You may think needles are needles, but it does make a
difference what needles you use when embroidering!
You wouldn’t use a butter knife to cut steak, so why use a
universal needle when embroidering?
Basically, needles need to match the thread you are using
and the fabric upon which you are stitching. As far as sizing, you want to use
the smallest needle possible for the job. One rule of thumb is to use a needle
that is 40% larger than the diameter of the thread you are stitching. So, if
you are using a standard 40 wt. embroidery thread, you should use a 70/11
needle. You can use an 80/12; the holes will be bigger and may be more obvious.
There are 10 basic types of needles:
Universal needles are used for general sewing and piecing.
Most sewing thread is 50 wt., making their small eye not suitable for
embroidery. That doesn’t mean you can’t use one to embroider. If you do, you
will probably have issues.
Although the name implies embroidery, embroidery needles are
not a one-size-fits-all fix. They have a larger eye and a wider groove to
accommodate embroidery and decorative threads. Some people embroider
exclusively with a topstitch needle.
If you are embroidering on knits, like t-shirts or sweaters,
you will get better results with a ballpoint needle. The tip moves fibers aside
rather than cutting them as you stitch. Stretchy fabrics benefit from using a
stretch needle, which also has a rounded, more tapered tip.
Thicker fabrics require special needles. Denim needles have
a somewhat rounded point.
Metallic threads require a longer eye to help prevent
shredding. Some people like to use topstitch needles when embroidering with
With an extra long eye, topstitch is the needle of choice
for some embroiderers–particularly useful with applique.
I have recently begun using microtex needles with my
embroidery, especially with applique designs featuring a lot of satin
stitching. They stitch much cleaner with greater detail. Microtex also work
well on delicate fabrics like silk and create beautiful piecing when quilting.
These needles are designed to work with multiple layers of
fabric and batting and feature a longer point.
Heirloom embroidery benefits beautifully from using wing
needles. The wings create fabric openings that work with certain types of
stitching like entredeaux.
Only use leather needles on real leather. Their point acts
as a knife to cut through the thick surface when embroidering on leather.
As with anything else, use these as a guideline. You may
find you like other combinations. Use what works for you!