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Scarlet Quince Ramblings

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Tapestry needles compared
Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

I thought it would be interesting to compare some different brands of tapestry needles. Is there a best kind? I looked at four brands: DMC, Bohin, John James, and Anchor.

There are a bunch of other brands — a quick search on Amazon turned up Dritz, Susan Bates, Colonial, Mary Arden, and Piecemakers. The needles I used were all brand new out of the package. I used size 26 because that’s what I like to stitch with (I know many of you prefer the smaller size 28, but I have trouble with the eyes breaking).

I took some measurements with a dial caliper accurate to 0.001 inches.

Most were about the same length, with the Anchor being a little shorter:

       DMC - 1.344"
     Bohin - 1.343"
John James - 1.354"
    Anchor - 1.283"

They were all exactly the same diameter: 0.0235″ (in the middle). This should correspond to some wire gauge (and probably does) but it’s nothing obvious like 26.

Next I measured the thickness of the eye (by which I mean the direction that the thread goes through). There was more variation here:

       DMC - 0.0180"
     Bohin - 0.0190"
John James - 0.0185"
    Anchor - 0.0150"

It’s true that these are tiny numbers but note that Bohin eye is 25% thicker than the Anchor eye!

I also measured the width of the eyes (going across the opening, in the middle). This affects how hard or easy the needle will be to thread.

       DMC - 0.0330"
     Bohin - 0.0365"
John James - 0.0315"
    Anchor - 0.0340"

The first three eyes are similar, but the Anchor eye has a weird kind of flange along the sides. Maybe this makes it stronger.

The Anchor needles were gold-plated. Unfortunately this does not seem to be a good thing. They use such a tiny amount of gold which they have to be careful not to polish off, so you can see individual specks of gold and the Anchor needles feel a little rougher than the others. But I could be imagining that just because they LOOK rougher. I couldn’t tell any difference in the smoothness of the other brands (which I believe are all nickel-plated).

I tried to get a sense of their relative sharpness. For a tapestry needle, blunter is better, to reduce the chance that you’ll split a thread. My unscientific method was to take two needles at a time, holding them together, and scratching them along a piece of paper, and looking at which made more of a scratch. My conclusion was that the sharpest was Anchor, followed by John James, followed by DMC and Bohin (I couldn’t tell any difference between those two).

Another consideration is how rough the inside of the eye is. It’s possible to see (under magnification) that all of the needles are not smooth inside, and I suspect it’s not possible to polish the inside of a machine-made needle. I don’t know if there is any difference, although I swear I have had needles that could have doubled as thread cutters. One might measure it by scraping a thread back and forth along the inside of the eye and count how many times it takes before the thread breaks but this seems like a lot of work for an inconclusive result (the pressure would probably vary).

This is not a great picture but you try taking a picture of the inside of a needle’s eye! You can see that all the eyes are rough(er) inside. The Bohin needle seems to have some roughness on the outside as well. Examined under a 9x jeweler’s loupe, I could see that all the needles have some marks on the outside of the eye, mainly on one side. This is apparently an artifact of the manufacturing process.

Regarding price (and this is just what I paid; your mileage may vary):

DMC is $1.25 for 6 or 21 cents each
John James is $2.00 for 6 or 33 cents each
Bohin is $11 for 50 or 22 cents each (or non-bulk, $2.12 for 6 or 35 cents each)
Anchor is $2.10 for 4 or 53 cents each (that’s the gold plating)

Other information:

The DMC package says nickel-plated steel, made in China, inspected and packed in England.

The John James package says assembled and inspected in England using needles imported by Entaco to our quality and specifications. Entaco is located in Redditch, England, but it doesn’t say where the needles are made. These needles are probably nickel-plated too. John James also makes gold-plated and platinum-plated needles.

My Bohin needles came in a tiny baggie so I don’t have the official package, but it is a French company and it seems that the needles are still made in France! The web site seems to indicate that the needles are nickel-plated.

The Anchor package says gold plated, made in India, Susan Bates Division of Coats & Clark.

The conclusion? Your preferences may be different than mine, but I like the Bohin needles a lot. They seem sturdy and well-made, and in bulk they’re very reasonably priced. The DMC needles are good too. John James has a reputation as a high-quality needle but I prefer a larger eye. I liked the Anchor least of all, with the spotty gold plating and weird and thin eye. The differences ARE small but in hours of stitching, they are not undetectable. I recommend that you experiment with different brands to see which you prefer.

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