine Needles

These are likely to be your most-used machine needles. Universal needles are specifically designed to work well with most fabrics, including cotton. However, if you are using anything heavy like canvas or denim, you'll want a different needle (keep reading). 

Our Favorites

We like Schmetz Universal Needles because they are widely available. However, you can always head to your local sewing machine dealer to check out needles made by other companies, including Singer and BERNINA!


Quilting Sewing Machine Needles

While quilting or patchwork needles for your machine are similar to universal needles, there are some important differences. The tapered design helps the needle move through multiple layers of fabric and batting so you can avoid dreaded skipped stitches! 

Even though the name gives it away, machine quilting needles are intended for quilting a quilt sandwich and not piecing a quilt top together. You'll notice that these needles are 90/14, which is larger and more heavy duty than you need for piecing a light-weight cotton quilt top.

Our Favorites

Schmetz Quilting Needles can be found anywhere quilt supplies and notions are sold!


5 Minute Guide to Sewing Needles: A pack of denim machine needles. suzyquilts.com #sewing #quilting

Denim Sewing Machine Needles

Some sewists wonder if they really need to switch to denim needles when sewing with heavy weight fabric. I'm here to tell you YES! These needles make a huge difference.

They are much sharper than other machine needles, which means they sew through heavy fabrics with ease. But don't forget to switch back to a universal or quilting needle when you're done — these strong and sharp needles sew through cotton like an axe chopping wood! 

Our Favorites

Good ol' Schmetz Denim Needles to the rescue! 


Betweens

Betweens is not really a descriptive name for a needle — until you know what these are designed for. These needles are specifically designed to glide between layers of fabric, making them the absolute best needles for hand quilting. 

Sometimes called quilting or patchwork needles, betweens are a little shorter than other needles and have a narrow and rounded eye that allow the needle to glide through the fabric.

I personally prefer a longer needle for hand quilting, but these are my very favorite needles to use for binding!

Our Favorites

Bohin's Betweens Hand Needles are fantastic and glide through a quilt easily. In fact, I love all of their needles!

5 Minute Guide to Sewing Needles: A pack of betweens hand sewing needles by the company Bohin. suzyquilts.com #sewing #quilting

5 Minute Guide to Sewing Needles: A pack of sharps hand sewing needles by the company Bohin. suzyquilts.com #sewing #quilting

Sharps

Consider these your everyday needles. The eye is smaller than an embroidery needle but a bit bigger than a between, and they are super sharp. If these are all you have on hand, they'll work for just about anything.

However, because they are designed to be a catch-all needle, they may not become your favorite as you start to try out other needles on this list.

Our Favorites

Bohin's Sharps Hand Needles come in a multi-pack of sizes and stay sharp and straight. 


Embroidery Needles

Embroidery needles are designed with very large eyes that can hold up to six threads of regular embroidery floss. That means they're excellent not only for embroidery, but also for hand quilting using Pearl Cotton No. 8 which is a heavier thread!

If you're using a fabric with a tight weave, you might have trouble moving a needle with such a big eye through without pulling. But that's the only downside to these!

Our Favorites

You can't go wrong with Clover Gold Eye Embroidery Needles. This pack has a variety of sizes and is available at just about every store that sells needles, so you'll always be well-stocked!

5 Minute Guide to Sewing Needles: A pack of embroidery hand sewing needles by the company Clover. suzyquilts.com #sewing #quilting

5 Minute Guide to Sewing Needles: A pack of milliner's hand sewing needles by the company Bohin. suzyquilts.com #sewing #quilting

Milliners Needles

These are my personal favorite needles for hand quilting! Originally designed for hat makers (milliners), they are extra sharp and very long.

Most importantly, the eye of the needle is virtually the same width as the needle, meaning it is very small and does not cause any drag or pulling as you're sewing. Even though the eye of milliners needles is small, I still find that I'm able to thread thicker quilting thread like Pearl Cotton No. 8 through it, so this isn't only for thin threads.

All of that means that these needles are so easy to use when hand quilting!

Our Favorites

Bohin Milliners Hand Needles are fantastic. You can probably tell that Bohin is my personal go-to brand for almost all hand sewing needles!


Sashiko Needles

Similar to milliner's needles, Sashiko needles have become popular for hand quilting due to their length. Some quilters even use Sashiko thread for hand quilting because the thread is so smooth and moves through layers of fabric easily.

Sashiko has a long history originating in Japan. And while some quilters use Sashiko needles for hand quilting, it's important to note that Sashiko is a very different technique, which you can learn more about from Sashiko artisan Atsushi Futatsuya here

Our Favorites

Tulip Sashiko Needles are made in Japan and come in beautiful packaging. You can find even more Sashiko supplies and read about the history of Sashiko at Upcycle Stitches

5 Minute Guide to Sewing Needles: A pack of sashiko hand sewing needles by the company Tulip. suzyquilts.com #sewing #quilting

5 Minute Guide to Sewing Needles: A pack of appliqué hand sewing needles by the company Clover. suzyquilts.com #sewing #quilting

Appliqué Needles

If you've done needle-turn appliqué before, you know that it's a delicate technique. Appliqué needles are very similar to sharps (which can also be used for appliqué) but they are a little narrower. These fine needles are also a great option for English paper piecing!

