Thursday, July 26, 2012

a thought or two on needles


while i love sewing all year 'round, i especially love sewing on long, sultry summer days. there is nothing quite like finding a shady spot down by the river and mindfully stitching away on a story cloth. the drowsy buzz of honey bees in the back ground, serenading the burbling shore side water. while i have a very sympathetic method of stitching and choosing materials, i have found that if you plan to do any hand stitching, you are going to want to cultivate an understanding of threads and needles and how they interact with cloth. this might sound silly and simplistic...but think about it. have you ever gone to the local sewing shop and been undeniably overwhelmed by the vast selection of threads and the arcane labeling of needles? i know i have.




i, personally, love to stitch with vintage needles and have virtually thousands of them to choose from (being an ardent collector). since i am not shy about describing the wonders of these coveted gems, i am frequently asked why i prefer vintage needles. are they stronger? made better? cheaper?


actually, they tend to cost more than modern needles...and i have not found them to be any better or inferior to new needles. however, i enjoy *connecting* with the tools of my trade every bit as much as i do with the salvaged and vintage cloths. they bear with them a mysterious history. a warmth of tradition. the imagination soars with the possibilities of what they may have seen before coming to my hand. what shelves or sewing baskets they may have resided in. what life's stories they may have bore witness to. for me, modern, new tools and cloths are cold and sterile by comparison. but, of course, i am a hopeless romantic...



for basic stitching, i prefer sharps of one size or another.  as the name implies, they have a very sharp point and are of a medium length (compared to other needles). they come in various sizes, notated from 1 to 10 with the larger the number being the thinner and smallest of needles. when choosing your needle, consider the cloth you intend to sew upon. the lighter the fabric, the smaller the needle you will want. you will quickly discover which needles are your favorites for which cloths.


for those of us who have trouble seeing, and thereby threading, sharps, a suitable substitution would be an embroidering needle. these are basically the same as sharps except that they have a much larger, elongated eye for threading, and come in sizes 1 through 10 as well. i nearly always choose these when stitching embroidery threads and salvage threads. unless, of course, i don't. ha!




about the only time i stitch with something other than vintage needles is when i am working an applique or stitching the binding on a quilted cloth. then i prefer a good straw (or milliner's) needle. of course, when i find a vintage one, i'm all over it...but more often than not, they are more difficult to find and so i use jeana kimball's straw needles. i get mine at the local sewing shop, but you can find them online as well if yours doesn't stock them (admittedly, you can usually find just about anything online...and probably cheaper...than locally...but we must remember to shop local whenever possible since it would be sad to see the demise of small, local businesses).  while these new needles are lacking any intriguing history (aside, perhaps, for being traditionally used for making hats rather than hand sewing cloth), they are quite long by comparison to sharps and embroidery needles, making them much easier to handle and to maneuver quickly through many layers of cloth. if you have never tried sewing with a straw needle, you owe it to yourself to experience them at least once!


i realize i have only covered a few of the many types and styles of needles available to the hand stitcher, however, these are the ones that i have the most experience with. i am not averse to trying other needles, and  do so quite regularly...but for my style of sewing, sharps, embroidery and straw needles are the most often found between my fingertips.


i hope this little discussion might have introduced you to new possibilities, new ways of thinking, or, at least, sparked a tiny intrigue of interest... for me, i'm going to head down to that river just as soon as the sun begins to rise this morning...


namaste'




17 comments:

  1. Thank you so much! I really really enjoyed reading about the needles and although I have been sewing for many years I have slowly discovered what works for me i.e. embroidery needles, but now I am ready to venture out and start searching for the needles you describe....
    I love being outside stitching, especially near water! : )

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    1. yes...i do love embroidery needles, too. seeing as these work for you, i would imagine that you will enjoy the straw needles as well then!

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  2. You have listed my favorite needles! I love the vintage one's so much and I admit, I hoard them. Opening the little paper packet is rite that settles my mind. Kimball's needles are my new favorites. I also like her redwork needles. They tend to hold up well. I am always sad when a needle becomes so curved from use that I can't use it anymore. Enjoy your days along the river stitching.

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    1. i'm right with you on all of that!

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  3. This was so great. I feel disappointed at the fabric stores, too. Need to get straw needles, didn't even know about them. Thanks, Joe!

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    1. hope you enjoy them as much as i do!

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  4. Hey Joe, thanks for this interesting lecture about needles !
    And please, just stay a romantic ;-)

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  5. Interesting post, heres the thing, how do you store your needles and remember what is what? Mine all end up being in my needle skitchbook thingy and I just choose the one which looks right for the job, I don't put a great deal of thought into it. Wondering if you are super organised and keep them in their nifty packets so you know what is what? I

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    1. ha! no one has *ever* accused me of being super organised! (insert guffaw here) however, seeing as i only use the three different needles, they are easy to tell apart just by looking at them. i tend to leave my needles in whatever project i'm working on...which means that i generally have a lot of needles floating around...and then just grab them as i need them.

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  6. thank you for this very interesting and enlightening lecture!!
    straw needles, I'd never heard of them. Have just come back from a swim in the river myself, summer and summerheat have finally arrived over here.

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    1. i miss swimming in the river...but the yellowstone here isn't so inviting! ha!

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  7. Who knew there were so many needle choices... now, ask me about brushes... I know them, but needles, straw needles, my, my!

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    1. ha! yes! brushes...looms...needles...chisels...all of our passions seem to be filled to overflowing with lovely choices!

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  8. My mind has just been boggled by the info you've offered in your blog on needles! With my eyesight, I tend to use whichever needle I can get the thread through! Tho when I started using textiles about 3 years ago now, I bought lots of different types of needles, and found myself frustrated by how hard it was to use them. When I got some Japanese Sashiko needles for xmas a couple of years ago (I asked for them) it was a 'eureka' moment! I can really tell the difference in quality with the sashiko needles, and the cheap needles I've bought. Sometimes tips have tiny burrs on them, that catch on the fabric. Not good!. Jan, Yorkshire, England.

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    1. i'll have to order some japanese sashiko needles and give them a try. they sound divine!

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