To the untrained eye, all needles look basically the same. I bet even to some trained eyes they still look the same. When you first start hand-sewing, you may just grab whatever needle you can find and start stitching. That’s what I did! Generally I don’t think using a certain kind of needle over another will make or break your first few sewing projects, but here’s a list of common needle terms to help you identify needles in the store and find what will work best for you. Knowing your needles will make sewing easier and reduce frustration!
- Sharps and Appliques – Some distinguish between these two, but some use the terms interchangeably. They say that if you only buy one kind of needle for your everyday sewing, make it a sharp. These are medium-length all-purpose needles used for basic stitches.
- Between or Quilting – Also sometimes used interchangeably and sometimes separately. These are thinner and smaller than your average sharp/applique, so they’re typically used to navigate easily through heavyweight fabrics like denim. They can also be used for tailoring as they are handing for making delicate and precise stitches.
- Tapestry – Beginners may be tempted to first pick up a tapestry needle because of its large eye which may seem like it would make threading easier. However, these needles are meant for pulling thick threads through thick fabrics, so they of course have to be thick with large eyes. If you were to stab a more lightweight fabric with one of these, it would leave a large hole that would make your seams less secure. Also, the large eye makes thread more likely to come loose as you stitch. So stick with sharps and betweens for now!
Know Before You Sew: Needle sizes start with 1, which is the largest, and as the size number increases the needle actually gets smaller. Sharps are typically sizes 1-10 while betweens are 3-12. Since the easier fabrics to start sewing with are fabrics like broadcloth that are lightweight but not completely delicate, I would recommend gravitating towards smaller needles for now. Also, you may think it helpful to knot your thread to your needle to keep it in place while you sew, but I strongly discourage this! If your knot is strong it will put stress on the fabric as you pull the thread through, and if it’s too loose the fabric will pull it untied anyway. It is best to simply push the end of thread through the eye then fold the thread back and hold it in place with index finger and thumb.