Our Favorites

Clover Gold Eye Appliqué Needles in size 10 are excellent. They glide right through the fabric!


Self-Threading Needles

If you're new to quilting, have vision issues, or struggle with hand pain, threading a needle can be the most frustrating part of hand sewing. If you're feeling frustrated with threading needles, check out self-threading options that have gaps which allow the thread to be snapped into place instead of threaded through the eye!

Our Favorites

Clover Self-Threading Needles have a small gap in the eye that the thread is snapped into. However, that does make the eye large and can cause issues when sewing. Spiral Eye Needles are a great alternative, although they are not widely available like the Clover needles. Spiral Eye Needles have a gap on the side, allowing the eye to remain small.

5 Minute Guide to Sewing Needles: A pack of self-threading hand sewing needles by the company Clover. suzyquilts.com #sewing #quilting

5 Minute Guide to Sewing Needles: Hands demonstrating how to use a needle threader, using a gold decorative threader. suzyquilts.com #sewing #quilting

Needle Threader

If you struggle with threading a needle, this tool is for you. Whether you have vision issues, hand pain, or shaky hands, adding a needle threader to your sewing kit could reduce your frustration when sewing.

Needle threaders have a thin wire that you push through the eye of your needle, giving you a much larger space for the thread. After you've passed the thread through the threader, pull it back out of the needle eye and your needle is perfectly threaded!

Always be gentle when handling a needle threader! The wire that goes through the needle eye is very thin and can bend, break, or pull apart from the threader if you aren't careful.

Our Favorite

Matryoshka Doll Shop (you'll see them again later!) has a needle minder with a lovely design that you'll love looking at as much as you love using!


5 Minute Guide to Sewing Needles: A double-sided needle threader in packaging by the company Clover. suzyquilts.com #sewing #quilting

Double Sided Needle Threader

Some needles have large eyes to accommodate thick threads, and some have small eyes to help thin thread stay in place.

That means there are different sized needle threaders, too! If you use needles with different sized eyes regularly, you might like a double sided needle threader, which has one small threader and one that is large. 

Our Favorite

The Clover Double Needle Threader will work with just about any needle you need for sewing! 


Tabletop Needle Threader

For quilters with arthritis or hand pain, a needle threader can still be a challenge. Tabletop needle threaders work by setting your needle in the threader, eye down, and pressing one little button — easy breezy!

Our Favorite

The Clover Ultimate Needle Threader is the ultimate pain and frustration remover — thread your needle with the push of a button!

5 Minute Guide to Sewing Needles: A purple table-top needle threader. suzyquilts.com #sewing #quilting

5 Minute Guide to Sewing Needles: Two needle minders in the shapes of leaves, one with wood and white and the other with wood and gold flakes. suzyquilts.com #sewing #quilting

Needle Minders

Needle minders are cute little magnets that you can attach to a hand sewing project or have nearby so you can set your needle down temporarily. These are so helpful for when you're switching threads or if you want to put down a hand sewing project and come back to it later. Plus they're adorable!

Our Favorites

Matryoshka Doll Shop's needle minders are the best. They're powerful but small, so they don't add to much weight to your project as you sew. The leaf needle minder is my favorite, but I also have a matching heart. Check out all their needle minder shapes!


5 Minute Guide to Sewing Needles: A pink magnetic notions case closed with a gold snap. suzyquilts.com #sewing #quilting

Magnetic Notions Case

If you like to sew on the go (and who doesn't?), a magnetic notions case is a must! My magnetic case is never too far from me. I travel with it, but I also keep it right next to me on the couch when I hand sew. It's spacious and holds the needle I'm using for my current project, a needle minder, embroidery scissors, a needle threader, a pack of extra needles, and thread.

It fits everything I need and because it's magnetic, I never have to worry about dropping my needle! I just set it down in the case and it sticks.

Our Favorite

The Maker's Buddy Case by della Q is functional and beautiful. The entire inside is magnetic but it's covered in a soft fabric that feels great. It's spacious and closes tightly with a snap, so nothing will ever fall out.


Needle Grips

Have you ever felt like your needle is just stuck in your fabric? Maybe you're using a needle with a really wide eye, or a thick thread. At some point, you've probably had to pull on that needle hard to get it to glide through your fabric.

Needle grips are here to help! Pop one on your first finger and one on your thumb, and these rubber grips help you pull any needle and thread easily. These are also very useful for quilters with arthritis or hand pain! 

Our Favorites

These Clover Flexible Rubber Thimbles are excellent for gripping a needle. They help make hand sewing easier and less painful! 

5 Minute Guide to Sewing Needles: A pack of two pink needle grips by the company Clover. suzyquilts.com #sewing #quilting

Old Needles Container

Whether you're using a machine needle or hand sewing needle, it's important to remember to use a brand new needle at the beginning of every new project. Needles become dull or can curve, and that makes them difficult to use.

