Hand sewing -pro tips

There’s been some talk about sewing tips, basic & advanced, and a request to start a topic about it. I’ll get it going and add links in this post to techniques you all share. Each of us is sure to have picked up great tips & tricks along the way, let’s contribute our collective knowledge so we can learn from each other :blush:

The first question was about choosing a needle for hand sewing. Info here.

Then burying knots & thread ends rather than having them visible anywhere on the project.

Is thread “directional”? Research points to no but maybe your experience says otherwise. Share your story!

There is however a correct way to pull embroidery floss off a skein & if you don’t know about it, it’s gonna change your life!


There are so many and sewing needles, choosing the right one for a project can make a real difference not only in quality of finished work but also enjoyment of stitching along the way.
While there are many variable to consider, the 4 major components are:

  • Needle Point
  • Needle Eye
  • Needle Length
  • Needle Diameter

Choose the right type of needle for a project, then the select the best size for the fabric and thread.

Run thread through beeswax AFTER threading to help strengthen it, prevent thread tangles, and give thread a smoother pass through fabric.

With hand needles, the larger the number means the SMALLER the needle. This is the opposite of machine needles! So a size 12 hand needle is smaller than a size 5 hand needle.

Sharps – sizes 1 -12. General purpose, thin, medium length, round eye, very sharp point. similar to the universal machine needle.
*there are “easy threading” needles out there too!

Quilting/Betweens – sizes 1 -12. Similar to
Sharps but shorter with a smaller, rounded eye. Best for hand quilting, easily create more precise stitches, more quickly with this needle. Good for detail work, especially on heavier fabrics.

Ballpoint – sized 5-10. For knit fabrics, medium length with a rounded smooth point, protects knit fabrics by passing between the threads.

Cotton Darners – sizes 1 -9. Long needle, long eye, sharp point. For mending woven fabrics. Also comes “long”, in longer lengths.

Embroidery/Crewel needles – sizes 1 - 12. Same length and point as Sharps with an elongated eye for thicker thread.

Tapestry – sizes 13 to 28. Large blunt point, thicker needle body, very large eye. For needlepoint, loose weave fabric, hand knits.

Chenille – sizes 13 - 28. Like tapestry but with a very sharp point. For applying decorative finishing on heavier fabrics, upholstery fabric, polar fleece, ribbon embroidery.

Milliners aka “Straws" – sizes 5 - 10 ”. Similar to Sharps but extra long, small, rounded eye, very sharp point. For hats, pleating, basting, decorative work requiring long stitches.

Leather aka “Glover’s” – sizes 2 - 10. Triangular shaped head made to cut as it enters fabric. Similar to Sharps, more elongated eye. For leather, vinyl, suedes, “pleather”, and soft plastics.

Beading – sizes 10 -15. Long, very thin needle, sharp point. For bead work, sequins, pearls.

Upholstery – sizes vary. Straight or curved, thicker and longer than other needles. For upholstered furniture, mattresses, hand tying quilts, extremely thick, heavy fabrics or layers.

Doll – sizes 2" - 7". Thinner than upholstery needles with a finer, sharper point. For sculpting fabric dolls.

There are recommendations to use a new needle for every project but I never do. Some of mine came from my gran & though I never sharpen them they are still serving me well.

You know those tomato pin cushions with the strawberry attachment? That berry is filled with a fine grit called “emery” and is meant for sharpening needles & pins by ocassionally sticking them straight into the berry a couple times. It really only works on solid stainless steel though so beware of that. I’ve also read stuffing a pincushion with very fine steelwool can sharpen but I haven’t tested it.

I use a needle book for everything but another way to store and sort your needles by size and type is in a segmented, multi colored pin cushion with labeled sections.

John James has a free dowloadable PDJ chart available here.


Nice! I think crewel needles would have worked really well for the scrappy beads.

Adding this book as a recommendation.

