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...