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My Needles - A Primer

Yesterday I had a few questions about needles so I thought I'd write a post on the subject. 


There are a bazillion needle manufacturers out there ... and I never exaggerate. But my favorite needles are from Jeana Kimball

If you know anything about marketing, you would label me as a "brand loyal" sort of person.  Jeana's got needles for all my sewing needs, the quality is really nice, I never have trouble with them, I can find them locally ... and I love the cute little cases they come in.


I have four types of needles in my sewing arsenal...

(not including the curved upholstery and super long soft sculpture needles from a bear-making class I took some 15 years ago)

... each for different uses.  Sharps, Straws, Betweens & Embroidery.  (Keep reading for an explanation of each.)


As with other manufacturers, Jeana's needles are sized according to length.  I don't know why, but the bigger the number, the smaller the size.  I'm sure there's a very logical explanation for this nomenclature ...

Also, it's important to know that a #size of one type does NOT translate to the same size in another type. 

For example, see the difference between a size 11 Straw and a size 11 Betweens?

Does Size Really Matter?

That depends.  ;)  Lemme 'splain. 

If you find yourself trying a new sewing method and aren't sure what size needle to use, I know Jeana sells Sampler Packs - an envelope with one of each size of that type of needle.  The fact that Jeana and other manufacturers actually SELL Sampler Packs should tell you something.  I suggest getting one of these packs and trying out the different sizes.  Some people don't care.  But I've found that most stitchers who spend a lot of time with a needle in hand will develop preferences based on everything from the task to the size of their hand to their technique. 


This is my "go-to" needle for general things like mending, reattaching buttons, that sort of thing.  I'm not really picky about size with these ... whatever I have on hand usually does the job. 

Although you can bet I've used Straw needles to hem pants and Betweens to sew on a button ... most of the time my mending needle is the first one I pull out of my pin cushion!  Major bonus for me if it's already threaded with the right color. ;)

Currently I have a package of size 9 Sharps in my drawer.  

I seem to go through a lot of these.  Not sure why.  I think there's a needle black hole somewhere in my house.  My husband used to find them with his feet ... a lot.  But since becoming a mom I'm better at keeping track of them ... sorta.


I only use these for applique.  They are thinner and tend to bend - which is a good thing for applique work.    I like size 11.

I've heard more than once these work great for hand-stitching quilt binding.


These are designed for hand quilting.  Whereas Straw needles are very thin and long and therefore bendy, Betweens are thicker and shorter and much less flexible because they need to endure a lot of pressure from the thimble and being loaded with multiple, heavy stitches.  And after a lot of use, however, my Betweens will still develop a slight bend. 

Again, size 11 is my preference. 


I used to buy 11s but now I find my poor aging hands are more comfortable with the slightly longer 10s.

I've used 3 of my 4 needle types just for this one project:

Embroidery for the embroidery ...

Straw for the applique ...

and Betweens for the hand quilting ...

I only know about these needles because I've taken applique, hand-quilting and embroidery classes ... and used them all ... a lot.

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Reader Comments (28)

THANK YOU for the post on the needles - this is VERY helpful. AND.... thanks for the laugh... ROFLOL - I can ALWAYS count on you!!! bahahahahahaha....

May 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBari Jo

Oh my gosh, you have really brightened my day! Regardless of how you feel, I think your hand quilting is pretty good..I haven't done it in 15 years so I imagine my stitches would be huge compared to yours!!

May 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDana

I love your blog and your needlework. I look forward to reading it and admiring your work. I am not a giant shabby fan but yours are so sweet! Thanks!

May 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLoula


May 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

what a great post!! i'm never sure if i'm using the right needles. thanks for all the information. :)

May 24, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkerri

Great posting! Lots of good information! I always look forward to seeing what you are working on. Your projects are wonderful. Thank you!

May 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJoan

Thank you for this great post! And I agree with you about that black needle hole ... perhaps we should ask Stephen Hawking where our needles are;-) Hildy

May 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHildy

LOL!! Going to change my blog url ASAP!! Hilarious!!

May 24, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercassie

I Love her needles too...especially for applique. And like you I like the little container they come in...very nice and handy. Your stitching is so beautiful!

May 24, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterannette

Thank you for all the info! I am going to check that shop out!

