Search box

Hand Sewing Needles – Sew Which Needle Part 2

by cmorelli, posted on

Hand Sewing Needles

Part 2 –  Hand Sewing Needles………. If you sew with a machine, then why bother learning about hand sewing needles?  Well, on any project, there may be areas that need hand finishing. Every project, however, is more attractive and professional looking with hand finishing. Hand finishing is often the finesse which takes your project from just okay to exquisite! And to complete the appropriate hand finishing, you need the correct hand sewing needle. Also, if you quilt, you should be informed about hand needles!

Some General Rules About Hand Needles

The sizing numbers in hand sewing needles differ from machine needles. Just like machine needles, the size indicates the diameter of the needle. However, on hand needles, the larger the number means the SMALLER the needle. NOTE: This is the opposite of machine needles! So a size 12 hand needle is smaller than a size 5 hand needle.

Hand needles are a much simpler design. A hand sewing needle has an “eye” at one end with a point at the opposite end. The length of a hand will vary between type and size. Typically, a larger needle is longer than a smaller needle. The size and shape of the “eye” will also vary between types.

Just like machine needles, the success of your project depends on selecting the correct needle for the fabric, the thread and the type of hand sewing.

Types of Hand Sewing Needles

Sharps – often referred to as general purpose hand needles. These needles are medium length with a round eye and sharp point. The points are very sharp, so take care with delicate or thin fabrics. This is a good general sewing needle. Can be used for a variety of sewing tasks. It’s similar to the universal machine needle.

  • Sharp Point
  • Available in sizes 1 to 12
  • One of the thinnest needles
  • General Purpose

Quilting/Betweens – specifically designed for quilting. These needles are short, shorter than Sharps, and feature a smaller, rounded eye. You will find you can easily create more precise stitches, more quickly with this needle.  Also, this is a good needle for detail work, especially on heavier fabrics.

  • Sharp point
  • Available in sizes 1 to 12
  • Similar to a Sharps needle
  • The best needle for hand quilting

Ballpoint – for knit fabrics.  Ballpoint needles have a rounded smooth point that will pass between the threads of knit fabrics.  The ballpoint protects knit fabrics by preventing runs or damage to the fabric.

  • Available in sizes 5 to 10
  • Smooth point
  • Typically medium length
  • For doing stitch work on knit fabric

Cotton Darners – just as the name says, these are for darning.  This is a long needle with a long eye and sharp point.   Perfect for mending woven fabrics.  Also comes in “long”, which is the same needle only in longer lengths.

  • Available in sizes 1 to 9
  • Sharp point
  • Long needle
  • Use on woven fabrics

Embroidery/Crewel needles – have the same length and point as a Sharps. These needles feature an elongated eye to accommodate thicker thread and embroidery floss.  In addition to embroidery, try this needle for general stitching that requires a thicker thread.

  • Available in sizes 1 to12
  • Sharp point
  • Medium length
  • Elongated eye accommodates heavier threads, floss, and specialty threads
  • Also, may be used in place of a Sharps when heavier thread or specialty thread is called for

hand sewing needles rocky mountain sewing arvada colorado springs denver littleton aurora

Less Common Hand Sewing Needles

Tapestry – distinguished by it’s large blunt point, thicker needle body, very large eye.  Originally designed for needlepoint, they also work well on fabrics with a loose weave like burlap.  Plus, this needle is great for stitching hand knits.  Note: you should not compare this size-wise to an Embroidery needle or a Sharps !

  • Available in sizes 13 to 28
  • In addition to needlepoint, this is a great needle to seam your hand knits
  • Large eye accommodates multiple strands of thread, floss, tapestry wool, plus knitting yarn
  • Large blunt point

Chenille – similar to a tapestry except is has a very sharp point!  A chenille needle looks almost exactly like a tapestry needle.  Beware – the chenille has a very sharp point and could damage some fabrics.  However, it is a great needle to use for applying a decorative edging to polar fleece.  Also, a good choice for decorative finishing on heavier fabrics, especially upholstery fabric.

  • Available in sizes 13 to 28,  sized the same as a tapestry needle
  • Large eye which easily accommodates specialty threads and yarns
  • Large sharp point
  • Great for Ribbon embroidery

Milliners – also known as “Straws”.  Originally designed to make hats, this needle is also used for pleating, basting, and decorative work.  Although very similar to a Sharps, Milliners are extra long.  Milliners also feature a small, rounded eye and very sharp point.

  • Very similar to a Sharp
  • Extra long body
  • Available in sizes 5 to 10
  • In addition to hats, great for basting, pleating, and decorative work that requires long stitches

sewing needles hand needles sewing machine needles rocky mountain sewing colorado springs denver

Specialized Hand Sewing Needles

Leather – also called “Glover’s” needle.  The noteworthy feature with this needle is the unique point.  It is triangular in shape and made to cut as it enters fabric.  Thus, this needle will also easily pass through vinyls , suedes, “pleather”, and soft plastics.  Plus, the unique point prevents damage to these materials.

  • Available in sizes 2 to 10
  • Best needle for leather, vinyl, and other manmade leather like material
  • Similar in size and length to a Sharp
  • Eye is slightly more elongated than Sharp

Beading – long, very thin needle.  In addition to using this needle for bead work, it’s also great for hand sewing sequins and pearls.  Beading needles are the thinnest needles available. Because they are so thin, they easily bend.  This typically is an issue when using beading needles with thicker fabrics.  Some beading needles may be made from wire!

