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Needles & Quality

I have been embroidering and sewing since I was a kid. Both my grandmas were seamstresses, and my mum always sewed, knitted, crocheted, embroidered, … and so I started picking up textile skills very early on. This also meant I was used to working with my mum's stash of haberdashery, and most of it stayed with me when she passed.

So, for a really long time in my life I didn't need to buy needles, I just grabbed some from the little box, which meant I had unknowingly been using mostly vintage needles for a long time. I remember my mum once, it must have been back in the 80ies, coming home all excited, because she had discovered a pack of (back then) vintage sewing needles, and she told me to always look out for those, as they were made much better than modern needles. As I said, that was back in the 80ies.

Fast forward to a few years ago, when I started hand sewing and dove deeper into textile work. I had run out of needles and naively thought I could just buy a new pack. Was I wrong!

First off, I discovered that there were hardly any haberdashery stores left. And those that were did basically only stock one average brand of needles. The choice was gone. So I bought a pack and started working with them, and they felt completely different in my hands. Stiff, the tips weren't really what I call sharp, the shape of the tip was off, the eyes looked cheap. I was really, really disappointed, but also didn't really find alternatives.

Only when I started sashiko stitching, on my hunt for sashiko needles I found out that there were actually good needles out there, and I fell in love with Tulip needles.

So, what does make a good needle, you might wonder. There are a few technical aspects, and then there are a few personal, for sure very subjective, aspects to this.


On the technical side, flex is a very important element. Different purposes mean a different amount of flex is required for a needle to do its job properly. An embroidery needles can be much stiffer than a sewing needle, sashiko needles need quite a lot of flex. Getting the flex just right means you can hand sew really heavy fabrics or materials and your needle won't break or bend, it will take a lot of use (and abuse) before it stays bent or snaps. Lower quality needles will break much quicker. Well made needles will have the right amount of flex for the job, which means the use of high quality steel, the right hardening & tempering processes during manufacturing, and a lot of craftmanship & knowledge.


Surface and polish is another aspect that plays into how well a needle will work. Cheaply manufactured needles are polished after they are cut, the polishing process happens in all directions; well made, high quality needles are polished lengthwise, in the direction you will also be using it. This means it will glide much easier through the material. Also, with well made needles even the tiniest burrs will be sanded off and polished, so that your thread won't snag. Cheaply made needles have tiny burrs as leftovers from the cutting process, especially in the eye, meaning your thread degrades where it has contact with the insides of the eye.

Tip shape

High quality needles will also have their tips shaped to what their purpose is. The angle of the tip is shaped differently according to what the needle is supposed to do. With cheap needles, after they are cut, the cutting area is sanded off, and that's it. This means especially for blunt needles, there is no shaped tip, whereas if a needle is properly made, the angle is formed in a way that helps you to work more easily – this means for example blunt embroidery needles will easily find their way between the weaving threads of your fabric. And even blunt needles, well made ones, will have a deliberately shaped tip. Or the angle is shaped in a way that your needle pierces through fabric without resistance, like it should be with a sewing needle with a sharp tip.

A well made needle is a piece of purposeful engineering, and you'll know the difference once you have tried a proper alternative. I have made the observation that many people have never tried other needles than average ones. I also see how much of a difference the right needle can make when it comes to working in a relaxed way, I see this in my workshops and I know it from my own work. Working with a needle that is well made makes you sew faster, in a more relaxed way (which generally is easier on your joints and muscles), it's less fiddly, the needle will last longer and can withstand heavier use.

I also know there are people who don't care as much about the type of needle they use, and that's totally fine. Like with many things, this also comes down to preferences, I guess. But if you think you don't care about which needles you use, but you have never tried other qualities – maybe give that a go and you will be surprised how much a difference it can make.

A thing that is really great about needles - even though high quality needles are more expensive, they still aren't too big an expense, and they will last you a long time.


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