May 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterClara

Great post!! Love hearing what needles and tools others use!! Have a great day! xo Heather

May 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHeather

I thoroughly enjoyed your post!! Thank you!

May 24, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermickie


May I share this on my Facebook page?

robin :-)

May 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRobin Reilly

I so totally appreciate your sense of humor. There simply are those days when I truly need a dose of it! thanks for being there. Kristy in Ohio

May 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKristy

You're so funny K! Thank you for my morning giggle everyday! (Although, I have no idea how you manage to post such gorgeous photos and witty commentary EVERY DAY!) That needle post has cleared a lot up for me. I'm a kind of grab-the-first-needle-I-find-and-hope-for-the-best kind of girl. Maybe it's time to invest in more specialist equipment!

Thank you so much,that was so helpful!! I did place an order for needles, and I am sure I will be back for more,ordered what I think i need now. You just know everything! Funny too!!! I look forward to reading you every day,and the weekends are soo long without a dose of our K!!!

May 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBonnie Nyquist

Just found your blog tonight and I am hooked!! You've been added to my list of blogs. Thanks for the needle info, too.

Interesting post. As a handsewer, I'm ok with my needles, but didn't know abou the straw ones for applique. As I want to start a Dear Jane soonish, I'll have to get some.

I'd add for cross stitch, the blunted tapestry needles are the ones people want.

I haven't seen this brand of needle before. I tried a lot of brands before settling on piecemakers. I'm the queen of tarnish and in a serious day of sewing (especially in summer) I could go through 3 or 4 needles. Piecemakers seem to be anti-tarnish and I only need to switch to a new needle when I lose the one I was using. Living in the UK it's easiest to just order them from their website directly than try and find a stockist. But it's easy, fast and cheap. Thought I should mention them in case you know of people with the same needle-destroyer tendancies :)

May 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNic

Thank you so much for the needle tutorial. I SO needed that. I seem to know nothing. Will definitely try the brand you recommend. They are so cute! Thanks for sharing your journey with humor and informative information. I just love your blog and look forward to your every post.
Linda Cates- Manhattan, KS

May 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Cates

Thank you so much for the tutorial! Loved the explanations and the pretty photos!!!

May 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterteresamnj

Great needle post! I have all kinds of needles - trouble is I tend to leave them sticking here and there and forget exactly which one I was using so now I have magnets full of unidentified needles!
I'm a bit behind on blog reading - been painting my kitchen, which also means no stitching time but I'm anxious to get back to it!
I think your hand quilting looks awesome!

June 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTina
Thanks for the great info on needles! What brand if floss to you use? :)
March 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSue Ann
I don't know about "needles being sized according to length."

From my understanding: Generally the size of the needle is related to how many needles will fit within a specific measurement (1 inch? 1 centimeter? I'm not sure what the measurement is).

This is the reason why the bigger the needle size the thinner the needle (the thinner the needle the more needles you can fit within a square inch) & the smaller the needle size the thicker the needle & the less needles will fit within a square inch).

I think (though am not confident) that the length of the needle has more to do with the use of the needles, the length determined by the best effective length for the intended use of the needle.

Thanks for your post of where to find good quality needles.
March 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterElisabeth
Just found your wonderful blog and this primer on needles. I will be ordering some as I never have ones that seem the right size for my tasks. I think the size is the same as it is for wire and other items. It's based on how many will make a certain weight. So, for a bad example, if 10 needles made a pound, that would be size 10, while if 11 needles made a pound that would be size 11, and you can see that the 11's would have to be smaller. I think it works for threads too.
May 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCeil
I have never seen needles like this. Looked at the website - so Utility needles, you didn't mention those! I wonder if, when they say "English" they mean Made In England or just English-style. hmmm, would be a little silly to buy UK made needles from the US!
November 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterA Peppermint Penguin
I truely enjoy your blog very much. Thank you for sharing your creativity with us all and you really should write another book.
June 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAudrea
Oh, those Little House pins are my favorite! I, too, like Jeana Kimball's needles, but my favorite applique needles are the Clovef Black Gold needles.
July 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterFrancesB
Thanks so much for this post! It is so helpful. I just bought your book and love it! Do you have a brand of embroidery thread that you prefer? I'm also wondering about the scissors you have in the one photo. Thanks again for the helpful post!
July 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiki

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