What are the best needles for cross stitch?
Ok, you've got your pattern, your fabric and your threads. But what about your needle? It's an essential part of your kit but have you ever thought much about it?
Getting the right type and size of needle for the fabric you are using can make your stitching look neater so it is important!
I'm going to kick off with some basic info about cross stitch needles and how to choose the best size of needle for your cross stitch project.
Then I'll dive into more about different types and brands of needle and answer some questions stitchers often have such as "when would a bigger or smaller needle be helpful?" and "how often should I change my needle?" (spoiler alert...I may not have an exact answer to this one!)
The most commonly used needle for cross stitch is the tapestry needle, which has 2 key features;
- a blunt tip so it can easily slide through the holes in cross stitch fabric (Aida, linen or evenweave) without splitting the fabric or any embroidery thread that is in the holes already
- a bigger eye to make threading the needle easier(-ish!)
The really basic rule of thumb for choosing a needle size that is the best for your fabric is:
lower fabric count = bigger holes = bigger needle = smaller number needle
Generally the following needle sizes are recommended;
11 count Aida - size 22 needle
14 count Aida/28 count linen/evenweave - size 24 needle
16 count Aida/32 count linen/evenweave - size 26 needle
18 count Aida - size 28 needle
You can go one size down from these recommendations if you prefer a smaller needle but avoid going several sizes smaller as the needle may slip out of the holes of the fabric as you stitch. For example I really like a size 26 needle so I use this on both 14 and 16 count Aida and it's just fine.
If you use a bigger needle than in the guidelines above you may find it stretches the holes of the fabric. That said, I have used a size 26 on 18 count Aida and did not find that it stretched the holes BUT I did find it harder to stitch with the size 26 needle in terms of getting the needle through the holes especially ones with embroidery thread already in them. A size 28 needle on 18 count Aida is definitely easier to stitch with.
It's worth noting that the eye of the needle can be more fragile on smaller needles, especially with size 28 needles and especially if using 2 strands of thread. The smaller eye can also increase wear and tear on the thread as you stitch but if you find this a problem and your thread is getting 'fluffy' as you stitch, you can take measures to reduce this such as using shorter lengths.
When might I want to use a bigger needle?
If you are stitching with metallic threads then a larger needle, and therefore larger eye, can be easier to thread and it also reduces the friction as the needle and thread passes through the hole which in turn reduces fraying of the thread (head over here for more help on stitching with metallics).
If you are stitching on perforated paper I definitely wouldn't use a smaller size needle than above because the holes are quite large and the needle very easily drops out when stitching.
I have only seen perforated paper in 14 count and I always use a size 24 needle on this but I guess you could even go to a size 22.
When might I want to use a smaller needle?
If you are stitching on plastic canvas the holes are smaller than perforated paper and also the plastic causes a lot of wear and tear on both your needles and your threads, so using a smaller needle may be easier to stitch with and reduce thread damage.
If you are using gold plated needles you may want to use a smaller needle. The gold coating goes on top of the regular needle making them a bit bigger than the equivalent size nickel needle.
You can use the same size needle for backstitch as for regular cross stitch but some people prefer to use a smaller size needle especially on 14 count. I definitely find that a smaller needle is good for backstitch especially if you are stitching over the top of cross stitches or where you need to split the Aida blocks.
Other types of needles
Petite needles - Some sources say that these are 1-2 sizes smaller than regular tapestry needles but this sort of depends what you mean by smaller. I don't often see petite needles available and for the one brand that that I know does them (John James) they are the same width as the standard needle but are much shorter and have a bigger eye. So, you would still want to pick the same size needle as per the recommendations above. Other brands may be different so check carefully.
I personally find them a bit fiddly to use but some people love them because the bigger eye makes them easier to thread, and being shorter can be helpful for using right down to the very last little bit of thread!
Sharp needles - For regular cross stitch you don't want to use a sharp needle but they can be helpful for fractional stitches on Aida to help pierce the blocks, or for backstitch. I have to say I have never tried them as I have never really struggled with either of those using a regular tapestry needle.
Gold-plated needles - The gold coating makes these smoother than the standard nickel needle which reduces friction when stitching and in theory this makes the needle glide through the fabric more easily. I say in theory because honestly I have not found that they give me any better stitching experience. But if you do find them better then go for it!
If you have a nickel allergy then of course, these will be super helpful.
