Over the last year I’ve done a lot of hand quilting, which means I’ve formed a pretty deep and intimate trust relationship with my hand quilting needles. People tell you that you should choose your friends wisely, and surround yourself with supportive, sharp people who can move easily through fabric (that’s what I’ve heard, at least). The same goes for the needles you use! These babies have an important job to do, so you want to make sure you’re orchestrating a team of the very best hand quilting needles.
But if you’re like me, and you get paralyzed by all the choices out there and don’t know where to start, don’t worry! I can help! I’ve waded through width, length, height and sharpness, so you can skip the hours of anxiety therapy (I’ve done that for you already, too!) and let me walk you through it.
Read More About Hand Quilting!
The above quilt is the Fly Away pattern. Download it here!
Remind Me What Hand Quilting is...
First things first. Let’s talk about what hand quilting needles actually do. And what hand quilting is. Just to make sure we’re all on the same page.
Hand quilting, at its core, means sewing running stitches through your quilt sandwich (the quilt top, batting, and backing fabric) with a needle in your hand. I know that seems obvious, but it’s also kind of awesome, and kind of a big job for you and your little needle friend. Depending on the fabric and batting you choose for your quilt, it can be a long, tough trip from quilt top to backing and back. That’s why there are so many different options for the length and thickness of hand quilting needles!
Below you can see that I combined machine quilting with hand quilting.
The above quilt is the Hexie Stripe pattern. Download it here!
Needle Sizes - The Only Confusing Part
Needles have a serious case of Benjamin Button syndrome – they get smaller as they get older. And by older I mean, as the numbers get higher. I think I just made this more confusing...what I mean is – the smaller the number the larger the needle. The larger the number the smaller the needle.
Pop Quiz! Which needle is larger? A #3 or a #9? Go to the bottom of this post to see if you're right. 😉
The above quilt is the Bohemian Garden pattern. Download it here!
5 Common Types of Hand Quilting Needles
Here’s a rundown of the 5 types and sizes of quilting needles, and what makes them special:
A Hand Quilting Tradition: Betweens aka Quilting Needles
The needle that most people are talking about when they’re talking about traditional hand quilting is nicknamed a “Between.” This is a sharp, short and narrow needle with a small, rounded eye.
These little babies pack a punch because they’re short, easy to control, and they can help you make super small, accurate stitches – quickly.
I want to emphasize that these are preferred by traditional quilters who are using traditional quilting thread, which is much thinner than the Pearl Cotton No. 8 that I have grown to love.
When using these needles for hand quilting, you should pair it with thin, possibly waxed, thread, such as this.
Sizes: 3-12 If you’re a first-timer, go for an 8 or 9, and work your way up to smaller needles once you get the swing of things!
The above quilt is the Bayside pattern. Download it here!
The Big Guns: Embroidery Needles
It's my philosophy that if I'm going to spend the time hand quilting a quilt, I want people to see those stitches from a mile away...or at least 10 feet away. That's why I opt for yarn-like Pearl Cotton Thread #8 and a pack of Gold Eye Embroidery Needles. The big eyes and sharp points are great for dragging thick thread (and even embroidery floss) through the quilt layers, and the needles are strong enough that they won’t get bent in the process.
Pair these needles with a needle threader and now you're cookin' with gas!
Sizes: 1 - 12 I like to hover around 3- 6 based on the type of batting I am using. With a puffier batting, I'll use a larger needle.
The above quilt is the Maypole pattern. Download it here!
Bae Being Basic: Sharps
Sharps are your basic run-of-the-mill (not to be confused with Milliners) needles. They are very similar to Quilting Needles, just a skosh longer.
Sharps can easily be switched out for traditional Quilting Needles, and in most cases I would guess that unless you are seeing them side by side, you won't be able to tell the difference.
Sizes: 1-12 Although sizes 16-18 exist, they are huge (going against the rules of Benjamin Button law) and you won't be using them with fabric thinner than carpet. They're called Carpet Sharps.
Making Hats and Other Stuff: Milliners Needles
Milliner or Straw Needles are long, round-eyed needles that were designed for the purpose of hat making. These are very similar to Sharps, but longer. A good way to remember that is to think of fancy hat pin – it must be very sharp and long to keep those bedazzled feathers in place.
美しいステッチ: Sashiko Needles
Sashiko needles hail from Japan, and were traditionally used for Sashiko embroidery, a practice that is equal parts peaceful meditation and fabulously elegant.
Traditional Sashiko needles are long (about 2 inches) and they have a really small eye. Because these needles are incredibly sturdy and easy to hold, they’re getting popular with hand quilters and embroidery sitchers alike. (But maybe don't tell the traditional sashiko stitchers you're using their needles for other non-sashiko purposes. This art form has a long and rich history and they maaaay not want you changing things up with their supplies.)
Sizes: Currently unsure how these are sizes. From what I can gather, they are just called long or short? Do you know?
A Final Tip on Hand Quilting Needles...Well Needles in General
Eventually, you will need to say goodbye to your beloved needle. We open our hearts to love and it makes the saying goodbye so hard! But, sadly, needles do get dull, and there will come a time when you need to replace your precious. Just like my eye doctor is always telling me to replace my contacts even though they are so dang expensive!
Just do it. Get a new, sharp needle. It’s worth it. Your quilt is worth it. You’ll learn to love again.
Pop Quiz Answer: If you said #3, you're correct!
The above quilt is the Over the Hills pattern and is a free download when you join the Suzy Quilts Patterns Facebook group.