The best needles for hand sewing:
“Sharps” are sharp, medium-length needles that are suitable for most hand sewing tasks. If you can only get one type of needle I recommend getting a variety pack of Sharps.
If you want to build a small collection of needles, get some Ballpoint needles for working with knits, some Betweens for quilting, Darners for mending, Embroidery needles for embroidery projects, and Milliners for basting and decorative stitches.
- Anatomy of a hand sewing needle
- Sizes explained
- Types of hand sewing needles:
- Best hand sewing needles for denim
- Best hand sewing needles for heavy-duty use
- Best hand sewing needles for cotton
- Best hand sewing needles for silk
- Best hand sewing needles for leather
- Hand sewing needles with large eyes
- How to store and organize hand sewing needles
- How often should you replace hand sewing needles
Anatomy of a hand sewing needle:
Hand sewing needles are thin pieces of (usually) stainless steel metal that are composed of 3 different parts: the eye, the body, and the point.
- The eye refers to the opening at the top of the needle through which the thread is pulled.
- The body is the section between the eye and the point of the needle.
- The point is the sharp tip of the needle, which is the first point of contact with the material you’re sewing.
The eye, body, and point can all have different characteristics depending on the type of needle you’re using. All 3 of these parts are optimized for different fabrics, threads, or sewing techniques to make up the 19 different types of needles we’ll cover in this article.
Hand sewing needle sizes:
- Hand sewing needles generally range from 1 (largest) to 12 (smallest), so confusingly a smaller size is actually a bigger needle.
- You will also encounter different size ranges like 13-28 or 16-18 on specialty hand sewing needles. Different hand sewing needles use slightly different sizing systems, so for example Sharps and tapestry needles have different size ranges that do not follow one another.
- This sizing system is different from sewing machine needles.
- You’ll want to choose a needle size based on the type of fabric you’re sewing with and the thread you’re using (thicker threads need thicker needle eyes).
Types of hand sewing needles:
Description: Sharps are medium-length needles with – as their name suggests – a sharp point and a round eye. They are also referred to as general-purpose sewing needles due to how versatile they are.
- Sharps are great for all miscellaneous hand sewing tasks.
Sizes: Sharps are available in sizes 1 to 12. Sizes 2-4 are suitable for heavy weight fabrics, sizes 5 to 10 are great for light to medium weight fabrics, and sizes 11-12 are ideal for very delicate and fine fabrics.
Description: Ballpoint needles have slightly rounded tips. They’re designed to be used on knit and / or stretchy fabrics. Their rounded tips go between the fibers of the fabric rather than puncturing the fibers themselves, which prevents runs, holes, or other damages like loss of stretch from occurring on the fabric. Their eyes are a suitable size for sewing thread, so they aren’t ideal for use with embroidery threads or yarns.
- Sewing knit and stretchy fabrics like jerseys, athletic fabrics, swim fabrics.
Sizes: Ballpoint needles are typically available in sizes 5 to 10, with 5 being the largest and 10 being the smallest. They usually come in a variety pack, but a size 7 is a good medium length and thickness for most knit projects.
Description: Beading needles are really long and thin. Their thinner bodies allow them to pass through the holes of even the smallest beads. Their eyes are also on the longer side.
- Sewing beads, pearls, or sequins to fabric.
- Stringing beads or pearls.
Sizes: Beading needles are available in sizes 10 to 15, but their sizing does not compare to the sizing you may find in other more popular needle types, such as Sharps. Shorter sizes are ideal for sewing beads or sequins to fabric, while longer sizes are good for stringing beads, sequins, or pearls.
Tips: Due to how fine they are, beading needles can easily bend when they’re used on thicker, heavier materials. Try sticking to light-medium fabrics when using them.
Betweens (aka. Quilting)
Description: Betweens are short, sharp needles with small, rounded eyes. They’re similar to Sharps but shorter in length. Their design makes it easy to sew quick and neat stitches.
- Hand quilting.
- Sewing precise, detailed stitches.
- Making fine stitches on heavy fabrics.
Sizes: Betweens come in sizes 1 to 12. A size 7 or 8 is a good starting point for most sewing projects and skill levels.
Description: Chenille needles are long, thick needles with a very sharp point and a large, long eye. Their large eye allows them to be used with multiple strands of embroidery floss or yarn.