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For scrappy beads I used a regular medium sharp for the sewing thread and a medium embroidery/crewel for the embellishment. I opt for a long, thin eye to keep that end of the needle a similar thickness to the thread. If the eye is too small, the thread won’t go through easily enough. Too large, it canleave a big hole OR, weirdly enough, it can be difficult to pull through the layers of fabric.


I bought some easy threader needles thinking they would be great for me since you don’t have to fuss with actually trying to thread the needle. They are now trash…the thread slips out and the eye frays the threads or catches a strand and creates knots.

I found a person who hand makes needles and she designed one that actually works but I believe they are about $12 each.

I do have a zillion needle threaders now, but have found that using my magic goggles and cutting thread on a slant has helped me immensely.

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The spiral eye? I have some but haven’t used them. I will try & report back.

Sounds familiar…during bead class I must have accidentally picked one…my thread kept falling off and when I made knots, there was fraying…I have been frustrated by them many times so now I just pitch them…I have the one she made and it is way smoother and does work if I am not in a hurry.

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@Edel I’ve had that volume bookmarked since you first mentioned finding it 2nd hand, that’s the one, right?

Here’s a link for starting stitches without knots.

Several ways to end embroidery stitches, 2 are knot-free.

This ladder stitch tutorial ends with a perfect example of finishing with a buried knot & thread end which is excellent to use for garment sewing. FYI, machine stitches can be ended with a sort of version of this rather than with a back-tack machine stitch if that’s going to be too obviously visible.

Here’s a great tutorial for burying a knot and thread end.

@AIMR this tutorial is so terrific for using those easy thread needles to bury thread ends! Perfect for when thread chicken has left you with very little thread to work with.

And finally, I will personally start &/or end with a combination of that tiny sort of thread-through-a-loop knot coupled with a double tailor’s tack/bar tack/back stitch that splits the thread. If I can pull on the thread ends & they don’t come loose, I’m happy.


Oohh great links, thanks x

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Thank you for these tips, I am terrible at hand sewing and would love to improve!

I have a skein of embroidery floss that I bought on Amazon. One of the complaints in the reviews was that it easily tangles. I checked out the link above, but it unfortunately does not apply to my particular skein. I found the start pint of the floss tied up in the middle of the floss. My first thought is to just untie and start pulling, but I’m thinking that’s probably what the people complaining about tangles would have done as well. Does anyone have any thoughts or advice?

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I don’t think I would pull…I like to unwind, round and round, just like a skein of yarn…I use floss bobbins and then cut from there…


I use floss bobbins too, I just have a lot of them to wind right now & find myself going for those colours… Because, of course! :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:


Thank you, this sounds like the perfect solution!

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Some people unfold, then cut the floss loop, making a bunch of pre-cut lengths.
Check the size of the loops to see if they’ll give you a good length to work with.


Thank you for posting all of this information! Outside of using them in my sewing/embroidery machines, I have never actually given needle types any special consideration.
I’m planning to hand bind a quilt with the embroidery thread I posted earlier and based on the info you’ve provided, I plan on picking up some quilting/betweens needles to make the job easier. I’ll also use some beeswax that I have on hand. I would’ve never thought to use it for this project!

ETA - I just reviewed the info above and it looks like I’ll be better off with an embroidery needle, so I’ll go that route instead!

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Just wondering, are you hand binding with embroidery thread as an exposed decorative stitch?

Yes, I plan on using the ‘big stitch binding’ method.

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Cool, I look forward to seeing it! The buried knot/thread technique will be perfect for this, do you know how to do it?

I’ve used the ‘pop’ the knot into the layers method with regular thread, but not with anything as thick as embroidery floss. I watched a tutorial that suggested running the thread with the knot directly in the batting layer, then out to the binding, so that’s what I plan on trying. I actually need to finish the tutorial because I’m assuming the binding will all be done with small amounts of floss with buried knots along the way, but I still need to verify that.

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