One of the things I don't get asked is what are the right tools. The right tools and the right materials make embroidery fun and a whole lot easier. Makes me wonder when I see people "just making do" or look at a needle curiously when I put it into a kit.
The Right Needle for the Job:
Not so long ago I would just pick up the needle that felt right or could make do for the job at hand. No longer! There is a lot to learn about needles - the shaft diameter, overall length of the needle, the eye type, etc. Just as having the "wrong" end of the thread in your needle makes for knots, having the wrong eye on the needle or wrong diameter for the needle, makes passing the thread through your fabric harder or destructive to your thread.
Some of the learning comes from experience. However, there is one tool which I think can help. As most of you know, I usually don't endorse anything but there are exceptions and this is one. The Valley Quail Chapter of EGA puts out a Needle Index. This spiral bound book has information about most types of needles - pictures of them so you can determine their number/size, words about what they do best, and a piece of felt to place your needles. It runs under $10 and many local needlework shops carry them. Or you can get them from Needle In a Haystack .
The other thing I am quickly learning is that the quality of the needle makes a difference. While I like gold or titanium needles, they are not as necessary to me as a well made steel needle. Yes I used to buy "cheap" needles for kits, but not any longer. The cheap needles wear on your thread, have burrs which marr the fabric, and dull faster. Unfortunately some of the larger needle companies have taken to outsourcing the production of their needles. Now I look at each package to make sure that they are made in England or France.
The one exception is the handmade and specialty Japanese needles. These are a true luxury. In the US they are available through the Japanese Embroidery Center . They too have very specific jobs which they perform beautifully if you are doing certain types of goldwork or fine silk "painting" embroidery.
As you may have guessed by now, this will be a periodic series of columns about tools. If you are curious about a particular tool or type of embroidery and its tools - leave a comment. Hopefully this series will help some of you overcome issues which have kept your embroidery from being the best it can be.