On a FB page recently, someone posed this question: “What is Your Most Valued Quilting and Sewing Equipment?” For fabric and thread artists like ourselves, I’d expect there’s a wide variety of answers, including grandma’s silver thimble, favourite scissors, rotary cutter, featherweight sewing machine and even long arm quilting setup. My own answer is my considerable stash of hand sewing needles, closely followed by a 6″ machine embroidery hoop, which I use flipped over for hand stitching small areas.
A keen hand stitcher for more than six decades, I’ve acquired many packets and vials of needles including crewel, tapestry, darning, leather, sharps, quilting, canvas, glover, beading, curved surgeon’s needles, and more. During the 20 years I lived in Australia’s Outback, I was often living in very remote areas, far beyond personal access to needlework and fabric shops for months at a time, so I’ve developed the habit of always having on hand plenty of extra needles (hand and machine) along with fabric and threads, ’just in case. JIC. This photo shows the greater part of my hand sewing collection, but there are others still in storage in Perth, and I keep a similar sized stash of my favourite brand of machine needles, too, JIC.
Before taking up traditional P&Q in 1988, I had been a creative embroiderer, usually combining fabric+paint+stitch. In 1989 I became closely involved in traditional geometric patchwork and quilting for a while that rapidly morphed into quilted fibre art / mixed media, with a mixture of hand and machine quilting as appropriate. In the last decade or so, as hand stitch gained popularity across fibre art generally, it became more significant in my own art, too. The Slow Stitch Movement, and various waves of interest in Boro, Sashiko, Kantha and other straight stitch pattern making certainly have influenced and encouraged hand stitch in my art, to a point where it has become a principal surface design element. As a result my hand needle stash is more important than ever.
I still have a few of the very small needles I used in my brief time with traditional quilt making. These are only about 3-4cm long, so tiny that I really can’t use them now as my hands are a bit arthritic, and I can barely see to thread them even with my prescription specs on! I used to be able to do that rocking back and forth motion to produce 11 or 12 stitches to the inch, modest by the quality standard adhered to or aspired to by traditional quilters – up to 16 stitches per inch. I no longer care a fig how many stitches to the inch I do, and just stitch whatever I feel my current work needs, and so I find long fine sharps and #7 darners perfect for general hand sewing and my raw edge applique surface designs respectively.
The other vital piece of sewing equipment I value enormously is a small Elna machine embroidery hoop (flipped) that I bought for doing the free machine embroidery I learned to do in about 1979-80. It’s terrific for hand stitching small areas, too:
Any time I need to pack to be somewhere for more than a couple of weeks, my hand sewing needle stash and my little fme hoop would be in my luggage to go with me!