- Decorative work on heavy weight fabrics (e.g. fleece, upholstery fabrics).
- Ribbon embroidery.
- Crewel embroidery.
Sizes: Chenille needles are available in sizes 13 to 28. Smaller numbers like 13 or 14 are suitable for very thick fabrics, and sizes 16-18 are a good starting point.
Tapestry (aka. Cross stitch)
Description: Tapestry needles are very similar to chenille needles with their long and thick bodies and large eyes, but they feature a blunt point.
- Needlepoint, petit point, cross stitch.
- Seaming together hand-knitted garments, weaving in the ends on knitting projects.
- Decorative stitching on heavy, loosely woven materials like burlap.
Sizes: Tapestry needles also come in sizes 13-28. Sizes 16-20 are suitable for tapestry, and sizes 22-28 are frequently used for cross stitch or petir point.
Description: Curved needles have a curved body that allows for easier access to awkward spots.
- Recovering lampshades, sewing fabric boxes, bookmaking.
Sizes: They most frequently come in 3” (7.5 cm) to 6” (15 cm) lengths.
Description: Cotton darners are long needles with a sharp point and a long eye.
- Mending holes / darning on woven fabrics.
Sizes: Cotton darners come in sizes 1 to 9.
Description: Long darners are similar to cotton darners with their sharp points and long eyes, but they have even longer bodies.
- Darning / mending larger holes.
Sizes: Long darners are available in sizes 5/0 to 9.
Tips: Long darners are also great for hand basting through multiple layers of fabric due to their long length.
Description: Yarn darners are similar to cotton darners but they’re larger. They have large eyes that allow yarn to be threaded through them.
- Mending / darning with yarn.
- Seaming together knitted pieces, weaving in the ends of your knitting projects.
Sizes: Yarn darners come in sizes 14 to 18.
Description: Doll needles are thin, long needles with long eyes. Their long length allows them to be used for doll making projects, as they can go through stuffing and still come out of the other side. They’re similar to upholstery needles but they have a sharper point.
- Doll or plushie making. They’re particularly great for sculpting facial features or other details.
- Soft sculpture making.
Sizes: Doll needles are typically available in lengths ranging from 2” (5 cm) to 7” (18 cm). You can pick the correct size by considering the size of your project: if you’re working on a small doll or plushie, a 2-3” doll needle should work well. If you’re working on a larger one, consider getting a 6-7” needle.
Embroidery (aka. Crewel)
Description: Embroidery or crewel needles look very similar to Sharps: they are thin, they have a sharp point, and they come in different lengths in the medium range. Unlike Sharps, they have elongated eyes that allow multiple strands of embroidery floss to go through.
- Embroidery / crewel embroidery.
- General purpose sewing.
Sizes: Embroidery needles come in sizes 1 to 12. A 7 or 9 would be suitable for most projects.
Tips: Because they essentially have the same build as Sharps, they can be used in regular sewing projects where you want to use a thicker thread. They’re also great if you have poor eye-sight or hand tremors because their longer eyes make them easier to thread.
Leather (aka. Glovers)
Description: Leather needles, or glovers, have a sharp, triangular point that can punch through thick, challenging materials like leather, suede, vinyl, or plastic. Because the point creates a small, precise puncture hole, the material doesn’t tear. Their overall build is similar to Sharps – they’re thin and medium length – but they have a slightly more elongated eye.
- Working with leather, suede, fur, pleather, vinyl, plastic, or similar materials.
Sizes: Leather needles come in sizes 1 to 12. A size 7 or 9 is a good starting point. If you’re working with a particularly thick material, try a size 3 or 5.
Description: Sailmakers are very similar to leather needles, but their tapered triangular point extends farther up the body of the needle.
- Sewing really thick canvas materials like sails.
Milliners (aka. Straw)
Description: Milliners needles are very similar to Sharps, but they’re longer with a small, rounded eye. They’re thin with very sharp points, and they’re originally designed for hat making.
- Hat making.
- Decorative work.
- Pleating, smocking, and basting.
Sizes: Milliners come in sizes 1 to 10. A size 7 is a good happy medium for most projects. Try a size 3 to 5 for projects that require extra length in your needles.
