In Japan one may have an abundance of sashiko needles to choose from, but outside of Japan our choices tend to be more limited. For the past decade or so we were really limited, generally to whatever Olympus had to offer, and that was about it. Times have changed, much to our benefit.
Which brand to start with?
Olympus, the company providing non-Japanese stitchers with sashiko supplies for a very long time (decades? I really have no idea) offers a wide variety of thread, needles, thimbles, and kits and has continued to add to their catalog of creative notions over the years. If you’re starting out with one of their pre-printed kits, you may find Olympus sashiko needles to be just the thing to help you get a feel for sashiko. The needles are large and easy to hold with big, easy to thread eyes. Drop one on the floor and you’ll be sure to find it long before someone accidentally steps on it.
While a good place to start, how do these hold up to more advanced sashiko? Not very well. The thicker needles are unwieldy when it comes to quilting through more than one layer of fabric, never mind batting. On to other options.
One step up the scale is another familiar brand: Clover. With an ever-expanding catalog of sewing supplies and notions, Clover is always looking to tap into the latest creative trend. They offer two types of sashiko (or as they spell it, sashico) needles; a basic assortment and a set of three long needles. Finer than Olympus needles, I’ve tested these out and found them to be very good for sashiko work in general, but they are still a step below my all-time favorites.
Tulip. Top of the line in my experience (and I’ve heard there are still better needles in Japan, I just need to find the small shops where they are sold), these are manufactured to exacting standards. Smoother, more flexible, and less brittle than most needles, Tulip sashiko needles can sew through just about anything, including quilt batting. Some people have expressed concern the eyes are too small to thread with thick sashiko thread, but I prefer the smaller eyes as I’m less likely to drop my thread by accident and lose my needle in the process. The medium needle with the smallest eye is my preferred needle for silk sashiko using Fujix Soie et silk thread.
Please avoid using a needle threader with these as they tend to break the eye.
Long or short?
Why do sashiko needles come in such a variety of sizes? If you’re familiar with how to sew sashiko using a palm thimble, then you can see how a longer needle is easier to make a long, straight line. However, that same long needle would be too much to handle when it comes to making curvy lines where you can only pick up one or two stitches at a time.
Basic rule: Long needles are for long lines and short needles are for curves.
Doing a variety of lines and curves? Get the widest assortment you can and work with, or just try a pack of every type and see how they work for you. The Clover basic assortment and Tulip Long assortment are both good variety packs.