Posted on 18 Comments

What Kind of Needle Do You Use?

What kind of needle do you recommend for both hand piecing and hand quilting?

First let me say there are a wide variety of needles, sizes and styles available and there are no rules as to what to use. Generally, most quilters prefer “betweens”, but some use applique needles. It depends on how you hold your needle , your method of sewing and whether you do or do not use a thimble. I can tell you the kind I use and why, but you may have different preferences depending on how you sew.


Labyrinth up close


I use a between size 11 needle for both piecing and quilting and have been doing so for all of my quilting life. Many people find the size 11s are too small for them and prefer to use a size 10. Betweens are sturdier and shorter than applique needles which are longer and finer. I put a lot of pressure on the needle when I sew and if the needle is too long or fine, I break it within the first few minutes of sewing. The sturdiness of the betweens eliminates this problem. Also I find that the smaller the needle, the smaller my stitches.

There are also differences in the eyes of needles Some brands have larger eyes and/or put a thin gold coating on the eye. The idea being that both of these practices make it easier to see the eye for threading. For both piecing and quilting, I stack several stitches on my needle at time before pulling it through. As such, I find that when the eye is slightly larger than the shaft it is difficult to pull the needle through and even if the eye is not larger, but has a gold-plated eye, that little extra metal can affect the size of the eye and puts a drag on the needle. I have resorted to keeping a pair of small nosed pliers handy to pull the needle through each time.

Recently I have discovered a new needle. It is the John James Signature collection needles. The finish on it makes it very easy to go through the fabric, the eye appears to be the same size as the shaft and it is sturdy enough to handle the abuse I give a needle without bending or breaking, I like the packaging the needles come in—a small tube with 25 needles per tube. That may make them seem more expensive, but most needles come in packages of 10.  I have been using the Signature between 11 for both piecing and quilting and have be able to put the pliers away. For me it is definitely the Cadillac of any needles I have tried.

18 thoughts on “What Kind of Needle Do You Use?

  1. I use a size 12 applique needle for piecing.

  2. Hi Jinny

    As usual it is always a delight to receive your monthly newsletter. You are so inspirational!

    I would like to ask where you got your quilting frame from ? I love hand piecing and am keen to quilt my quilts by hand.

    Have great day!
    Best wishes,
    Sarah ( from the UAE)

    1. The original design of the frame came from an old Stearns and Foster pattern. We still have one frame left and it is still on consignment but it is available for local pick-up only. If you are interested, please contact the shop. Thank you!

  3. I went to John James needles and could not find “Signature” needles. Are they listed another way?

    1. Here is the link to the product on our website, thanks!

  4. Thank you for that information about the new John James Signature collection needles. I have been using John James needles for years and when they moved production from England, I became very careful with those I still had. I am glad to know I can now buy John James again when I need to replace mine.

    1. The new Signature John James needles are now once again made in England.

  5. Over the years, I used some English made needles sold at Quilt Festival each year by J. Lyle… alas, my supply is almost gone, and I was using and 11 between. I’ll be going to your shop right away to order some! I hope they work as well for me as those English needles have for many, many years! But I trust Jinny’s well regarded expertise! Thank you for telling us about these!
    – Karen Alexander
    Austin, Tx

  6. I like using the size 11 betweens as well. Was using John James but not the “Signature” ones. Will have to order and try those.

  7. I’ve tried 11 and 10s and bend them (yes, my hoop is loose). I find that my favorites are Jeana Kimball’s Foxglove betweens size 9. They are long enough for me to hold and sturdy enough to not bend quickly. I do love John James size 22/23 appliques for big stitch quilting though. 😀

  8. Any thoughts on using these needles for English Paper Piecing?

    1. Yes, according to Jinny, the needles would be great for paper piecing.

  9. Ever since Kantha big stitch began I have been confused… I used to use a 12 now I dont know what to use.

    1. The size needle to use depends on the thickness of the fabrics you are sewing together. You will need a sturdy needles so a between 9 or 10 might work.

  10. Review: I received the JJ Signature needles today, ordered per your recommendation, from this site.
    After 30 minutes of handquilting, I find the needle kind of thick, more difficult to push through the fabric than my usual choice of needles; the needle has bent (I load 3 stitches at a time), an unfortunate curve that makes for a frustrating endeavor.
    I’ve been Handquilting for 40+ years, part of that professionally. I’m open to new supplies, new suggestions, new options. 🧐 This is not the needle for me. I’m switching back to the Roxanne & J.K.Foxgove needles that suit me so well: they glide through the quilt-shop fabric, & Hobbs Heirloom batting, with Gütermann Handquilting thread, with ease. 🪡🧵🤗 That’s my review. YourMileageMayVary.

    1. Sorry those didn’t work for you. Like with hand piecing quilting is the same, how you hold your needle, take your stitches, how many stitches, etc. is an individual thing. There is no right or wrong and you have to use what is best for you. I have been using the same needle for several weeks now and it still hasn’t bent, so we must have different techniques. I love to hear from other hand quilters.

  11. How in the world do you thread 28 wt thread using betweens? i have struggled with 50 wt cotton and 10 betweens the thread begins to unravel as i fight to get it through the eye

    i have tried larger eyes, elongated eyes, gold coated eyes i love hand quilting but this is becoming an issue as i age

    1. Hold the thread tightly and then cut at an angle with sharp scissors. It works perfectly.

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