A sewing needle, used for hand-sewing, is a long slender tool with a pointed tip at one end and a hole (or eye) at the other. The earliest needles were made of bone or wood; modern needles are manufactured from high carbon steel wire and are nickel- or 18K gold-plated for corrosion resistance. High quality embroidery needles are plated with two-thirds platinum and one-third titanium alloy. Traditionally, needles have been kept in needle books or needlecases which have become objects of adornment. Sewing needles may also be kept in an étui, a small box that held needles and other items such as scissors, pencils and tweezers.
Hand sewing needles come in a variety of types/ classes designed according to their intended use and in a variety of sizes within each type.
Sharp Needles: used for general hand sewing; built with a sharp point, a round eye, and are of medium length. Those with a double-eyes are able to carry two strands of thread while minimizing fabric friction.
Appliqué: These are considered another all-purpose needle for sewing, appliqué, and patch work.
Embroidery: Also known as crewel needles; identical to sharps but have a longer eye to enable easier threading of multiple embroidery threads and thicker yarns.
Betweens or Quilting: These needles are shorter than sharps, with a small rounded eye and are used for making fine stitches on heavy fabrics such as in tailoring, quilt making and other detailed handwork; note that some manufacturers also distinguish between quilting needles and quilting between needles, the latter being slightly shorter and narrower than the former.
Milliners: A class of needles generally longer than sharps, useful for basting and pleating, normally used in millinery work.
Easy- or Self-threading: Also called calyxeyed sharps, side threading, and spiral eye needles, these needles have an open slot into which a thread may easily be guided rather than the usual closed eye design.
Beading: These needles are very fine, with a narrow eye to enable them to fit through the centre of beads and sequins along with a long shaft to thread and hold a number of beads at a time.
Bodkin: Also called ballpoints, this is a long, thick needle with a ballpoint end and a large, elongated eye. They can be flat or round and are generally used for threading elastic, ribbon or tape through casings and lace openings.
Chenille: These are similar to tapestry needles but with large, long eyes and a very sharp point to penetrate closely woven fabrics. Useful for ribbon embroidery.
Darning: Sometimes called finishing needles, these are designed with a blunt tip and large eye making them similar to tapestry needles but longer; yarn darners are the heaviest sub-variety.
Doll: Not designed for hand sewing at all, these needles are made long and thin and are used for soft sculpturing on dolls, particularly facial details.
Leather: Also known as glovers and as wedge needles, these have a triangular point designed to pierce leather without tearing it; often used on leather-like materials such as vinyl and plastic.
Sailmaker: Similar to leather needles, but the triangular point extends further up the shaft; designed for sewing thick canvas or heavy leather.
Tapestry: The large eye on these needles lets them to carry a heavier weight yarn than other needles, and their blunt tip—usually bent at a slight angle from the rest of the needle—allows them to pass through loosely woven fabric such as embroidery canvas or even-weave material without catching or tearing it; comes in a double-eyed version for use on a mounted frame and with two colors of thread.
Tatting: These are built long with an even thickness for their entire length, including at the eye, to enable thread to be pulled through the double stitches used in tatting.
Upholstery: These needles are heavy, long needles that may be straight or curved and are used for sewing heavy fabrics, upholstery work, tufting and for tying quilts; the curved variety is practical for difficult situations on furniture where a straight needle will not work Heavy duty 12" needles are used for repairing mattresses. Straight sizes: 3"-12" long, curved: 1.5"-6" long.