When you look at the needle stand in some needlwork shops it would appear that choosing the 'right one' almost requires a some kind of degree. There are so many types and sizes to choose from, and to confuse things even further some are known by more than one name.
How do you know which to choose - or which to use for what, once all the needles in your kit have misplaced them selves from their carefully labelled positions on the needle card?
In some ways it is simply really: The job of a needle is draw thread through fabric, so it needs a hole (eye) at one end to hold the thread and a point at the other so that you can poke it through. In essence, that is all there is to it.
But choosing different needles for different jobs may at times make the stitching easier and help you get a better finish.
Often I will use one needle for everything in a project, because often one needle is suitable for everything I need to do, or I am just too engrossed in what I am doing (or too lazy) to get up and get a different needle.
When I do use several different needles for a project, I have a habit of parking them in a corner of the fabric so that they are right there, ready to go. Possibly not a good habit? I don't know, it works.
Does size matter?
Well I don't think many of us are comfortable going out for lunch wearing a shirt that is a couple of sizes too small or too large, so yes but don't get too hung up on numbers.
The size you use, should relate to the thickness of the thread you are using. For fairly obvious reasons, the thread needs to fit into the eye. The elongated eye in embroidery /crewel (same thing two names!) needles, tapestry needles and chenille needles make them easier to thread.
What I find more important to pay attention to is the thickness of the shaft. It should be the same size or slightly thicker than the thread you are using. That way the hole created by the needle as it is passed through your fabric is large enough for the thread to pass through.
Have you ever heard a little 'pop' every time you pulled your thread through? This happens when your needle is too fine - the pop is the sound of the doubled thread through the eye, 'popping' through your fabric and it wears your thread way too quickly.
If in doubt choose a larger, rather than a smaller needle. I was reminded of this when I mixed a fine metallic thread with a strand of silk it other day. The metal kept wearing and breaking in a no. 9 crewel (embroidery) needle, which is what I usually use for two strands. I had a no. 4 at hand, what I normally use for wool and it felt like a real 'crowbar' but not one broken or worn thread in sight.
Point or no point?
Point-less or blunt needles (tapestry) come in handy when you want your stitches to fall between the fabric threads (eg. counted work, drawn and cut thread work etc), or when you are whipping or weaving stitches around already existing stitches and you don't want to split them. (This is one of those instances where I am usually too laze to go and get a different needle so I simply pop on thimble and use the eye end of what-ever needle I am using)
Round eye or elongated eye?
As I mentioned, needles with elongated eyes are easier to thread, especially if you are stitching with several strands, but there are times when I prefer a needle with a round eye, such as if I am stitching with very fine metallic thread. Above, where the metal is blended with another thread, the elongated eye worked fine, but on its own I find a round eye holds the thread better and does not cause as much damage. Again, use a size that will prepare a decent size hole in your fabric for the thread to pass through... better bigger than too small.
I also use round eye needles (sharps) for the couching when I do metal thread embroidery and for the fine silks I use for Or Nue but for these purposes I do choose a really fine needle so that it will fit between and not distort the laid metal threads.
Another handy one to know is the milliner's (also straw) needle. It has a very long, thin shaft but the main point of difference is that the eye end is the same thickness as the shaft, making it the perfect choice for bullion knots and other wrapped stitches.
It is no secret that bullion knots are quite some way down on my 'favourite stitch' list... somewhere near the bottom in fact. I love the look of a well worked bullion, but they and I don't really get on that well. Our relationship is slightly improved when the milliner's needle steps in to mediate. It makes an enormous difference in fact.
In the corner of my Lone Tree project are four needles. A fine tapestry (probably a no. 24 or so) two fine crewel (embroidery) - I go through a lot of 8, 9 and 10s - and of course my 'crowbar' the no. 4 crewel. I hope to pick them up, if only for a few hours during the coming weekend.
I hope, this hasn't confused you completely - it is certainly not my intention. If in doubt, just use the needle you have at hand or the one you prefer, you will very soon know if it is doing the job. If not, try a different one.
And honestly, one packet of mixed size crewel/embroidery needles will do almost everything you need to do.