This is easily the thing I am asked about most often. Why are there so many types of needles? Which type should I use? Which size? Why does it make a difference? Hopefully the article below will answer most of your questions and help you to pick the correct needle for your project. We will cover the different types of needles that you'll generally find in your local craft shop. We'll discuss when you'll use them and why. While certain needles can work for multiple jobs, having the correct one will make your life that little bit easier.
There are different types of needles for different techniques of stitching. There are also different needles for specialist materials. So the main things to keep in mind when choosing which needle to use are: what type of stitching you're doing, the thread (or yarn, ribbon, etc.) you're using, and the fabric you're stitching on.
Your needle has 2 main jobs - first, it holds your thread. Therefore it must be big enough for the thread to fit through the eye but not so big that your thread gets lost. Second, it creates a path for the thread to slip through - a hole in the fabric. Again, you want it to create a large enough hole for the thread to pass through, but not so large that your thread is floating. It also has to be sharp enough to do this depending on the fabric you're using.
Lastly, you need to be aware that each of these needle types come in multiple sizes. Needle sizing is a little bit confusing at first because the higher the number, the smaller the needle. For example Crewel (embroidery) needles generally come in sizes 1-12, with 1 being the largest and 12 being the smallest. These number correspond to the diameter of the needle. So even though crewel needles and darners are used for different techniques, the number 9 in both types is the same diameter.
As you work with these different sizes, you'll get used to them quite quickly and picking the right one will become second nature. As with anything new, there's a little bit of trial and error involved with learning.
Sharps are regular sewing needles. These are the ones usually stocked in sewing kits. They're mainly used by dressmakers - think sewing on a button, or fixing a hem. They can also be used when embroidering with very fine threads. They come in sizes 1-12, with 1 being the largest and 12 being the smallest.
Crewel/Embroidery are very similar to sharps but with a larger, longer eye more suited to embroidery threads. They come in sizes 1-12, with 1 being the largest and 12 being the smallest. Stranded cotton threads can be used in all of these sizes, depending on the number of strands used. My general rules are:
size 12-9: 1 strand
Size 9-7: 2 strands
size 7-6: 3 strands
size 6-4: 4 strands
size 4-2: 5 strands
size 2-1: 6 strands
Perlé cotton and coton a broder threads can also be used in the larger sizes.
Tapestry/Cross Stitch are larger needles used for stitching on canvas. The point is blunt so that the needle passes through the canvas easily without splitting the fibres. They come in sizes 14-28 (increasing in twos - 14,16,18, etc.), with 14 being the largest and 28 being the smallest.
Chenille are bigger needles with large eyes very similar to Tapestry needles but with a sharp point. They come in sizes 14-26 (increasing in twos - 14,16,18, etc.), with 14 being the largest and 26 being the smallest. I generally use Chenille needles when I'm stitching with a large number of stranded cotton strands (5 or more), with perlé or coton a broder, or with ribbon.
Quilt/Betweens are very similar to sharps but are shorter. This allows quilters to stitch more quickly. They come in sizes 1-12, with 1 being the largest and 12 being the smallest.
Straw/Milliners are similar to sharps but slightly longer. They are of course used in millinery (hat making) but also commonly used in pleating and smocking. They come in sizes 1-11, with 1 being the largest and 11 being the smallest.
Cotton/Yarn/Long Darners are long needles with elongated eyes. The smaller sizes are known as cotton darners, the larger ones are yarn or wool darners. Long darners are an extra long version of the needles. As the name suggests they are used in darning and mending. I often use them for needleweaving also. They come in sizes 1-9 (increasing in twos - 1,3,5 etc.), with 1 being the largest and 9 being the smallest.
Leather Point are used for stitching through tough materials such as leather or suede. They have a triangular point which makes it easier to guide the needle through these tough materials. They come in sizes 1-10, with 1 being the largest and 10 being the smallest.
Beading come in regular and short sizes. They are extra thin for fitting through beads and sequins. The regular size is used for threading beads, while the short ones are used for bead embroidery. They come in sizes 10-15, with 10 being the largest and 15 being the smallest.
Wool/Knitters are used in knitting and crochet. They are very large needles, usually with a blunt point and a large eye for threading thick wool.
Curved/Upholstery are used in stitching and mending upholstery. They are curved to allow the stitcher to get to awkward places that would be more difficult with a straight needle. I also use them when mounting finished pieces.
I hope this has helped your get to know your needles a little better! If you have any questions that weren't answered in this article please don't hesitate to ask!