Tips: Although they’re designed for millinery projects, their longer length and sharp tips make them great for pleating and basting, or decorative work like smocking that features longer stitches.
Description: Sashiko needles have long, strong bodies with a sharp tip and a large eye that allows the use of thicker, embroidery-type threads.
- Sashiko, which is a type of traditional Japanese embroidery.
Sizes: Sashiko needles come in a variety of sizes. The long types are good for heavier weight fabrics and longer stitches, while the shorter lengths work great on finer fabrics and shorter stitch lengths.
Description: The carpet variety of Sharps are just like regular Sharps, except they’re sturdier and heavier weight.
- Sewing carpets and rugs.
Sizes: They come in sizes 16 to 18.
Description: Self-threading needles are all-purpose sharp needles with a modified, slotted eye that allows for super easy threading. To thread them, all you need to do is push the thread down from the top of the eye and it will slide down through the thin slots.
- General purpose sewing.
Sizes: Self-threading needles come in sizes 4 – 8. A 6 or an 8 is a good option for most sewing projects.
Description: Upholstery needles are long, thick needles with either a straight or curved shape.
- Upholstery projects, tufting.
Sizes: Straight upholstery needles come in lengths between 3” (7.5 cm) to 12” (30 cm) and curved upholstery needles come in lengths between 1 ½” (4 cm) to 6” (15 cm).
Best hand sewing needles for denim:
If you want to hem your jeans or do some hand sewing on denim, Sharps in sizes 2 to 4 are ideal. If you want to do some darning on your denim garments, you can try a cotton darner in a size 2, a long darner, or a yarn darner if you’re planning to use thick embroidery thread.
Best hand sewing needles for heavy-duty use:
Upholstery needles and chenille needles are great options for heavy-duty hand sewing.
Best hand sewing needles for cotton:
If you want to make alterations on a cotton garment by hand, try some Sharps in sizes 6 to 8. If you’re looking to mend a hole, try some Cotton Darners in a size 6.
Best hand sewing needles for silk:
Silk fabric tends to be on the thinner and more delicate side so you should use a fine, sharp needle. Try some Sharps in sizes 10 or 11, beading needles, or these silk needles from Tulip.
Best hand sewing needles for leather:
Leather needles / glovers are the best option for sewing through leather without damaging the material.
Hand sewing needles with large eyes:
- Chenille needles
- Cotton & Yarn darners
- Doll needles
- Embroidery / crewel needles
- Tapestry needles
- Upholstery needles
How to store and organize hand sewing needles:
My favorite way to organize and store my hand sewing needles is by using a handmade needle book. These are really simple to make. I simply sewed some pieces of thin, soft felt into a cover through the centre to create a simple book with felt pages. I use the different pages for different types of needles I use. If you frequently use more than a couple of types of needles, you can embroider the names of the needles on each page so that you never confuse them with each other.
Another popular method is to use a regular pincushion that you divide into different sections using a fabric marker. Label different sections with the names of the needles so that they stay organized.
How often should you replace hand sewing needles?
There are a few ways to tell when your hand sewing needle needs to be replaced:
- Run your finger gently along the tip of the needle. If you feel any rough points that catch on your finger it’s likely that the needle will catch on your fabric and damage it.
- If you feel like you’re suddenly having to exert more force than usual while hand sewing, the tip of your needle might have lost its sharpness and turned blunt.
- If you smell a metallic scent on your fingers after hand sewing for a while, the coating on your needle may have rubbed off, which will decrease the slipperiness of the needle.
What to read next:
- Types of Sewing Thread
- Quilting Supplies for Beginners
- Cutting Tools for Sewing
- Measuring Rulers & Tools for Sewing
This article was written by Nisan Aktürk and edited by Sara Maker.
Nisan Aktürk (author)
Nisan started her sewing journey in December 2019 and already has a fully handmade wardrobe. She’s made 50+ trousers, 20+ buttoned shirts, and a wide array of coats, jackets, t-shirts, and jeans. She’s currently studying for her Sociology Master’s degree and is writing a thesis about sewing. So she spends a lot of her time either sewing or thinking/writing about sewing! Read more…
These sources were referenced in July 2022.
- “Complete Dressmaking” book by Jules Fallon
- “The geometry of hand sewing” book by Chanin