Beadweaving needles differ from regular sewing needles in that their eyes are much more narrow. This allows them to pass through holes in beads. (Do not confuse this style with other needles used with beads, such as big-eye and twisted.)
Needles for beadweaving fall into three general categories. Read on to learn the pros and cons of each.
Tip: Whichever type of needles you choose, be sure that they are long enough for your needs. For off-loom beadweaving, I prefer needles that are between 2 and 2.25 inches long. For wide beadwork on a loom, you may find it easier to use "extra long" needles, which are usually at least 3 inches long.
Traditionally, needles made in England are very high quality: they do not snag when you thread them, they pass smoothly through beads without much friction, and they last quite a while before breaking.
They differ from Japanese needles in that they are slightly more pliable, and therefore can become bent more easily as you use them. However, true English needles are also less brittle, and so slightly less prone to breaking.
The most popular brand of "English" beading needles is John James, which is part of the English company Entaco. Unfortunately, Entaco reportedly has begun manufacturing most of its needles in China.* Although these needles are still labeled "English," some beaders have found them to be notably lower in quality than those made in England.
*From "Henry Milward & Sons" on Wikipedia, April 12, 2012.
For this reason, you should check carefully with your suppliers before purchasing any needles labeled "English." I recommend only buying from lines that are actually manufactured in England.
Japanese Beading Needles
Japanese needles are also high quality, smooth, and not prone to snagging. They include the brands Tulip and Miyuki, among others. These needles are stiffer than English needles, which makes them less likely to bend. I find this especially helpful for loom beading, where it's important to keep the needle straight and avoid splitting thread when you pass through beads.
- Related article: Product Review of Tulip Beading Needles (Size 10)
Keep in mind that because these needles are stiffer, they can break more easily when used with techniques that require lots of tight turns between beads. So far, however, I have not heard of this being a problem with the newer Tulip brand needles.
I'm also not aware of any mislabeling of Chinese-made needles as "Japanese." However, it's still a good idea to confirm country of origin with your suppliers.
These needles are always priced significantly lower than their English or Japanese counterparts. One popular brand is Pony, which are manufactured in India. These needles are relatively stiff and do not last as long as English and Japanese needles. However, you may find them adequate for basic loom beading, where you don't need to make any sharp turns.