In my needle book I keep a collection of different types of sewing machine needles. To my eye, they all appear quite similar – these small, slender pieces of metal don’t seem to have any distinguishing features at a glance, aside from the different color marks on the shaft that indicate their type. But when I begin sewing, the impact of selecting the right or wrong needle becomes immediately apparent.
If I use the wrong needle, a multitude of issues can arise. The wrong needle can damage the delicate components of my sewing machine, like the bobbin hook, or even throw off the machine’s timing, which is essential for creating consistent, quality stitches.
The consequences of a poor needle choice can range from puckered seams, which ruin the appearance and drape of the garment, to broken or shredded thread that interrupts my sewing flow and wastes materials. Even worse, an incorrect needle can punch irreparable holes in my fabric, especially if it’s a delicate one like chiffon or voile.
At the very least, using the wrong needle will likely result in an inferior stitch, which is frustrating after investing time and effort into a project.
I’ve learned that paying attention to the type and size of the needle for each fabric and thread I use is crucial. It’s a simple step that can make or break the success of my sewing projects.
In the past, I had a very limited selection of machine needles to choose from, with the primary decision being needle size. Now, the variety of needle types available to home sewists is really vast.
Needles are now designed to cater to different types of fabric, thread, and sewing techniques. For instance, there are needles specifically made for knit fabrics, leather, denim, embroidery, etc. Each type of needle has a specific design, such as a rounded tip for knits to slide between the fibers without causing runs or snags, or a wedge-shaped tip for leather to cut through the material cleanly.
Understanding the importance of needle selection and learning how to choose the right needle for your fabric and thread is an invaluable skill in sewing.
- How To Choose Needles For Sewing Lightweight Fabrics
- How To Select Needles For Medium Weight Fabrics
- How To Choose Needles For Heavyweight Fabrics
- How To Choose A Needle For Sewing Knits
- Choosing Needles For Sewing Vinyl
- Choosing Needles For Sewing Leather
- How To Choose A Needle For Different Sewing Applications
How To Choose Needles For Sewing Lightweight Fabrics
When sewing lightweight woven fabrics such as silk, organza, chiffon, voile, lawn, georgette, batiste, tulle, and handkerchief linen, you should select a needle that is fine and sharp.
Most of the time you can use Universal needle type. The size of the needle is very important. Lightweight fabrics are best sewn with smaller needles, sizes 60/8, 65/9, 70/10 or 75/11, to avoid leaving large holes and to ensure that the needle can pass through the fabric smoothly without causing snags or puckering.
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Microtex or Sharp needles are also an excellent choice for these types of fabrics especially if they are densely woven fabrics. They have a very sharp point which allows them to pierce the fabric cleanly without pulling or snagging.
Before starting your project, it’s a good idea to try out a few stitches on a scrap piece of your fabric. This way, you can make sure the needle is just right for the job.
Now let me tell you about needles you may not have seen often – the Universal needles size 55/7. I use them all the time for sewing delicate fabrics like silk charmeuse and chiffon.
✅ Related tutorial: How To Sew Silk: Helpful Tips To Avoid Frustration
These needles are exceptionally fine, which is ideal for handling these lightweight materials without causing any snags or damage. Recently, I used them for topstitching a modesty panel I made from 100% silk chiffon. If you’re interested in a step-by-step guide, I’ve put together a detailed tutorial How to Sew a Modesty Panel Cleavage Cover.
How To Select Needles For Medium Weight Fabrics
For a range of medium weight woven fabrics, the needle of choice often falls into the Universal type, but the size can vary slightly depending on the specific fabric. A size 80/12 needle is quite versatile and can be used effectively for quilting cotton, chambray, double gauze, and poplin, which are not overly dense but still have some structure.
When working with linen, flannel, raw silk, and brocade, which may have a heavier hand or a more textured weave, stepping up to a size 90/14 needle can be beneficial. This size is robust enough to handle the fabric without causing snags or skipped stitches.
Incorporating additional medium weight fabrics into your projects, such as cotton sateen, cotton twill, wool blends, crepe, lighter weight velvet, lighter weight corduroy, and suede cloth, is a great way to expand the versatility of your sewing repertoire. These fabrics, too, are well-suited to a Universal needle, with size 80/12 or 90/14 being a good starting point, depending on the fabric’s specific weight and density.
By the way, did you notice I didn’t mention polyester fabric? Well, I did that on purpose! I try not to sew with polyester. My preference leans towards natural fibers because they’re generally more breathable and sustainable. Polyester, being synthetic, doesn’t offer the same comfort level, and it’s not as eco-friendly. Plus, I find that natural fibers are often more enjoyable to work with and give my projects a quality feel that polyester just doesn’t match. So, when I talk about fabrics, I focus on those that align with my values.
