Hand quilting involves sewing running stitches through three layers of a quilt sandwich: the quilt top, batting and the backing fabric. That's a hefty task for a needle. So which needles are best for hand quilting? Whether you want to quilt the tiny stitches of traditional quilts or try the current trend of Big Stitch quilting, the needle you choose will make a big difference in your results and the enjoyment of your sewing.
The ins and outs of choosing the right needle.
Traditional hand quilting
Quilting needles, also known as Betweens, are the needles of choice for traditional hand quilting. This needle is short, narrow and sharp and features a small, rounded eye. Betweens will surprise you with their very small size, but don't be fooled; they may look little but they are designed to perform. Their shorter length helps make the needle easy to control while creating tiny, accurate stitches. Their thickness and sharpness make them strong enough to penetrate multiple layers with ease. Betweens range in sizes from 3-12. It is recommended that beginners start with a size 8 or 9 needle and when comfortable with that size try a smaller size.
Big Stitch quilting
In recent times there has been a rise in popularity for Big-Stitch Quilting also known as Pick Stitching or Perle Quilting. This technique results in relatively big, showy stitches that add a different texture and color to a quilt. Most often perle cotton thread in size 8 is used, or a few strands of embroidery floss. These threads are thicker than standard quilting cotton and therefore require a needle with a bigger eye.
Embroidery or Crewel needles are best to use for these threads as they have large eyes and sharp points. The size of the thread or floss you are using will determine will size needle is best. The aim is to pick a needle in which the thread will fit comfortably through the eye of the needle and the point has a thickness that won't bend in the layers of your quilt. For Perle 8 cotton I recommend a size 8 or 9 Embroidery needle.
Here are five sharp tips and handy hints about needles:
1. The larger the size number, the smaller the needle. I know it seems back to front, but that's the way it's done.
2. Buy a packet of mixed sizes. When learning to quilt it can be helpful to buy a packet of different sizes and practice quilting rows with the different needles. Soon it will become apparent which size you find most comfortable and which yields the best results.
3. Save the packets as a reference. Quite often needles end up in pincushions and needles books but it is a good idea to keep the packet the needles came in so you can refer to the brand and sizes when you need to go needle shopping.
4. Needles do wear out. Remember hand quilting needles do wear out and become dull or even start to bend over time. Sewing with a blunt or bent needle can be tiring for your hands and produce uneven stitches. If you notice the needle is getting harder to push through the layers it's time to change your needle.
5. Just in case you lose a needle. If you drop your needle and cant find it, shine a flashlight in the area and you'll soon see the glint of a shiny needle. This is faster and almost as effective as waiting for it to turn up in someone's foot.
There are no hard and fast rules when choosing hand quilting needles. What is perfect for one person won't necessarily work for another. We all have different sized hands, differences in abilities or the ways that we sew. And, the fabrics and batting used in a particular quilt can change how a needle performs. That's why there are different sizes to try! I hope this will be a handy guide of where to start when choosing your hand quilting needles. And surely trying different things is part of the fun of quilting.