Needle Glossary for Bead Embroidery and Beadcraft
Which is the best beading needle? Why it is the one that fits the media!* It is the needle that fits the beads, and certainly the one that fits most comfortably in your hand.
*"Media" is plural of medium: the material or technique used by an artist to produce a work of art.
If you are just starting with beadwork, note that many bead stitching techniques require multiple passes through the same bead, which will encourage the use the of leanest beading needle possible. If you are couching the beads to fabric, the beads will be strung on one line (with any size needle that fits through the bead) then stitched down with a second needle and thread (which may, or may not require addition passes through the beads). Couching techniques open to a much larger world of fiber sizes and types of needles for beading.
Smaller seed beads will require the slender, narrow eyed Beading Needle (sizes 10 to 15). Note that the same beads may fit a number 10 or 11 Between or a number 12 Tapestry and many versions of Sharps will fit seed beads and work quite well for embroidery techniques.
Length, shape and pliability are also considerations and most artists will have preferences. In general, a longer needle is helpful for beading on a loom; a curved beading needle is useful for getting into tight spaces. Some artists enjoy the stiff quilt-like feel of needle brands from India; many favor the wide variety of English beading needles; others are perfectly content with generic beading needles available in sewing and crafts shops or even the corner grocery. It is wonderful to have excellent, well designed tools that fit, but they need not be gilded to get the job done (although gold plating is very pretty...)
My favorite number 10 John James (English) beading needle, once straight, has bent to the curve of my hand over time and I carefully save it for certain work which it fits best. Accounting for one’s needles can become a labor of love. A needle safe (embellished fabric, simple magnetic, or just an open box top) kept close at hand will help retain favorites. If you have a
or lose a needle in the carpet (or even in the work) a strong magnet can coerce it out.
We are describing many needles here, NOT because you need all of them, but to encourage experimentation and to encourage beadwork with a variety of bead sizes and their incorporation into all kinds of needlework.
Needles are not shown actual size!
Beading Needles are lean with narrow eyes and range in size from 10 (thicker) through 15 (thinnest). If you are fortunate in finding a the elusive size 16 (quite thin) beading needle hold on to it carefully. Size 10, 12, and 13 fit the popular 11/0 seed bead (and more). Size 15 will fit the smaller 15/0 seed beads and some of the antique tiny beads (18/0 to 22/0); and the size 16 will fit most of the beads of 22/0 through 24/0. A
is a great assist with all beadwork, particularly with the smallest of beads. The needle eye in a Beading Needle can accommodate a variety of lean threads and beading cables. Many Bead Sellers will have excellent recommendations and/or charts in their catalog or on their website. Needle sizes are often mentioned along with suggested bead and thread sizes on beading patterns.
Now that you know there are a variety of beading needles, start to notice recommendations and the (usually strong) opinions regarding needles and threads and why they are held. Most common are preferences for the English Beading Needle versus any other kind (choose your own personal preference) and the continued discussions regarding beading threads: Silamide, SoNo, Nymo, Aramio, Kevlar, Waxed Linen, Silk and the wonderful lean beading cables (were you worried about having a choice?). These discussions are pertinent to both the beading technique, the durability/use of the work and the weight/type of beads used. Considering the amount of time invested in bead art, I believe each opinion is worth a read. You will come up with your own ideas! And, hopefully you will experiment with the wonderful variety. Noticing the many opportuntities to learn will advance your beading needle and beadcraft knowledge rapidly.
Curved Beading Needles are lean curved needles with narrow eyes the same thickness as the needle shaft. English manufacturer, John James, offers a selection. Curved needles are produced by many makers, come in many sizes and lengths for all kinds of thread work and repair.
NOTE: If a needle fits through the bead opening, you can consider it a beading needle
Bead Loom-Weaving Needles are sturdy beading needles
(size 10-12-13) of a longer length (3" through 6").
Big Eye Needles are short or long with an eye the full length of the needle shaft. Big Eye is a well known brand of the full-eye needle. These are very helpful for many changes of threads and are quite flexible. Excellent for threading beads and some enjoy the flexibility for both on-loom and off-loom bead weaving.
Twisted Wire Needles are made of twisted stainless steel with a loop for threading at one end. They come in short and long lengths and weights of heavy, medium and fine. Normally, the eye will collapse as it passes through the beads, or you can crimp it with jeweler's pliers; excellent for bead stringing (not for piercing fabric).
NOTE: The various gauges of craft wire and beading cables are sufficiently sturdy to string beads by hand or with a
without the addition of a beading needle.
Needle-less 'needles' can be made from dipping the end of a silk thread in Gum Arabic. Allow it to dry and trim on an angle; it will be quite stiff and become an excellent beading needle for stringing beads. Gum Arabic is a water-soluble gum obtained from several species of the
and which used in the manufacture of adhesives and ink. Henrietta's Gum Arabic is available at many jewelry supply and bead stores; or find other brands of Gum Arabic at art supply such as Dick Blick Art Materials.
***To answer an often received question:
Yes, we like to
knot bead embroidery,
and for beadwork under stress, will often choose to add that extra security that a drop of glue on the knot offers. NO! we do not use Gum Arabic to set knots in beadwork! Why? It has a gum-like consistency that adheres to the surface, and we prefer a well controled glue that will soak into the knot.
(AugustL adds:) My preference gluing knots is a crystal adhesive such as GS Hypo Tube Cement. Its pinpoint applicator sets the smallest of knots. Yes there are other glues that will work but I avoid clear nail polish, as it is hard to control, splashes on surrounding beads and will flake off. Many beadwork knots will not need glue, yet those under tension will. The time put into such work is worth using quality materials and excellent tools.