✅ Related tutorial: The Chemicals We Wear Everywhere
Always consider doing a test stitch on a scrap piece of your chosen fabric to ensure the needle produces the desired result before proceeding with your project.
How To Choose Needles For Heavyweight Fabrics
When working with heavyweight fabrics like denim, canvas, corduroy, upholstery fabric, tweed, burlap, sailcloth, woolens, fake fur, etc. you’ll need a needle that is strong enough to penetrate these thicker materials without breaking.
A Denim or Jeans needle is designed for this purpose, with a sharp point and a sturdy shaft that can handle the dense weave of fabrics like denim and canvas.
You can use a Universal needle as well, just not a thin one.
For these heavy fabrics, you’ll typically use a needle size ranging from 90/14 to 110/18. The size you choose depends on the thickness of the fabric and the weight of the thread you’re using.
For example, for corduroy and tweed, which are thick but not as dense, a size 90/14 needle is usually sufficient. Upholstery fabric, which is often quite heavy, typically requires a size 100/16 or 110/18 needle. Woolens can vary in thickness, so a size 90/14 might be adequate for lighter woolens, while heavier ones might need a 100/16. For fake fur, which can be dense and fluffy, a size 90/14 to 100/16 needle is appropriate to get through the pile without damaging the fabric.
If you’ve decided to hem jeans, you might be wondering if you need to buy a special Denim needle or if you can work with what you already have on hand.
✅ Related tutorial: How to Easily Hem Jeans at Home: A Beginner-Friendly Step-by-Step Tutorial
If hemming jeans is a one-off task for you and you don’t anticipate doing it regularly, then a Universal needle can indeed get the job done. However, you can’t just use any size. A size 75/11 is too fine and likely to break due to the heavy fabric. Instead, a 90/14 Universal needle will be much more suitable for the job – it’s sturdy enough to handle the denim without breaking.
On the other hand, if you find yourself hemming jeans frequently, it’s worth investing in special Denim needles. These needles are specifically designed to penetrate thick, woven fabrics without getting damaged.
✅ Related tutorial: How to Hem Jeans with the Original Hem
When sewing with heavyweight fabrics, use a longer stitch length to accommodate the thickness of the material and prevent skipped stitches. Always test your needle and stitch settings on a scrap of your fabric to ensure the best results.
How To Choose A Needle For Sewing Knits
For sewing knit fabrics, the best choice is usually a Ballpoint or Jersey needle. These needles have rounded tips that allow them to slip between the fabric’s fibers rather than piercing them, which helps prevent runs or damage to the knit structure.
The size of the needle should correspond to the weight of the knit fabric you’re using:
- For lightweight knits like jersey, chiffon knit, DTY knit, or rib knits, a smaller needle size such as 75/11 or 80/12 is typically suitable.
- Medium-weight knits, such as ponte, interlock, ITY knit, boucle, or double knits, often work well with a size 80/12 or 90/14 needle.
- For heavier knits, like sweater knits, faux leather knit, or bulky fleece, you might need a larger size like 90/14 or even 100/16.
✅ Related tutorial: All About Modern Types Of Knit Fabric
In addition to the standard ballpoint/jersey needle, there are also Stretch needles, which are specifically designed for highly elastic fabrics like spandex or Lycra. These needles have a slightly less rounded tip than ballpoint needles and a special eye and scarf design to help prevent skipped stitches.
To read more about Stretch needles, visit my article The Ultimate Guide to Stretch Needles.
As with any sewing project, testing your needle on a scrap of the knit fabric you’ll be using is crucial to ensure that your needle choice doesn’t snag the fabric and that it produces smooth, even stitches.
For modern types of fleece, which are typically soft, bulky, and stretchy, using the right needle type and size is important to handle the fabric’s texture and elasticity without damaging it. A ballpoint or stretch needle is recommended for sewing fleece because it has a rounded tip that can glide between the fabric loops without cutting through them.
The size of the needle often depends on the weight of the fleece:
- For light to medium weight fleece, an 80/12 needle is usually sufficient.
- For heavier fleece, you might need to use a 90/14 needle to ensure it can handle the fabric’s thickness.
For example, microfleece is thinner and works well with a ballpoint needle size 80/12. , Sherpa fleece, with its thicker, wool-like pile, may require a size 90/14 needle to penetrate the fabric effectively.
There are also special Fleece needles available on the market. These needles are designed to work with the high-loft and stretchy characteristics of fleece materials. They typically have a slight ballpoint tip to avoid cutting or damaging the fabric and come in sizes that are suitable for medium to heavy weight fleece, such as 75/11 or 90/14.
