How to select the right needle for the job

with 4 Comments

A bad workman always blames his tools.

We’ve all heard it… and it’s very true indeed. But let’s face it, using the correct tools does help a tad, does it not.

I don’t know about you, but I think I’d struggle a bit to try and cross-stitch with a sewing-machine needle or a curved mattress needle… So yes, tools do matter.


What if I told you the reason you’re having such a hard time stitching French knots COULD be because you’re trying to stitch them with the wrong needle, rather than your skills being at fault…?

Ah-hah! That’s an interesting concept, isn’t it. I think so too.


Let’s talk needles, then:

Tapestry needles:

They’re the needles we normally use for cross-stitch. They have a long eye and a blunt tip.

They also have an eye that’s a bit wider than the shaft of the needle. That means they push the weave of the fabric apart as they stitch through it, which is very useful for cross-stitch, backstitch and most special stitches, but not so good when trying to push them through a very thin/tight space, as their eye tends to get stuck.

Can you see where I’m going yet? French knots & Bullion stitches are both stitches which require the needle to go through a tight coil of thread, and that’s just very tricky to achieve with a large eyed needle… A bit like trying to drive a monstrous articulated lorry through a British back alley!

And that’s why we need:

Milliner needles:

They have a small roundish eye and a sharp tip.

More importantly, the eye of the needle is not much bigger than its shaft (which means the needle is much easier to push through any coil of thread). They are also longer than tapestry needles (which gives us more space to wrap the thread around the needle). Those two features make them ideal for stitches such as French knots and Bullion stitches.

Here they both are, side-by-side, so that you can see the difference clearly:

Shall we recap?

  • Tapestry needles: use them for all types of cross-stitch, backstitch, and most special stitches.
  • Milliner needles: use them for French knots and Bullion stitches (and mind you don’t prick your fingers – they can be vicious!)

Happy stitching!

Faby xx

4 Responses

  1. JoAn
    | Reply

    Now WHY didn’t anyone told me that 50 years ago. I remember struggling with French knots that kept disappearing and were all different from eachother. This will make my stitching hours much more relaxed. Thank you Faby.

    • Faby Reilly
      | Reply

      Oh I’m so pleased you found this helpful JoAn 🙂 !!! You’re more than welcome!!

  2. Martha Branden
    | Reply

    I never realized this. Thanks for the tip and I hope it will make those stitches easier!

    • Faby Reilly
      | Reply

      You’re more than welcome Martha! I’m so pleased you found this tip useful 🙂

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