Selecting and Using Equipment: Stitching Tools


Needles are sold according to type and size. The types most generally used are called betweens. These are short and can produce fine, accurate stitching. People with short fingers may use them more efficiently than people with long fingers. Sharps are medium length and should be used for longer stitches or for making several stitches at a time.

Milliners are the longest needles and are excellent for basting long seams. Crewels (embroidery) have elongated eyes and are easier to thread, especially if embroidery floss or doubled strands of thread are being used for making tailor’s tacks. The calyx-eye needle is self-threading and therefore efficient to use. It is particularly helpful for those people with vision problems.

Needle sizes are numbered from 1 (coarse) to 12 (fine). Select the correct size according to the texture of the fabric and the size of the thread. The needle eve should be large enough to be easily threaded yet small enough to prevent the thread from slipping out. Coarse needles are awkward to use on thin fabric and vice versa. A single yarn of a given fabric can be picked up if the needle size is correctly chosen. Store needles separate from pins. Store each in dry containers to prevent rust and corrosion.


The quality and type of sewing machine needle affects stitching and may determine whether alterations can be made after a garment is stitched. Machine needles can become unusable before they break. Sewing over pins ruins needles. Pins scrape the needle and dull, wear off, or scratch the blade surface. If the needle hits the pin directly, the needle tip can flatten, burr (chip), become hooked, or break. Sewing over pins also creates a wiggle in the stitching at each spot where a pin has been stitched across. Damaged needles cause permanent needle marks, skipped stitches, snags, runners, and other fabric damage. Needle points also become dulled or blunted simply from use, particularly when sewing polyester and other harsh or hard fabrics. To produce smooth, inconspicuous stitching, a machine needle should be changed often.

Machine needles should be compatible in size with the weight, texture, and yarn thickness in the fabric. Sizes vary from fine—size 70 (10)—to coarse— size 120 (19). The type of machine needle point should be chosen according to the type of fabric. Regular needle tips cut through yarns and can cause holes and runs in some knits. They should be used only on woven fabrics. Ballpoint tips push fabric yarns apart and therefore don't damage knits. They can be used for any woven or nonwoven fabric, but they don't function well on leather or vinyl.

A scarfed or bulged-eye needle has been developed to prevent overheating and to penetrate fabric more easily. Due to the strength and elasticity of polyester, especially knits, skipped stitches and overheating of the needle can occur. Skipped stitches can result from the bouncing of the fabric over the needle-plate opening or from the fiber forming a sticky residue on the needle. The deep scarf cut into the blade (at the eye area on the long-groove side of the needle) acts as an air cooler and slows the heating of the needle. A cooler needle picks up less lint residue. These needles are marketed under such trade names as the Coats and Clark Blue Needle (covered with silicone to help prevent skipped stitches), the Singer Yellow Band and the Schmetz LG SCARF.


Although thimbles are a little awkward to learn to use, they can speed both temporary and permanent hand stitching. A thimble is also a piece of safety equipment. It protects the middle finger from the eye end of the needle and thus may prevent the blood from a pricked finger from spotting the fabric. The efficiency of a thimble depends on the depth of the thimble depressions; they should hold the needle securely while it's being pushed through the fabric.

A dressmaker’s thimble has a closed end and should fit the finger snugly. Moistening the end of the finger will help the thimble stay in place. A tailor’s thimble is open at each end and therefore, is used with a sideward motion. People with long fingernails may prefer to use this thimble or the new dressmaker thimble designed with an oval slit at the closed end to accommodate the nail.

Leather thimbles are made of soft, long-wearing deerskin. They fit the finger much like the conventional metal thimbles. A seam lies at each side and is purposely left unstitched at the closed end to form vents that permit breathing. The density of the leather prevents the needle from penetrating into the finger.


Pins are sold by metal, diameter, and length. Brass will not rust. Nickel-plated steel will not tarnish. Stainless steel corrodes slightly, especially from chemicals in perspiration, and can leave a tarnish on light-colored fabrics. A magnet is effective for picking up pins made of stainless steel.