✅Related tutorial: 19 Types of Sewing Machine Needles and What They’re Used For
Choosing Needles For Sewing Vinyl
Sewing with vinyl requires a careful selection of needles to ensure the material is handled properly and to achieve the best results.
Clear vinyl, which you might use for items like raincoats, bags, and table coverings, can be sewn using a standard Universal needle. However, for a cleaner stitch, consider using a Sharp or Leather needle in size 80/12 or 90/14, as these are better at piercing the vinyl cleanly.
✅ Related tutorial: Different Types Of Vinyl Fabric For Sewing
Upholstery vinyl is a heavier option, often found in furniture and automotive interiors. Due to its thickness, a stronger needle is necessary. A Leather needle with a wedge-shaped tip, a size 100/16, is recommended to penetrate the layers without sticking or causing damage.
Marine vinyl is another robust material, built to endure the rigors of outdoor use. Similar to upholstery vinyl, a Leather needle size 100/16 is appropriate here to handle the material’s durability and thickness.
For more decorative types of vinyl, such as glitter or foil vinyl, which have a special surface treatment, it’s important to use a needle that can sew without damaging the finish. A Leather needle in size 90/14 is usually sufficient for these materials.
Stretch vinyl, often used in clothing for its flexibility, presents a different challenge due to its elasticity. A Stretch needle, typically size 75/11 or 80/12, can help prevent skipped stitches that might occur when working with stretchy materials.
There are also special Vinyl needles. These needles often have a specific coating that allows them to glide through the vinyl more easily, reducing the stickiness that can occur when the needle heats up during sewing. This coating also helps to prevent residue build-up from the adhesive properties of vinyl.
✅Related tutorial: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Schmetz Needles
Non-stick needles, also known as Teflon-coated needles, are another excellent option for sewing vinyl. The non-stick coating on these needles is particularly effective at preventing the needle from gumming up, which can be a common issue when working with vinyl. Non-stick needles come in various sizes, but for most vinyl projects, sizes 80/12 to 90/14 are commonly used, depending on the thickness of the vinyl.
Choosing Needles For Sewing Leather
Leather needles are specifically made to sew through tough materials like leather, suede, and heavy non-woven synthetics. These needles are distinct from others due to their unique point design. They have a slightly triangular or wedge-shaped tip, often referred to as a chisel point, which allows them to pierce through leather cleanly without tearing it.
When selecting a Leather needle, the size will depend on the thickness and toughness of the leather you are working with. For lighter, more pliable leathers, a smaller needle such as a size 80/12 or 90/14 might be sufficient. For thicker, sturdier leathers, you’ll likely need a larger needle, such as a size 100/16 or 110/18, to handle the material without breaking.
✅Related tutorial: How to sew thin leather easily with a regular sewing machine
Leather needles are not just for leather but can also be used for other heavy, non-woven materials where a sharp point might cause damage by cutting the threads or fibers. These needles create a small slit in the material, which can close back up around the thread, making them ideal for minimizing the appearance of holes in projects that require a neat finish.
How To Choose A Needle For Different Sewing Applications
Choosing the right sewing machine needle for your project is not solely about matching the needle to the fabric type. Different sewing applications, such as topstitching, serging, embroidery, quilting, etc. also require specific needle choices to achieve the best results.
Each application has its own set of demands, from the precision of embroidery to the durability required for serging. Understanding the nuances of needle types and sizes for these various applications can greatly enhance your sewing experience, leading to more professional-looking finishes and a smoother sewing process.
In the following sections, we’ll explore how to select the ideal needle for a range of common sewing tasks, ensuring that every stitch you make is done with the utmost confidence and quality.
Choosing A Needle For Topstitching
For topstitching, the goal is to create a clean, prominent stitch that stands out on the fabric. To achieve this, topstitching needles are the best choice as they have a larger eye and a deeper groove. This design accommodates thicker topstitching threads and protects them from friction and breakage as they pass through the fabric.
Topstitch needles typically come in sizes 80/12, 90/14, and 100/16. The size you choose should correspond with the weight of the thread and fabric you’re using. For example, a size 80/12 needle is suitable for lighter weight threads and fabrics, while a size 100/16 needle is better for heavier threads and fabrics.
Universal needles are also an option that can handle a range of fabrics. If you’re working with a medium-weight material and using standard thread, a larger Universal needle size 90/14 can create effective topstitches.
✅Related tutorial: How To Topstitch | 17 Topstitching Tips Every Beginner Should Know
For more detailed work on densely woven fabrics, a Microtex or Sharp needles offer a fine point for precision. These needles produce clean, straight stitches and are particularly useful for lightweight fabrics that might otherwise be snagged or damaged.
