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  • Helen Puddefoot

Beginners sewing: 1. Needles

Hi stitching fans!

As promsied - today we embark upon the beginner sewing series - we'll cover lots and lots of stuff over the coming weeks but today let's start at the very beginning - with needles, a fairly essential piece of kit and one it's worth having basic knowledge of so you can start on the right foot by buying the correct thing.

Let's do this!

To sew, you need to get thread from one piece of fabric into another and secure it so the two stay together. Unless you have amazing dexterity and the eyesight usually provided by an electron microscope you'll need a needle to help you do that - but even buying a needle can be discombobulating if you've never done it before. There are in fact about 18 different types of needle and then each type comes in various sizes. Yeah - you thought needles at least were simple!

Not to fear! If you're starting out you can discount the vast majority of those needle types. Here's a very quick guide to hand sewing needles you may want to use:

'Hand sewing' needles are a particular type in themselves - they are used for general hand sewing (i.e. not something specific like darning a sock)​

The anatomy of a needle:

Hand sewing needles essentially consist of three bits that you need to worry about.

  1. The eye of the needle, this is where the thread passes through and varies in size and shape depending on the type of needle – for example embroidery needles generally have longer, larger eyes than hand sewing needles because they need to accommodate wider thread.

  2. The shaft: This determines the overall length of the needle and varies for all needle types – more on size in a moment.

  3. The Tip: This is the business end of the needle, i.e. the bit you don’t want to lodge into yourself if you can avoid it. The tip of the needle is important because different fabrics respond differently to having holes made in them and you want to match the tip of the needle to the fabric you’re sewing with

Needle size

All needles come in multiple sizes so you can use the right one for the fabric you’re working with – you wouldn’t want to try to put a tent peg through fine silk as it would ruin it – needles sizes vary for this reason, if you’re working with a very fine, light weight fabric you’ll want a sharp, fine needle that’s going to leave as small a hole as possible.

Size has an impact on both the diameter (width) of the needle and its length. Sizes of needle are measured in numbers – with the higher number being the smaller, narrower needle. You can see this in the picture below of some prym needles – the number 1 is the longest and thickest, 11 is the shortest and finest.

Selecting needle size

This does come down to experience to a certain extent but you can test it yourself. The finer the fabric, the finer the needle you need. To test which size you should use you can pass needles of different sizes (you can buy multi size packs) through the fabric all the way so the eye also goes through and see which passes through the easiest and leaves the smallest hole – go with that size.


These are the generalist sewing needle of choice – if you’re buying a needle for hand sewing and you haven’t a clue what to get, get sharps.

Eye: The eye of a ‘sharp’ needle is small and usually just big enough to pass a standard size thread through

Shaft: Sharps are longer than other types of needle, which makes them much easier to handle and work with when you’re starting out

Tip: Is sharp – see what they’ve done there? – I know it sounds odd to say that a needle point is sharp and that you can call a type of needle a ‘sharp’ as if it’s sharper than others – but it actually is sharper than others.

Size – Sharps are sold in packs with multiple sizes so I’d suggest you buy a multi size pack to start off with, then you can do a bit of trial and error with your fabric to find the right one.

You can buy multi packs of sharps from Amazon here, though of course there are many options and brands available - Prym, Hemline and Pony are all ones you'll find in the bigger stores like John Lewis and are good ones to get if you can.


Betweens are also generalist hand sewing needles, the only real difference is that they are slightly shorter than sharps – by about 7mm or so depending on the manufacturer, but the diameter (width) is the same as in sharps for most brands.

You can buy betweens no problem when you’re starting out – so if that’s all you can find then that’s fine, they’ll just be slightly more fiddly to use because they are shorter.

Jersey or ball point needles

These are needles specifically for sewing with knitted fabrics like jersey that stretch – there will be a post on fabric types later on in the series so don’t worry too much about the difference. The reason I mention this particular type is that the tip of the needle is rounded and actually not sharp at all (though it is still narrow so I wouldn’t recommend jabbing it into your finger to test it). You need a rounded tip when sewing with certain fabrics so you don’t risk tearing the threads, if you're sewing with something that isn't stretchy don't make the mistake of getting a ball point needle because it will make your life much harder!

Self-threading needles

WHAT??!!! Yes my friends these exist! They do not have a handy robot friend who will come along and thread them for you – but they eye of the needle has a little tiny slit in the top so all you need to do is pull your thread straight down through the top of the needle rather than trying to thread it through. If you have poor eyesight or problems with your hands these might be a great option, but I’d of course recommend learning to thread a needle properly if you can!

Threading your needle

Here is the tutorial I filmed on how to thread a needle - sorry about the super close up, hands always look a bit nasty when filmed like this, in fact, probably most things do! I'm intending to do videos to go with all of these posts so you can see what's happening - it's often much clearer than using photographs. Take a look and get practising - it's all about practice in the end, but once you can do it you'll never lose it - like riding a bicycle!

So there you go – needle 101 – I hope this was helpful, go buy a packet of multi sized sharps either online or in a real live shop, and you’ll be ready to start sewing!

Come back next week for the next in the series and subscribe for updates as and when they happen.

Love and kisses


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