Niki.Tasha – Lesson 3 – Needles

Needles!  I have so much to say!

Once upon a time needles were an important part of a housemaker’s kit.  They were hard to come by then and were housed in elaborate needlecases; sometimes made of silver or gold and sometimes of wood and whalebone.  A valuable gift for  a sailor to give the sweetheart he left on shore was a needlecase with etching, called scrimshaw, and made of the ivory of the whale. 

The Japanese silk embroideries use special needles to hold the silks as they are used to embellish, for example,  an obi.  These needles were handmade by a Master in Japan.  This work 10 years ago were in danger of disappearing when the aging Master died:  there were no apprentices.  At least, that is what I was told.

Needles are made commercially with steel wire which is extruded through numerous machines until the wire is of the desired diameter.  Next it gets cut into lengths of the different sized needles determined by its end use; eg. quilting, hand sewing, embroidery, beading to name a few.  A hole is stamped out at one end and the other end is made into a point.  The needle is ready for packaging and it’s time for you to decide what needles will work best for you and your beading.

There are blunt needles of different thickness and length that are used by needlepointers.  The higher the number identifying the needle size, the smaller the needle is.  An 18 needle is used for needlepoint canvas with very large holes, while a 26 needle is fine and used for petitpoint, a very delicate silk ‘canvas’.

There are differing sizes of needle for surface embroidery like crewel work which are sharp.

And there are needles for quilting which are also sharp.

There are long needles made of flimsy twisted wire and a wide eye.  They are very easy to thread but are a poor choice when multiple passes through the same bead are required.  You could use this style of needle when you are picking up many beads.  Similarly there are long needles made with extruded steel.

For beading, as for any sewing,  the size of needle is determined by its ability to pass multiple times through a single bead AND open a large enough hole through the other strands already inside the bead so the thread may pass through WITHOUT tugging or forcing or breaking the bead.

Like the women in olden times, we find a needle and use it almost exclusively for everything.  For my petitpoint embroideries (1,600 stitches to the square inch)  I like a quilter’s No. 12 needle.  I make my own personal adjustments:  my petitpoint and my beading require small, blunt needles so I round off the sharp point with a few passes on a special stone I have.  What makes this stone ‘special’ is that it comes from the beaches of Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada:  it has been worn smooth by the ocean’s waves.  I picked it up prior to a beading class I was teaching and I dulled the points off the needles I was to use in that class.  I brought it with me when I moved back home, 3,000 miles away.

I keep my  No.12 quilting needles in its own needlecase to keep it separate from my many other sizes of needles.

Now, the larger the eye of the needle, the larger the thread can be.  It is the eye of the needle that opens a hole in the fabric large enough for the thread to pass through.  The thread could be thick wool or fine silk.  And the fabric can be linen canvas or beads being sewn together.

Niki, when you visit a sewing store, take a look at the needles for sale and you will see the many different needles; one for each special use you might need.  You will have to find your own favourite needle; but, for now get a short and fine needle with a small eye:  your beading supplier would be able to guide you.

I have given you a couple of choices for Canadian bead shops:  the people at both shops are wonderfully helpful and both shops ship internationally.


© 2008 HelenE Turnbull

All rights reserved.  No part of this lesson may be produced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mecanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an additional storage or retrieval system, without the written permission of Savoir Vivre.


Lesson 1 – July 11 08

Hiya, Niki.  Welcome to your first lesson.  I need you to tell m:

1. What is your motivation to learn beading? 

2. Do you have a style in mind?  For example, beading on fabric, jewellery making, making a fabric with beads, something else not mentioned?

3. What tools do you have?

I will offer choices of equipment once I learn what you don’t have.

Niki, let’s get down to work.

In Beading …Helene