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Arguably the most important tool in your sewing machine and indeed your sewing kit is your needle. It can be frustrating to try and sew with a blunt needle, so let’s talk about how to sharpen a sewing needle.
How to see if your needle needs sharpening
Sewing needles actually have very long lives so you don’t really need to throw out a needle every time it become slightly blunt. To see if it needs sharpening or not, hold the needle between your fingers so the point is facing down.
With the index finger or pinky of your other hand, run the tip of your fingernail down the needle. If your fingernail catches anywhere, the needle is blunt or damaged and you need to sharpen it.
A smooth, sharp needle won’t catch onto your fingernail.
Note: Before trying any of this, hold up the needle and make sure that it is straight. There’s no point sharpening a bent needle!
Three easy ways to sharpen a sewing needle
These three methods to sharpen a needle should get you going. I would recommend using method 1 and method 2 for when the point is actually blunted, and method 3 if the needle has just become a little rough and needs some polishing.
1. Using an emery board
Using an emery board is one of the most effective ways to sharpen a needle, period. They’re also easily available in most households, as many nail clippers have one built in to them. They’re also the same things you use to buff and polish fingernails.
Ideally, the grit on the board should be very fine since you’re working with such a fine point.
Next, grab some sewing machine oil and put a drop or two(not too much) on to the board. This is just to improve lubrication and dissipate heat better.
Hold the emery board down flat on a table to keep it stable. Next, hold the needle between your finger and thumb in a way that you can twirl the needle between your fingers. The twirling motion is important as it will allow you to evenly sharpen the needle.
Place the needle at a low angle on the emery board and run it across a few times with some pressure. As you run it across, twirl the needle between your fingers so all sides of the needle are sharpened.
Check using the fingernail test I detailed above if the needle is sufficiently sharpened. If not, repeat until you get the desired sharpness.
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2. Using an emery strawberry
Emery strawberries are something you’ll find in most sewing kits. If you have a tomato pincushion, you’ll see there is a little strawberry dangling from it’s side.
The strawberry is filled with emery sand, and you can use the sand to sharpen your needle.
Just stick the needle into the emery strawberry and give it a few turns before pulling it out. That should sufficiently polish it. Again, you can use the fingernail test to see if it’s sufficiently sharpened.
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3. Using a bar of soap
If you feel the point of the needle is okay, but the rest of the needle is a bit scratched and requires some polishing to make it work smoother, you can stick the needle a couple of times in and out of a bar of soap.
The beauty of using soap here is that it won’t damage your fabric either. When you wash the fabric, any soap residue will just wash out.
The soap helps lubricate the needle and remove any unwanted friction from scratches.
How to polish a needle to make it look new
Once you’ve sharpened your needle to satisfaction using the emery method, the last step is to polish it and get it back to that shiny factory-finish.
For this, you’ll either need some toothpaste(that has polishing crystals in it) or some car polishing medium. Take a tiny dab of the polishing medium onto a piece of scrap cloth and run the needle over it, using the same twirling motion you used during sharpening.
You may notice that a blackish residue forms as you do this process. This is a good sign, as it shows the needle is actually becoming polished.
Finally, clean off any leftover toothpaste or car polish from the needle using soap and water, and dry thoroughly.
Enjoy your fresh, shiny new needle!