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Monday, May 19, 2014

Hand Quilting for Beginners: Needles

This is the second article in a series of articles by Caron Mosey geared for the beginning hand quilter.  If you have NEVER hand quilted before or just dabbled in it with no instruction and want to know how, this is for you! 

What kind of needles are best for hand quilting?

In this article, we take a look at needles used for sewing the three layers of the quilt sandwich together AFTER the quilt top has been completed.

There are so many needles available for hand sewing, it can be confusing to the new quilter.  If you were to walk into a room with 100 hand quilters and start asking which needle works best, you  might just get 100 different answers.  That’s because a needle is a very personal thing to a quilter.  What works for me may not work for you.  That is because I know my hands and how I stitch, I know what batting I am using, and I know how I have prepared my quilt for the actual quilting.  Knowing all these elements makes a difference on the needle I choose to use.  I often find that newer quilters want to know what kind of needle I use so that they can get the same look in their own quilting.  Achieving a specific look or number of stitches per inch involves a needle, but the needle is just a part of the process.  It is a tool, and it’s how you learn to use that tool that makes the difference.

photo 3
Here is the needle I am currently using.  It works well for me, doesn’t bend, and is easy to thread.  I also love John James needles (size 11), and several other brands are also in my sewing basket.

Needles are one of the least expensive parts of quilting, yet they can be one of the most important tools that affect your stitching.  As a new quilter who has little to no experience, please understand that choosing your needle is a trial and error process.  Try one.  If it doesn’t work for you, try another.  Let’s learn a little bit about needles and quilting.

Needles are not at all sized like your blue jeans.  With blue jeans, the larger the number, the bigger your bum.  With needles, the smaller the number, the larger the needle! Beginning quilters should use a larger needle than experienced quilters.  A larger needle is easier to hold on to, which will assist in the stitching process.  As you have more practice, you will want to try gradually moving to a smaller needle.  When you do, you should find your stitches getting smaller. 

Smaller needles will usually be thinner than larger needles.  Even though you are quilting through soft fabric and batting, there will be pressure on your needle, and that pressure can cause your needle to bend or snap in half.  Keep in mind that the thread you use works WITH your needle.  Quilting thread is thicker than regular sewing thread, so make sure that whatever combination of needle and thread you choose will play nicely together (i.e. can you thread that needle with the thread you have?).  On the quilt pictured above, I am using Presencia quilting thread #40, and it works beautifully with the Bohin needles.

I like this article by Addy Harkavy at Planet Patchwork.  While her shop is now closed, her article reflects a careful study of needles.  Please take a stroll over to her page for great details on a comparison of needles.

I want to emphasize how important it is that you learn about the tools you are using.  My husband is a 5th generation woodworker.  It’s what he does for a living.  He knows in an instant which tool is appropriate for the occasion.  What size drill, what size bit, etc.  He has also made me aware that unless you use the correct tool, you won’t achieve the correct appearance.  Be aware of your tools.  Learn about them.  Ask questions.  Know what you are using and what it does for you.  Be able to compare different tools. Know how they sound!  (Can a needle and thread going through a quilt sandwich make a sound?  Oh, YES!)

Q: Who is the cat? 
A: This is Stormie Mosey, official Quilt Supervisor and Inspector.


  1. Spot on, Caron. I would like to add that they do wear out and need to be replaced as that tiny needle does a lot of work!

  2. I love your beginner posts even those that have been hand quilting can learn a thing or 2 thanks!

  3. I use Newey size 7 because they don't bend easily and the eye is big enough.


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