What in the World is a Wing Needle?

by Julie

wing needle

Wing needles come in several sizes and even double needle style.

Most of the time you want to avoid making holes in your fabric as you sew. But occasionally holes can make a nice decorative touch. That’s what a wing needle is for. It’s a regular sewing machine needle on top, but down by the eye it has two protruding wings. The wings work like an awl, pushing the individual threads of the fabric apart but not breaking them. So instead of a tear, you get a nice lacy opening.

Wing needles work on light to medium weight woven fabrics. So they’re great for linens, cottons, even some denim.  Many people use a wing needle to create a row of holes between rows of machine or hand embroidery. This gives a nice old-fashioned effect like Victorian drawn-thread embroidery. Most people use this technique to create heirloom looks on the hems of bed linens, towels, handkerchiefs, aprons and pinafores. But you can use it anywhere you like. Think outside the box and you never know what you might come up with.

Wing Needle Hints:

  • You can use the wing needle with thread or without. For example, if you wanted to do some lacing with a thick decorative thread or ribbon, you could run a row of wing stitches without thread to make the holes quick and easy.
  • Make sure you test your needle out on a scrap piece of fabric first. Different weaves create different sized holes, and you want to get your spacing right before you sew on the actual project. To adjust the spacing between holes, just change the stitch length.
  • Sometimes lighter weight fabrics will tend to pucker as the wing pushes the threads apart. You can fix this by backing your fabric with a lightweight stabilizer.
  • For best results on linens and cottons, prepare your fabric ahead of time. Apply a light coating of spray starch, let it soak in for a minute, then dry iron your fabric. Repeat three or four times until you have a nice crisp foundation to work on.
  • Use an open toe embroidery foot so you can see your work clearly. And you may need to change your throat plate to accommodate the large needle. Try making a stitch with the handwheel first. If metal meets metal anywhere, you need to make adjustments or you’ll damage your machine.
  • You can create single rows of holes by using a straight stitch. Or you can make multiple rows by using a zig-zag or other decorative stitch.
  • You can make a very pretty trim by placing an organza ribbon or piece of lace on top of your primary fabric and sewing with the wing needle.
wing needle stitching

Stitches made with a size 16 wing needl

Wing needles are easily available at your local sewing shop or you can get them online. They cost less than $10, and since you’re only using them occasionally, they last a long time. Why not experiment with a wide variety of stitches, tensions, backings, etc.? Make a sampler of your experiments and keep notes. That way when you need to use a wing needle effect in the future, you’ll have a quick reference chart handy.

Have you tried using a wing needle? Have any great tips to add to this list? Please leave a comment!

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