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What are the different kinds of sewing needles?

What are the different kinds of sewing needles?

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Liz recently asked me. . .

I have a question for you – what sort of sewing needles do you use? I am experimenting with different sorts but haven’t yet found the  perfect one. It looks like you are using six strands in your eyes video – which needle are using for that? And what would you recommend for three strands?

I’m going to use this as an opportunity to talk about sewing needles in general. See that photo up there? I loaded it up in a large file size so you can click on it to see it closer – and that’s a sewing bobbin in there for size reference. The three needles there are the ones I use most often (which is why they’re the hand sewing needles I sell in my shop).

Types of Hand Sewing Needles

Let’s start from the top. . .

The top needle is a size 5 embroidery needle. That’s the size I most often use for regular embroidery because I like to stitch with 4 strands of thread and it’s perfect for that. It doesn’t hurt to use fewer, and if I concentrate really hard (and remove my glasses) I can get six strands through that eye.

I often use a size 8 embroidery needle when I’m sewing or embroidering on felt. The needle hole can actually be visible in felt, and I’m usually only stitching with 2 strands of thread – so it’s better to switch to a smaller needle for that.

I also use a size 8 embroidery needle for Big Stitch quilting.

The middle needle is a size 4 sharp. That’s a basic sewing needle. (Basic sewing needles are called sharps – just to confuse you. All the needles in the photo are sharp, but the middle one is actually called a sharp.) If you click on the photo to see it larger I hope you can see that the eye is much smaller than the embroidery needle. In a pinch you could maybe fit 3 strands of embroidery thread through there, but it would be tough. That said, I have used a sharp to embroider with 1-2 strands of thread and lightning didn’t strike me for using the wrong needle. 🙂

The bottom needle is a size 8 between or quilting needle. I have no idea why quilting needles are called betweens. I think it’s just one more thing to scare away the people who opted out of Home Ec. Anyway – this is a good small size for traditional hand quilting, but I often recommend for beginners to start with something larger and work their way down. That’s why the quilting needles I sell in my shop come in a pack of assorted sizes.

This needle is also sharp, with a small eye like a sharp, but it’s shorter and thinner. I’ve been known to sew with a between, but I never quilt with a sharp.

And now one more thing to confuse you – as needle size numbers get bigger, the needles get smaller and vice versa. So a size 5 embroidery needle is smaller than a size 3. It’s like wire gauges.

So there you go – an intro to the basic types of sewing needles I use most often – along with many (many!) asides reminding you that you can use whatever kind of needle you like best. The needle police will not come and lock you up. 🙂

Got any other sewing or embroidery questions? Send them to me here.

Happy stitching!

Applique Wendi (with fabulous hat)



  1. Thank you! Good refresher for my brain!

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