To discuss adhesives, jewelry making, adding beads to embroidery (and more) join forums such as
and/or participate in the extraordinary variety of beadwork and embroidery forums, such as those on Yahoo Groups.
Needles are not shown actual size!
Chenille, tapestry, embroidery, darners, milliners, sharps and betweens are not usually thought of as a beading needle. But can be, with larger beads or these needles may be used for couching threads or adding in other fillaments, fibers, ribbons or materials. Needles are also chosen with considerations of thread size and whether you will pass between the fabric's weave (using a blunt point) or whether you will pierce the fabric (requiring a sharp point).
Quilting Needles (Betweens) are short, have a round eye, sharp point. They are excellent for short, quick stitches (as in quilting); sizes 7, 8, 9, 10, and 12.
Chenille Needles have long oval eyes and are similar to tapestry needles but with a sharp point; sizes 13 through 28.
Crewel Needles (embroidery needles) have an oval eye and sharp point; sizes range from 1 through 10 in short and medium lengths.
Darning Needles with long eyes and blunt tips have a variety of lengths and sizes from 1 to 9 (traditionally) for fine cotton and larger sizes 14 to 19 (traditionally) for wool work.
Milliner's Needles (Straw needles) have round eyes, and even shaft, and a sharp point; sizes 3 to 12.
Tapestry Needles have large oval eyes and a blunt tip, which allows it to pass between a fabric's warp and weft without piercing the threads. Used for tapestry and needlepoint, silk ribbon embroidery and more; sizes range 13 through to 26.
Silk Ribbon Embroidery variety packs often have a size selection of large eye tapestry needles (blunts) and chenille needles (sharps)
Sharps Needles have round eyes, medium lengths and sharp points. Excellent, all purpose hand sewing needle; sizes range from 1 to 12; more than one of the smaller sizes can used as a beading needle.
Needles are not shown actual size!
Are these Beading Needles?
Many needle knowledgeable artists think so. Crochet Hooks, Knitting Needles, Tatting Shuttles knot and knit and hook an extraordinary variety of threads and fibers to create delicate lace or full fabrics and many practioners enjoy incorporating beads. Lovely to gift and a delight to enhance your own wardrobe. Or, create bits of this and add to bits of that to add wonderful texture into your own designs. Almost every genre is game: hanging art, home decorating, evening wear, outerwear, scarves and wraps, fascinating jewelry and of course, the well admired beaded bag!
A favorite beading needle of mine is a Tambour Hook (a cornaly needle or very tiny crochet hook screwed tight into a handle). With a simple chain stitch (one needle, two threads, and two hands working the stitch) seed beads, bugles, sequins and crystals can be applied to fabric with impressive speed and delicacy. We are currently working on an on-line presentation of Tambour work and hope to have it posted soon.
TASK and CRAFT NEEDLES
Beading Awl is like any other awl terminating in a long, lean, sharp point (for pilot holes). If your awl has a blunt end, you still have a 'beading awl' suitable for knotting and manipulating.
Bodkins are blunt lacing tools that can hold threads, fibers, ribbons or cords; come in a great range of sizes, flat or round with large eyes.
Curved Needles are used anywhere a straight needle would be awkward. They range in lengths of 0.5 to 3 inches and a variety of weights, including beading needle size (see above). Considering the angle, it can be useful to use a thimble either a simple tabs, or a traditional fingertip thimble or a Sailor's palm (depending upon the weight or density of the material being worked).
Doll Makers Needles may have blunt ends or sharp points and run from short to extra-ordinary lengths! Yes, you can sculpt dolls with needles from embroidery, basting or mending but Doll Maker websites offer those needles and bodkins of extraordinary length!
Felting Needles plant fibers rather than stitch; find them at doll maker's supply sites in a variety of sizes.
Glover's Needles are heavy with a triangular point for sewing leather, suede, man-made suedes, canvas and other stiff materials. The sail maker, cobbler, saddler and harness maker all use wedge-tipped needles (of a variety of lengths/shapes). The triangle tipped Glover's Needle along with a lean tipped awl should fit most bead embroidery needs.
Laying Tools are without eyes, can be sharp or blunt tipped and are generally used to smooth embroidery threads to lie flat, side-by-side. Pass the threads (floss or filament) over the laying tool as you emerge above the ground and hold with your thumb. As you plunge below, guide the smoothed fibers onto the fabric into place. Laying tools come in a variety of sizes, both plain and ornate, blunt or sharp, and are often collector's items. A trolley needle, stiletto, awl or even a wooden skewer or plastic chopstick can be used as a laying tool. The surface should be smooth so not to snag the threads.
Trolley Needle is a stiletto mounted to a finger ring for ease of use. Trolley needles and stilettos are some of the many laying tools that help control threads, ribbons, fibers, trims or all types of stitchery,
sewing and doll making. A trolley or hand-held stiletto can be an excellent second beading needle for holding a bead line or manipulating beads during machine embroidery.
Trapunto Needles are blunt, thick and 6 inches long; used for sculptured quilting and more. The shaft is thicker than a regular doll needle. Many of the blunt needles (above) can be used to carefully open between warp and weft threads and stuff between layers for traditional trapunto; the extra long length is the added value here. Consider also the amazing variety of stuffing tools now available for dollmaking.
Return to the top of Beading Needle
You have permission to link to this page, and you may print this page for your personal, non commercial use. See
Copyrights for Bead Artists