The gold does make them more expensive than a standard needle, and you can get fully gold plated needles but also needles that have gold just on the eye area. This makes sense because you only need the gold on the widest part of the needle to reduce the friction, and this can make them a little bit cheaper than fully gold plated. Pat's Favourite Needle was one of the brands I tested and it just has the gold plated eye; I did find these really nice to stitch with but I have no idea if it's the gold making the difference or it's just a good needle generally!
Obviously, when using gold-plated needles, the coating WILL rub off as you use them and once it's gone, they will be the same as a standard needle.
Platinum plated needles - Wow! this is a whole new level of 'luxury' but not one I think is necessary. I tried the John James platinum coated needles and they were no better than a standard nickel needle. In fact I found them a bit 'squeaky' to stitch with and it also felt like the inside of the eye was a little rough and seemed to catch the thread as I pulled it through - eek!
Twin-pointed needles - These have a tapestry point at both ends and the eye in the middle so they are designed for stitching up and down without reversing the needle. If you stitch in hand, like me, then these may not work well but if you use a hoop of frame such that you can stitch with one hand above and one hand below the fabric then they can increase your stitching speed and reduce thread twisting. The downside is that having the eye in the middle makes it more fragile and it may break more easily.
Easy guide / ball tip needles - These have a very tiny ball on the end of the needle, which can be great if you find it difficult to 'find' the holes with your needle or you get frustrated by splitting the fabric or embroidery thread with your needle. The teeny tiny ball 'guides' the needle into the hole, which can make your stitching faster and neater - yay! Some people with shaky hands say this is especially helpful for them. The two downsides are that the eyes can be smaller and therefore threading them may be a wee bit trickier, and they can be expensive; I have seen them in the UK for around £2 per needle.
Different brands of needles definitely vary slightly in terms of length, width, eye size and shape and bluntness of the tip.
Here are a variety of different needle brands, all size 26, and you can see tiny variations between them.
I had a little trial of all the needles above and have also used John James gold plated needles in the past, and the verdict is...they are all fine! I certainly couldn't label any of them as the 'best' brand and I suspect different people may just find different brands feel nicer to them to stitch with so try a few out!
My personal favourites were the Piecemakers; they just felt lovely to use with a really smooth glide through the fabric and only the DMC needles were cheaper from the selection I tested.
You may also find cost plays into your decision as I found it varied from £2.50 for a platinum needle, to around 70-80p for a gold plated needle, to around 25-40p for a standard nickel needle. I liked Pat's Favourite Needle as much as the Piecemakers to stitch with but it's about 3 times the price so wouldn't be my go to.
I have not exactly tested these to destruction and it's possible that as I stitch more with each brand I will find differences in durability. Plus there are many more brands I haven't tried so if you still want a bit more info then I recommend this article.
How long will my needle last / how long can I use a needle for?
Ah, now this is the million dollar question and I wish I could you give you a straight answer!
The reality is that I'm not sure there is a defined thing such as number of stitches or length of time used after which you should replace your needle.
Needles get damaged a teeny little bit with every single stitch so it stands to reason that they should be changed regularly because using an old needle could reduce the ease of stitching or the neatness of stitches if the needle is slightly rougher and rubs the fabric or thread.
Certainly if you notice any rough patches on your needle or it actually breaks you are going to ditch it but otherwise how do you know it's time for a new one?
Some people say you may start to notice your thread twists and knot more often, you have more stitches that just don't sit quite right, or you find it trickier to thread your needle.
Some people like a new needle for every new project and some will use a needle forever and ever. I have to admit to being in the latter camp and am pretty sure I should be changing my needle more often. I just need a good way to know how much I have used a needle because I stitch a lot of small projects and am certainly not going to have a new needle for every one of those! I'll let you know if I come up with a good system.
If you buy gold plated needles then I would suggest throwing them away once the gold has worn off because otherwise there's no real benefit to buying expensive gold plated needles in the first place!
If you use a needle minder you may find this extends the lifespan of your needle a teeny bit as it will reduce the amount of times you poke the needle through either your fabric or your clothes, depending on where you park your needle in between thread colour changes.
The final word
After all of this I think it's another case of doing whatever you find easiest and like best when you stitch! Follow the basic guidelines to help you find the best needle size for your fabric and try a few needle brands to find one that feels nicest to use.
And think about changing your needle more often to keep your stitching looking super smart and tidy. (This is very much a 'note to self' also!)
On which note, I'm off to do a needle de-stash!
Until next time...happy stitching!