Quilters, whether they stitch the material in the quilt by hand or with a sewing machine, need to know which needles to use to get the best results, and which are practical to work with. The relaxing aspect of quilting can also be adversely affected if a quilter finds a particular needle size too awkward to work with, so personal preference also comes into play. As well as quilting needles, a quilter may find specialized quilting thread, with its extra strength compared to regular thread, a necessity.
Hand Quilting Basics
Appropriate size needles for quilting range from a 9 to a 12. Special quilting needles are shorter than other needles, for ease of use, and stronger than other needles to give them strength to push through layers. Beginners may find the thicker 9 to be easier to use than the thinner needles. A size 10 or more does, however, produce smaller holes than the 9 and gives the quilt stitches more delicate stitches. One drawback of the smaller needles, though, is that the shaft is more inclined to bend under stress than the stronger size 9. Quilting needles are also known as "betweens."
Specialized Hand Quilting Needles
As well as the basic array of quilting needles, an experienced quilter, who likes to add detail such as embroidery into quilts, can also opt for needles that are optimized for certain purposes. An embroidery needle, of a medium size like a 10, typically has enough space in the eye to fit more than one type of thread, and is capable of delicate work. A sharp or applique needle is very thin compared to a quilting needle and is useful for more delicate work than a similar size of quilting needle.
Machine needles are different from needles for hand-sewn quilts. Although needles that fall into the "universal" range for sewing machines are usable for quilting, special quilting sizes are available. These needles have a skinny point and are less likely to bend from the stress of stitching layers of fabric. 70/10, 75/11, 80/12 and 90/14 cover most of the range of quilt fabric types, with the smaller needles, such as the 70/10, more appropriate for delicate work on thin fabrics than the larger needles, like the 90/14, which can stitch through several layers of material.
Needle size is not the only thing that a quilter can change about her tools. For example, some quilting needles have very small eyes, and this can make it harder to thread them. Some kinds of needles have a gold eye, to make threading clearer, and some just have a larger eye than average. These features vary across manufacturers of the same size needles. As well as needles, a quilter may find her work becomes quicker and more comfortable if she protects her fingers from accidental pricks with thimbles. The thumb and the first two fingers on the non-dominant hand are the ones that are most at risk, and as they usually fit different size thimbles, three separate thimbles may be a good investment.
Jillian O'Keeffe has been a freelance writer since 2009. Her work appears in regional Irish newspapers including "The Connacht Tribune" and the "Sentinel." O'Keeffe has a Master of Arts in journalism from the National University of Ireland, Galway and a Bachelor of Science in microbiology from University College Cork.