Dressmaker pins are of medium thickness and are more efficiently used on medium to coarse fabrics. Silk pins are finer in diameter and should be used for lightweight fabrics. You can substitute fine hand-sewing needles for pins to avoid marring delicate fabrics. Pins with colored glass or plastic heads are easier to see; they are usually longer than ordinary straight pins. Glass heads will not melt when touched by the iron.

A good supply of pins is essential during the processes of fitting and pattern alteration. For example, elastic, tapes, or bands are often used to define body lines. To maintain a flat, smooth surface over which to work, these must be overlapped and pinned, not tied. Pins are also used to define lines on the underclothing or the garment during fitting and when deciding on style changes.

Store pins in a pincushion. The pin heads are always upwards, easy to grasp, and ready for instant use. Some magnetic pin containers also dispense pins head first. Pins stored in a box become jumbled. They are difficult to pick up separately and with the point facing correctly for use. Pins inserted into paper are inefficient to use; both hands are needed to remove each pin. The paper absorbs moisture and allows the pins to rust or corrode. Do not store threaded needles in the same container with pins; the thread tangles badly around the pins.

Polish and smooth pins occasionally by pushing them back and forth through an emery bag. (This is the small, strawberry-shaped bag that's attached to some pincushions.) Do not use the emery bag to store pins or needles, as it allows rust to form on them.


A felt pad of wool or a bag filled with packed wool clippings, wool yarn, or dean hair permits needles to be inserted easily. The natural oil in wool and hair prevents rust from forming. Wrist pincushions are especially useful; they keep pins accessible during fitting. Weighted pincushions increase efficiency at the cutting table, sewing machine, or ironing board. Magnetic pin holders such the Grabbit, Pintrapper or Needle Nabber hold pins securely and prevents loss. The holder also may be used to gather scattered pins or the retrieve those that have been dropped. Store any form of pin holder in a dry place.


Sewing thread is sold by the twist, weight, and fiber. Loose twist is used for basting and for marking with tailor’s tacks. Choose these threads in a white or contrasting pastel color to prevent color from fading or crocking onto the fabric. Regular twist is used for permanent hand and machine sewing.

Thread weight should be compatible with the fabric texture. Lightweight thread blends less noticeably into thin, sheer, or delicate fabrics. It is made in fewer colors and may be limited in availability. Regular-weight thread is used for medium- to heavyweight fabric and is readily available in a variety of colors. Top-stitching thread is for decorative use but may also be used as a the ring thread. It will not break easily when gathering excessive fullness.

Cotton thread is a universal fiber choice for all fabrics. It kinks very little during hand stitching and will not cause excessive wear on threaded parts of the sewing machine. Polyester thread is elastic and strong. Use care when removing polyester or silk thread. It can cut the fingers easily.

Polyester thread is sold in short staple and long staple. The short staple threads are fuzzy and therefore cause a build-up of lint on the threaded parts of the sewing machine. This lint can clog and wear the machine parts if it's not removed regularly. Long staple is more expensive, but its smooth surface is better quality. It stitches smoothly into the fabric. All polyester thread kinks badly during hand sewing. Cotton-wrapped polyester acts like cotton in the sewing or pressing process but retains the elasticity and strength of polyester.

Silk thread is compatible only with silk and wool. Although difficult to use for hand sewing, it makes an excellent basting thread. Its softness prevents thread marks in fabric.

Clear nylon thread is wiry. Machine tensions will require adjusting when nylon thread is used. Nylon thread kinks badly during hand sewing, and it will melt if pressed with an iron that's too warm. This thread is tougher than the fibers in the fabric and can damage the cloth. Such damage is often seen on commercial clothing sewn with clear nylon thread; holes occur along the stitching line where the thread penetrates the fabric. This damage limits fitting adjustment and shortens the wear-ability of the clothing.

PREV: Cutting Tools NEXT: Fitting Supplies Home

Monday, 2020-02-24 12:23