Inside: All About Sewing Machine Needles
Did you know that using the right needle for a sewing project can make a huge difference on your project’s outcome?
The correct needle will glide through a project making beautiful, even stitches.
On the flip side, using the wrong needle (or a worn/damaged needle) on a project can create a whole host of problems like skipped or uneven stitches, and even holes in your fabric.
How do you know what needle is the right one for your project?
All About Sewing Machine Needles
The Anatomy of a Needle
Understanding the anatomy of a needle will help you know why it’s so important to change the needle with every new project and use the right needle for your project.
All needles have the same basic parts in common, however, there are variations that make them unique to different types of sewing.
The upper part of a needle is called the Shank. This is the part of the needle that is inserted into a domestic sewing machine. On most machines it’s rounded on the front and flat on the back and will only go in one way. The rounded part faces the front and the flat side faces the back. Specialty machines (such as longarms) use rounded shanks. Note: Please check your manual for specific instructions on your machine.
The part of the needle that tapers down from the Shank all the way to the point is called the Shaft. The shaft contains the other elements of the needle: groove, scarf, eye, and point.
Running along the front of the shaft is a Groove. This is where the thread lays securely (in the groove) as the needle goes into the fabric. You can feel this groove by running a fingernail down the front of a needle.
The Scarf is an indentation on the back of the needle (above the eye) that allows the bobbin hook to get close enough to clear the back of the needle and make a stitch.
The Eye is where the thread is inserted from front to back. The eye can vary in size depending on the type of needle being used for a particular project.
The point of the needle is the part that first comes into contact with the fabric. The most common types of needle points are Universal, Ball Point, and Sharp.
- Universal needles can be used with both woven and knits. However, only use a new universal needle when sewing with knits.
- Ball Point needles are designed specifically for knits and will pass through the knit fabric without leaving a hole.
- Sharp needles are best used with woven fabrics. They are ideal for top stitching and quilt piecing.
If you look at the different needles in the above image you will see some numbers at the bottom that look like this: 80/12. Those two numbers represent the European and American size of the needles within the package.
When you understand the needle labeling system and what these numbers mean, you will be able to make the best needle choice for your project.
- The American system of sizing needles uses numbers between 8 – 19. The corresponding needle size gets larger as the number goes up. So, a size 8 needle would be for extremely fine fabrics and a size 19 needle would be for thick, heavy fabric.
- The European system of sizing needles uses numbers between 60 – 120. The corresponding needle size gets larger as the number goes up. So, a size 60 needle would be for extremely fine fabrics and a size 120 needle would be for thick, heavy fabric.
Choosing the Right Size
- Fine or very fine fabrics: Use needle sizes 60/8 or 65/9
- Light weight fabrics: Use needle sizes 70/10 or 75/11
- Medium weight fabrics: Use needle sizes 80/12 or 90/14
- Heavy weight fabrics: Use needle sizes 100/16 or 110/18
- Extra heavy weight fabrics: Use needle size 120/19
When you look closely at the eye and point of different needles you may think they are all the same. But, that isn’t true.
Different needles will have different sized opening for the eye. This is vital depending on the type of sewing you will be doing. For example, a larger eye will allow a specialty thread to glide through the needle.
- Universal Needles: Normal sized eye and slightly rounded point. For most general sewing. Works for both knits and woven fabrics. Use a new needle with every new project.
- Jeans/Denim Needles: Normal sized eye and medium ball point. Designed for thicker fabrics like denim and extra thick woven fabrics.
- Jersey/Ball Point Needles: Normal sized eye with rounded point. Designed for sewing with all knits and some stretch fabrics.
- Microtex/Sharp Needles: Normal sized eye with sharp point. Designed for sewing straight stitches on delicate and microfiber fabrics.
- Stretch Needles: Normal sized eye with a deep scarf on the back to prevent skipped stitches. Designed for sewing with elastics and faux suede.
- Quilting Needles: Normal sized eye with tapered shaft and rounded point. Designed to go through several layers of fabric/batting when quilting.
- Topstitch Needles: Enlarged eye and groove and extra sharp point. Designed for thicker topstitching threads to go through fabric.
- Embroidery Needles: Enlarged eye. Designed for polyester and rayon embroidery threads which sew at high speeds.
- Metallic Needles: Enlarged, polished eye. Designed to prevent specialty threads, such as metallic thread, from shredding.
- Leather Needles: Normal sized eye. Designed to sew leather, faux leather, and other heavy non-woven fabrics. Will leave a hole every place the needle enters.
Want to take your sewing up a notch? Specialty needs are the secret to taking a project to the next level.
And, there are a variety of specialty needles that come in many different sizes with a few available for both knits and woven.
- Wing Needles: These needles are designed for heirloom sewing. They have flared sides and are designed to leave openings in the fabric for applications such as hemstitching.
- Handicap/Quick Threading Needles: These needles are designed for anyone who has difficulty threading a needle. They have a tiny slit in the eye which allows you to slide the thread in without having to try to fit in through the eye.
- Double Eye Needles: As the name says, this needle has a double eye. This needle can add dimension to a decorative stitch when using two different colored threads.
- Twin/Triple Needles: This needle is available for both woven(red) and knits (blue). It comes in a variety of needle widths and can be used for a variety of applications. It is especially useful when hemming knits.
As you can see, choosing the right needle for your project can take it to a new level.
I suggest you purchase a variety of sewing needles and start experimenting. Don’t be afraid to use them with decorative stitches or specialty fabrics.
The possibilities are endless!