Teresa Coates and her sewing friends compared a wide selection of needles to see if the price or brand corresponds to a difference in quality. Which brand of needle is best for the job? Teresa and her crew hit the pub for a hard-hitting investigative comparison to try eight different needles from five different companies.
Teresa Coates picked up needle and thread as a child and hasn’t stopped sewing since. Her quilting and sewing patterns have appeared in Quilty, Generation Q, Stitch, American Quilt Retailer and Quiltmaker’s 100 Blocks magazines, as well as for Fabric Depot, Robert Kaufman Fabrics and Luke Haynes.
Road-Testing Sewing Needles
A year ago I started hear lots of buzz about different brands of needles and which were the absolute best needles ever made. My curiosity was piqued. I’ve used hand sewing and quilting needles for decades and while there have been a few that I was utterly disappointed with (bending with use into a crescent moon is a problem), I hadn’t yet found any that made my heart sing.
Some quilters told me how amazing John James needles were. Others heartily endorsed Tulip. I had my own set of Clover that had been working quite well for my hand-quilting project. But was there really a “best” needle? A brand that would make every stitch a breeze? I wanted to find out and asked a handful of sewing friends to join me for a little needle testing.
We met last week at a pub in Portland for some rudimentary needle trials. It wasn’t an exhaustive test and truth is it would take a month of stitching every day all day to give every needle and brand a try. We gave it a couple hours instead.
Purpose: Try out eight different needles from five different companies to find the best needle.
Needles: Tulip #9 Applique, Tulip #9 Sewing, Tulip #9 Quilting, Clover #9 Gold Eye, John James Applique #9, John James Sharps #9, Dritzs Sharps #9, Professional Sewing Supplies #9
Thread: Gutermann 100% polyester thread
Batting: Quilters Dream Cotton Request
Fabric: Scraps of Robert Kaufman Fabrics and Moda Fabrics quilting cottons
Each needle was threaded with a different color of thread to make it a “blind” testing. No one knew which thread went with which brand of needle and were simply requested to complete three tasks with each needle: piecing, applique and quilting.
After trying it for as long as they wanted, each sewist recorded their reactions on cards labeled by thread color. Some of us had immediate reactions to some needles and moved on quickly to the next when we were unhappy. When a needle seemed like a good fit, we’d sew for longer, giving it a slightly longer “workout.”
Contrary to what many of us expected, the responses varied widely, some of us loving and hating the same needles. Here are a few of our comments:
Tulip #9 Applique (6-pack, $1.75 ea.)
“Super tiny eyes that required a needle threader (and magnifier!).”
“Strong, but slightly flexible in a good way.”
“Moves through the fabric so easily”
“Nice and sharp!”
Tulip #9 Sewing (8-pack, $1.25 ea.)
“Impossible to thread without a needle threader.”
“Slides through the fabric nicely.”
“Really smooth for piecing and didn’t bend at all.”
Tulip #9 Quilting (6-pack, $1.67 ea.)
“Butt of needle is sharper than point!”
“Okay for applique, but not for quilting.”
“Too short and hard to thread.”
“Hard to use— Does not slide through fabric easily.”
Clover #9 Gold Eye (15-pack, $0.19 ea.)
“Slid through the hexies easily.”
“Nice feel in my hand.”
“Smooth pass through the fabric, but not great for binding.”
“Shorter than other needles, so hard for my fat fingers to hold.”
John James Applique #9 (10-pack, $0.43 ea.)
“Smooth quilting through batting, but not flexible.”
“Easy stitching for appliqué.”
“Longer than the other needles— Yay!”
“Meh, nothing special for sewing.”
John James Sharps #9 (20-pack, $0.13 ea.)
“Bigger eye didn’t require needle threader— Phew!.”
“Not smooth at all. Got stuck in thicker layers of fabric.
“Longer than other needles, but uncomfortable in my hand.”
“Sharp point, but not good for applique.”
Dritz Sharps #9 (20-pack, $0.09 ea.)
“Super smooth and easy to maneuver.”
“Barely any flexibility.”
“Good for hand-quilting; very sharp.”
“Thicker needle felt weird after such thin needles.”
Professional Sewing Supplies #9 (25-pack, $0.77 ea.)
“Small eye made it really hard to thread even with threader.”
“Shorter and easier to maneuver when sewing hexies.”
“Wouldn’t hand-quilt or piece with this one, but okay for appliqué.”
After trying them all out, we chatted about the needles and who liked which and why. The prevailing thought: It’s mostly a personal choice. The cheapest needles were not as comfortable, sharp or smooth as the others, and the most expensive had positive responses. But we each liked what we liked, having different opinions on the hand feel, smoothness, sharpness, flexibility and length. And just because a needle is labeled for one technique (e.g. quilting or appliqué) doesn’t mean that you will love it for that.