But don't just throw those needles into the trash! Just like anything sharp, you should put your needles into a container as a safety precaution. 

Our Favorite

No need to get too fancy here — eventually your old needles container will go in the trash! Do you have an old Altoids container? A pill bottle with the prescription information removed? Great! Toss your dull needles in there and once that's full, toss the entire container in the trash.

In this 5 minute guide to sewing needles we cover every kind of machine needle and hand sewing needle you may need as a quilter and crafter. suzyquilts.com

What Are Your Go-To Sewing Needles?

Did you learn about new needles or accessories to try out? What are your favorite needles? Let us know in the comments!

And while you're there, don't forget to tell us what topics you'd like us to cover in future 5 minute guides. Would you like a guide on scissors, cutting supplies, thimbles, or sewing machines? Do you have any ideas of what we can cover? You may see your idea in a future post! 

35 thoughts on “5 Minute Guide to Sewing Needles

  1. Saralyn DeSmet says:

    Thanks for this post, Laura! It answered so many questions that I’ve had. Now I want to go buy all the needles! I have a couple of improv projects that I’ve been wanting to use to try hand quilting for the first time. This guide is helpful to get me past my hesitations. And I love that cute leaf needle minder❤ I think it will be a perfect early Valentine’s gift to myself 😍

    • Laura Hopper says:

      I’m so very happy to hear that you liked this, Saralyn! My leaf needle minder is pretty much always by my side, I just adore it 🙂 Hope you love yours!

  2. Dale says:

    I’ve been sewing/quilting for years but always need and appreciate refreshers. Thank you again for another excellent blog!

    • Laura Hopper says:

      Glad to hear that this was even helpful for seasoned quilters! Is there any topic you’d like to see in a future 5 minute guide?

  3. Jane Field says:

    Hi Suzy,
    From a cold but beautiful sunny day in Brittany, France.
    My goodness what a comprehensive guide to needles that was. Thank you so much. Such was the positive effect that I now have my sewing machine and my new quilting project out on the kitchen table ready to start. Kind regards, Jane

    • Laura Hopper says:

      Hi Jane! I’m so very happy to hear that you liked my latest 5 minute guide. I’ve loved writing this series! If there is any topic you’d like to see in a future 5 minute guide, leave a comment!

  4. Debra Thomas says:

    Great enlightening article, was a wonderful refresher for me as well as some new things.
    Thank you always look forward to your next article.

  5. RoseAnn Battista says:

    I love Black and Gold needles, sharps #10 for hand sewing. My preference for machine piecing is Schmetz microtex because they are extra sharp and work well with Aurifil 50wt thread in all my machines.

  6. Janequiltsslowly says:

    I love Clover’s large assortment of milliners needles for hand quilting with Perle 8 cotton thread. They make pulling through with multiple stitches so easy!

  7. Liz says:

    I always wondered what “betweens” meant! Thank you for clearing that up 🙂 My favorite needle for binding is tiny: John James Quilting Size 10. Tiny stitches and very little drag!

  8. Sharon says:

    I struggled to find a needle that worked with 12wt Aurefil thread, that was long enough for big stitch quilting and also fine enough to pull through a sandwich of batting and two layers of Art Gallery Fabrics, (quilting poplin, thus more tightly woven) without fatiguing my hands. I settled on Tulip Embroidery Needles, size #9, after trying almost every needle listed here (the finest #10’s were a little too flexible for me). My second struggle, re: needles, was threading this fine needle (tiny hole, thick thread). Until recently, I’ve used cheap wire threaders, which twist and break regularly (I’m asking a lot of these threaders!). But these work well enough when I can actually get the wire into the eye of the needle with my old eyes! However, all my threading problems have recently resolved with one ingenious tool: the Clover Ultimate Needle Threader, mentioned above. I’ve tried other versions of this type of table top threader with no luck, but this one actually works! Thanks for the great review!

    • Laura Hopper says:

      Excellent review of the ultimate threader! So very happy to hear that it’s working for you after trying many things 🙂

  9. Priscilla says:

    Interesting article. Some needles, I was familiar with, but not others, nor what they were specifically good for. I appreciate the links to the products you mention. I gather “sharps”, including needles and blades and turn them in to a local refuse location where they collect electronic waste and sharps. I like that they don’t go directly into the landfill (even though they probably ultimately end up there).

  10. Jen Congram says:

    Thank you for all your information. My go to needles are Schmetz Microtex. Just love their clear cut sharpness. But I have discovered quilting needles recently which certainly made a difference in my last quilting project. I also use a little stick-on gadget that helps me remember which needle and size is in my machine currently. A great help when we have so many choices!

  11. Christine says:

    This was a wonderful and informative article. I was especially interested to learn the difference between a universal and a quilting needle. Your narrative clarified for me that the former can be used for piecing, and the latter for actual machine quilting. I do some quilting for charity, and we often use sheets for quilt backs and bindings. What needle would you recommend for a binding made with a high thread count sheet? Thank you for your time.

    • Laura Hopper says:

      So happy to hear that you liked the article, Christine! I prefer using betweens for my bindings, regardless of what fabric is used.

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