  • Found in sizes 10 to 15
  • Do NOT compare in size or length to Sharps
  • Great choice for using super fine threads for hand finishing on wovens
  • Point is similar to a Sharp

Upholstery – notably thicker and longer than other needles.  Although most are very long and straight, you can also find curved upholstery needles.  While meant to stitch on upholstered furniture and mattresses, also a good choice for hand tying quilts.

  • One size, purchase by length .  Straight are usually found 3″ to 12″ long, but the curved are typically 1 1/2″ to 6″ long.
  • Most common type has sharp point.  However, blunt points are also available.
  • Do not confuse with “Doll” needles
  • May be used anytime you are working with extremely thick, heavy fabrics or layers

Doll – used for sculpting fabric dolls.  While Doll needles may look similar to upholstery needles, there is a big difference.  Doll needles are thinner than upholstery needles.  Also, Doll needles have a finer, sharper point. These needles are great for adding “sculpted” features to faces and bodies of soft fabric dolls.

  • Typically one size so look to buy correct length
  • Usually available in 2″ to 7″  length
  • Somewhat sharp point
  • Great for adding features to stuffed animals and other fabric toys

sewing needles rocky mountain sewing and vacuum arvada littleton arora colorado springs denver

Tips for Hand Sewing Needles

  • Since most types of hand sewing needles are inexpensive, use a new one with each project.
  • Store and sort your needles by size and type in a segmented, multi colored pin cushion.  Also, make sure to label each section on the pin cushion with a permanent fine point marker.  This will remind you what each section holds if you forget what color you assigned to which type and size needle.
  •  Best to buy new rather than try to sharpen needles, especially when they are so inexpensive.  Replacing also means more fun time to stitch!
  • Run your thread through beeswax AFTER threading the eye to help strengthen it.  This also prevents thread tangles while giving the thread a smoother pass through fabric.
  • Remember to choose the correct type of needle first, then the choose the right size for the fabric and thread.
  • Use a Thimble with hand sewing needles.  This will protect your fingertip and make hand sewing easier plus more comfortable!  Best tip for using a thimble it to make sure it fits.  A thimble fit rights if it’s just snug enough to keep from falling off.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment with a variety of threads as well as various needle types.

Congratulations, you just completed a course in “sewing needlology”!  The next time you stand in front of the sewing needle display at your local store, you won’t be so confused!!!

Rocky Mountain Sewing and Vacuum

If you have any sewing questions, PLEASE ASK !!!!! You can submit questions to our website or ask one of our friendly staff members in our stores.

Rocky Mountain Sewing and Vaccum wants you to have a terrific sewing experience. Our cheerful and friendly staff strive to ensure you have a pleasant and smooth sewing journey.

We offer a variety of sewing technique as well as project classes.  And we offer FREE machine usage classes – no matter where you purchased your machine!!!!

We have sewing stores conveniently located throughout the Denver area as well as in Colorado Springs.

Feel free to leave a comment or to provide a suggestion for future topics you would like to see in our blog.

Happy Sewing and Crafting!

Make sure you sign up to be in the know on events, sales, offers, etc.

Special Offers: Get special deals on sewing machines

sewing needles hand sewing needles sewing notions rocky mountain sewing colorado springs littleton denver aurora arvada denver



Fiddys Njoki munene

Nice work so helpful

Cathy Ellsaesser

Check online. Here’s a link to a leather belt for treadle machines that might work for you.

Hope this helps.

Cathy Ellsaesser

For a a machine, only the point eye and part of the shaft go into the material as the machine sews. I don’t see how you can use machine needles for hand sewing. They are too thick, especially at the top where they are clamped into the machine. I don’t see how you could pull that through whatever you are sewing. For stitching jeans get a size 16 or 18 hand stitching needle and use a thimble to help you push the needle through the fabric.
Hope this helps.
Happy Sewiing!


So what we have purchased singer universal and ballpoint in a various other variety of needles for our machine but I was curious if I can use them for hand stitching as well and I can’t seem to find anything on the internet that tells me if I can or can’t do this. So I really really hope you know and that you could email me back and tell me a good choice to use the machine needle for hand stitching jeans.

Thanks a bunch 🙂

Mrs. Susan Elizabeth Sager

I have an antique sewing machine. It has to be pumped by foot to mack it move through the fabric. The belt brpke. Now my husband says he can not find any more. I live in Central Vermont.

(Barre, Montpelier, Berlin area.

Megan McCabe

You can use Sewer’s Aid or Thread Conditioner to help with this! We should have it at all of our stores.


What do I put on tips of hand sewing needles so they pass threw fabric easier?


Thank you for your informative article on hand sewing needles. I am a beginner dressmaker, and I’m just learning about fabric, it’s movement, and application. It would really be helpful if you could list some fabrics one can use with each needle. I appreciate your time.

Cathy Ellsaesser

I, personally, have never done any hand work with leather, but I did look up some information for you. I suggest you go to the Tandy Leather site and look at the hand needles that they have. I suspect you’ll find what you’re looking for. Good luck and thanks for reading our blog.

Tandy Leather Needles

Vicki Amundson

Many years ago I hand sewed moccasins. I would like to start again but don’t remember the brand or numbers on the needles package I used. They were tri tipped but I always had to be careful I didn’t break them in half when I pushed thru 3 layers of leather using my leather thimble. Could you recommend some to me. Thankyou.