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The best needles for hand sewing and quilting

The best needles for hand sewing and quilting

People ask me what needles I use for hand sewing A LOT. 

Much of it comes down to personal preference, particularly over the length of the shank.  But regardless if you prefer short or long needles, using the right needle for the job sets you up for a really enjoyable sew, and will even improve the quality of your stitches. 

I am very grateful to have two well-known and published embroiderers in my family: Diana Lampe and Annette Rich. 


Diana and Annette are my Mum's cousins, and Netty in particular taught me a lot about how to choose needles for different types of hand sewing. 

am a bit of a needle nerd and will often pick up a packet of new needles to try, but I always seem to come back to Jeana Kimball's Foxglove Cottage needles.

I love them because:

  1. the quality is top notch,
  2. they don't bend or break easily  which is pretty important when hand quilting
  3. they are great value for money, and
  4. the polished surface is  really durable, so they don't get that tacky feel on the shank where the core steel gets exposed with wear.

This is one of my pet peeves with some other needles, and it happens a lot with a prettily packaged Japanese brand.  It prevents the needle gliding through the fabric - Grrr!

I'm pretty excited to now stock a selection of Foxglove Cottage needles as they haven't always been easy to find in Australia. There's a selection of different types and a variety of sizes to choose from and you can check them all out here.

There are oodles of specialty needles out there to try, but here I am just focusing on the ones that I think are the best for the different hand-stitching tasks in patchwork and quilting.

The best needles for applique and piecing

There are two types of needles that I recommend for all hand piecing and hemming. They're called Sharps or Straws. 

Sharps (Applique)

Sharps are sometimes also called Applique needles and will suit people who prefer a short needle. You can see one on the left in the image above.

They are fine and sharp so are a good general-purpose hand sewing needle and their shorter shank makes them more maneuverable. The eye is punched within the shank, it  so it will glide smoothly through the layers of fabric without that annoying 'popping' at the eye end. 

I'm a short needle gal so Sharps in Size 10 are my personal choice for EPP, American hand piecing, applique and stitching down binding.  

Straws (Milliners)

Straws are the perfect piecing needle for people who prefer a longer needle.  Like the Sharps they have a small eye, but the fine shank is proportionately longer. 

Straws or Milliners are loved by EPP specialists like Sue Daley and Sharon Burgess of Lilabelle Lane for the way they pick up the folded edge of fabric.  Straws are also the best needle to use for beading and bullion stitch embroidery as the beads and wraps of thread pass smoothly over that small eye and don't get snagged.


The best needles for EPP and applique

You can see the difference between the two types in this image, where the Sharps (size 10) is on the left and Straws to the right    The size 11 straw in the middle is the smallest guage (ie the finest), yet is quite a bit longer than Sharps.

TIP: The size or gauge of needles is tricky. The bigger the size number, the smaller the needle.

The best needles for big-stitch quilting

When I first tried to hand quilt using perle 8 thread  I struggled to find a needle which was fine enough to be enjoyable to use, but thick and sturdy enough to carry the thicker thread and stand up to the pressure of the rocking motion of hand quilting.  I tried and discarded a lot until stumbling across the Foxglove Cottage brand.


Redwork/Embroidery Needles

Redwork/Embroidery needles tick all the boxes for me when it comes to hand quilting with Perle thread .  They also meet the specialized needs of decorative stitching particularly stem stitch and back stitch.

The shank of the embroidery/redwork needle is thicker and stronger than Straws or Sharps,  but is a shorter option than the Utility Quilting needles. The eye is tapered to accommodate thicker threads or mutliple strands of embroidery floss, yet still delivers a smooth stitching experience.

Because I like short needles, the size 10 Embroidery/Redwork needle is my favourite when working big-stitch quilting.  If you are concerned about threading, then you might want to try the size 8.

Utility Quilting needles

Utility Quilting needles are the ones which Jeana Kimball recommends when hand quilting with perle thread and they are really popular with quilters in the US,  Just like the Embroidery/Redwork needles they are strong and sturdy with a larger eye, but they are a longer option.  This makes them great for loading multiple stitches and we have them in Size 8 and 10.

The shank is also a little thicker than the Embroidery/Redwork needles so they are a great choice if you want to use an even thicker thread  such as perle  thread. 


Here you can see the Embroidery/Redwork  and Quilting Utility needles side-by-side.

The big-boy needles for quilt-tying and basting

Longs/Basting needles

These needles are used to baste quilt's layers together prior to hand quilting.  The slender shaft means they move smoothly through the layers, while the generous length  (3 and 3.5-inches long) promotes speedy basting. The sampler packs contain two needles in these different sizes:

Longs/Tying needles

Longs/Tying needles are used for tying quilts.  They have large eyes to accommodate yarn, perle cotton or crochet cotton so they are easily threaded.  The solid shaft makes way for the yarn etc through the quilt layers,and is sturdy enough to keep them from bending.  They are very long needles, and their lenght will help guide the spacing between the ties.


When you put the basting longs next to the tying longs you can compare the difference in the size of the needles and also just how sturdy those tying ones are.  You would be able to use DK thread to tie your quilt if desired.

Have trouble threading your needles?

And last of all here are a couple of tips for threading thick thread or yarn

First up, cut your thread at an angle.  The tapered point will be easier to thread than a blunt end.  I also find it helps to moisten the end and flatten the thread by running it between my fingernails.


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Brenda Nelson - October 18, 2021

In addition to the problems with poorly made needles that you made above, I would add:
~the eye is too narrow to thread easily
~the inside of the eye is not finished off smoothly and the rough sharp edges within the eye cut my thread
~the points are often dull

DeEtta Gray - June 6, 2020

Hi. Looking for piano needles. Apparently they are hard to find. It is a very fine needle and my mom uses them for hand quilting. Where can I find them?

Sonita - March 25, 2020

I make really really tiny stitches when I quilt, I am always bending and or breaking needles. Have tried many brands and still having the same problem. Can you please help me. Thank you

Robyn Evans - August 30, 2019

Can I please purchase some of your beautiful Thread balm to sell in my shop(Patchworkonpittwater) ? Many thanks, Robyn Evans.

kerrie lay - May 6, 2019

I really enjoyed this post. Thankyou.

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