Tool Tedium

I’ve started using some new needles, thread and pins and I’m excited about them. I don’t expect you to be as excited as I am, but I hope you find the information helpful.


I used John James quilting between size 12 needles for many years when hand sewing doll clothes. I included them in my list of necessary supplies when I wrote Hand Sewing for Dolls Part 1 many moons ago. They are tiny and do a fine job sewing tiny stitches on fine fabrics.

Mary Corbet blogged about Tulip needles (made in Japan) last year and like practically everything she recommends, I had to try them. I started with embroidery needles and really like using them. They are very sharp and sturdy.

While searching for embroidery needles, I came across Tulip size 13 quilting betweens. This was a big deal. The smallest betweens I had ever been able to find were size 12, so I assumed that these must be so much smaller. I tried them and love them.

But not for the reasons I thought I’d love them.

Guess which of these needles is the size 13 Tulip needle?

Wrong. It’s the one on the left. Yes, it’s a bit larger than the size 12 on the right. Japanese sizing may be different, I don’t know.

I’ve bent quite a few of the JJ size 12’s in my past. The Tulip size 13’s feel sturdier and less likely to bend.

Because of the way they sharpen them, Tulip needles have sharper, smoother points.

I apologize in advance for the suggestive nature of the the following sentence (and a few others in this post). If you blow up the photo above, you may see that the left needle transitions smoothly from the point up the shaft of the needle, while the right needle has a tiny point and bulges a bit going up the shaft.

The smooth transition in diameter, along with the sharper point, makes the needle glide very smoothly through the fabric.

This is the eye of the John James size 12. It is minuscule. If you notice, it tapers at the bottom, almost to a point.

This is the eye of the Tulip size 13. It is larger and easier to thread. Also, it is more rounded at the bottom. This matters. Your thread can rub against the bottom of the eye as you sew, so a smoother bottom puts less stress on the thread and makes it less likely to fray or break.

I really struggled taking photos of all this itty bitty stuff. The Tulip needle above looks bent, but it’s not. It’s a new one out of the package. I think it’s just the reflection that distorts it in the photo. Anyway, they are only around ⅞” (22mm) long.

When stitching my embroidery, I use much larger needles so that I can pierce the fabric with a large enough hole to prevent the silk or metal threads from fraying against the fabric as I pull them through.

But when sewing fine, tightly woven cottons or silks, I find that using a tiny, fine needle helps me to make the tiniest stitches without distorting the fabric or making large holes in it.

And they come in a nifty tube.


Also, in the Beginning Hand Sewing tutorial I recommended Mettler fine embroidery, size 60 cotton thread (above center). I still use it sometimes. Sometimes I use Mettler size 50 cotton thread (above left). But I found a new go-to thread for fine sewing and it makes me happy.

On the right in the photo above is Aurifil size 80 cotton thread. It’s a relatively new product. I bought it on the internet, because my local quilt shop doesn’t carry it, they only stock the size 50.

Aurifil thread is made in Italy and many quilters swear by their size 50 cotton thread for it’s smoothness, the color selection and it’s durability.

The size 80 Aurifil was created for making invisible stitches when doing appliqué work.

Again the threads are L to R, Mettler 50, 60 and Aurifil 80.

The Aurifil 80 makes fine, smooth stitches and I really like the way it looks. The stitches are much less noticeable than the size 60 or 50 threads.

When I first got it, I told one of my good dolly friends about how fine it was and she said that she uses Mink thread in sizes as small as 200. Since we are both sewing nerds, we mailed each other snippets of our thread to compare. The Mink thread appeared to be larger, because it is fuzzy and not as smooth as the Aurifil and only comes in white or off-white.

In addition to neutrals, Aurifil 80 comes in 88 colors. Here are a few of them.

I know that many sewists always make sure to thread a specific end of the thread through their needle so the fibers line up correctly, but I never saw the point. Until now. When using the Aurifil 80, I found that the fineness of the thread makes it tend to curl if I thread my needle one way and stays smoother if I thread it the other.

So, I thread the end I cut off the spool onto my needle, then make a knot in that end and pull the thread through. Or you could snip a bit off the previously cut end and thread that end then knot the one you cut off the spool.


And lastly, pins. I’ve been using the standard, glass-head white pins for decades and still will for many things. But the Tulip glass-head appliqué pins are so much better when working on fine or delicate fabrics. Like the Tulip needles, they are very sharp and smooth and they don’t leave a mark or holes in the fabric.

They come in a nifty tube, too.

So, there you have it. I have just geeked out on the minutiae of sewing tools.

DH suggested that I add a sharp joke here, but I think I’ve given you enough fun and excitement for one day


Tool Tedium — 10 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing this information. I plan to try all three products you mention to see if I can improve the end results for my FF clothing projects.

  2. I really appreciate this information on fine sewing needles and pins. I’ve been looking for better ones. Thank you!

  3. I love it that you are a “sewing nerd” hahahahha. Yes, I agree, there is a difference with needles and pins. I am starting to get sick of some cheap pins that do not glide through fabrics. also I have cataracts and am finding the smaller holes very difficult to thread…so I will have to check out better needles and better pins….to sew for my dolls. ta for the info.

  4. You must have patience of a saint. I could never do this, my hands shake, can’t thread the eye of a needle without one of those metal wire things. You must love what you do.

  5. Emily thanks for the great recommendation. Always open for new tools in support of our hobby.


  6. This is the most interesting thing I have seen on Facebook in ages. I am just getting ready to start a black shot red silk Regency dress for my Alt Beck Gottschalk doll, Esme. I will have to order some of those Tulip pins and the tiny needles.

  7. Great information! I do use Aurifil threads- both 50 and 80 and love it.
    I like the Clover Black Gold Needles in the package with 9-12 in it. I also love the desk top Clover needle threader as it will thread these small needles.
    Will look into the Tulip pins.
    Thank you for your info on all of this!