For topstitching knit fabrics, a coverstitch is often the preferred method as it provides a professional finish that retains the fabric’s stretch. If you’re using a conventional sewing machine for this purpose, a Twin jersey needle is an excellent choice. This type of needle is designed to create parallel rows of stitches, simulating the coverstitch effect. The jersey designation indicates that the needle has a ballpoint tip, which is ideal for knits because it works the stitches between the fabric loops instead of piercing them, thus preserving the fabric’s elasticity and structure.
For those with a dedicated coverstitch machine, specialized Coverstitch needles are available. These needles are made specifically for the task and are designed to work with the machine’s looping mechanism to create a secure and stretchy hem. Coverstitch machines can use one or two needles, depending on the desired type of the topstitching (a coverstitch or chain stitch), and these needles come in various sizes to accommodate different weights of knit fabric
How To Choose A Needle For Your Serger/Overlock Machine
Serging, or overlocking, is a sewing technique used to finish edges and seams in a neat and durable way. Sergers, or overlock machines, often require specific needles that differ from those used in standard sewing machines. These needles are often designed to be stronger to cope with the high-speed stitching that sergers are known for.
However, many home sergers use needles that are the same as those used in regular sewing machines, such as the 130/705 H system, which is a flat shank needle with a scarf to help with stitch formation. For example, my favorite serger JUKI MO-2000 QVP sews with regular sewing machine needles. Here is my review of this great serger – Review of JUKI serger MO-2000 QVP.
When selecting needles for serging, consider the type of fabric you’ll be working with. For lightweight fabrics, a size 75/11 or 80/12 needle is usually sufficient. Medium weight fabrics are best served by a size 80/12 or 90/14 needle, and for heavyweight fabrics, a size 90/14 or 100/16 needle will give the best results.
✅Related tutorial: All About Serger Needles
I recommend consulting your serger’s manual to confirm the correct needle system and size for your machine, as using the wrong needle can result in poor stitch quality or even damage to your machine. With the right serger needle in place, you can expect clean, professional edges on all of your sewing projects.
Choosing Needles For Machine Embroidery
Machine Embroidery needles are specifically designed to meet the demands of embroidery work, which includes running at high speeds and passing through various fabric types and stabilizers while maintaining thread integrity. These needles come with a special scarf, a larger eye, and a groove to accommodate embroidery threads, which tend to be more delicate and can shred or break if not handled properly.
Embroidery needles are typically available in sizes ranging from 75/11 to 90/14. The size 75/11 needle is fine and works well with lightweight fabrics and thinner threads, while the 90/14 is better suited for heavier fabrics or denser designs that may require a thicker thread.
There are titanium coated embroidery needles. They are slightly more expensive than the regular embroidery needles but promise a much longer life which might be important especially for embroidery designs with a large number of stitches. Embroidery machines are really hard on the needles, in another article I counted that a relatively small 5×7 inches design (12.5×17.5cm) will use about the same number of stitches as a long sleeve blouse!
For those using metallic or specialty threads, there are also Metallic needles with a larger eye designed to reduce friction and prevent thread breakage.
Regularly changing the embroidery needle is also crucial, as a dull needle can lead to thread breaks and poor stitch quality. With the correct embroidery needle, you can achieve precise, beautiful embroidery on a wide range of projects.
How To Choose A Needle For Quilting
Quilting needles are a vital tool for anyone looking to create quilts with their sewing machine. These needles are tailored to handle the multiple layers of fabric and batting that are typical in quilting projects. They are designed to easily penetrate the layers without causing damage or puckering.
A Quilting needle usually comes in sizes 75/11, 80/12, and 90/14. The size 75/11 needle is suitable for lightweight fabrics and batting, whereas the 90/14 can handle heavier combinations of fabric and batting.
Microtex needles, also known as sharp needles, are a great choice for quilting projects. These needles have a very fine, sharp point that allows for accurate stitching through multiple layers of fabric and batting. They excel at creating clean, straight stitches, which is essential for quilting where every stitch counts.
When quilting with Microtex needles, you can expect them to glide through the fabric with ease, reducing the chances of pulling or puckering, which can occur with less sharp needles. They’re also excellent for piecing, helping to achieve perfectly aligned seams.
Available in various sizes, Microtex needles can be matched to the weight of the fabric and the thickness of the thread you’re using. For most quilting projects, sizes 80/12 and 90/14 are commonly used.
✅Related tutorial: Sewing Machine Needle Sizes Explained
For those who are machine quilting with special threads, such as metallic or monofilament, it might be necessary to use a needle with a larger eye, like a Topstitch or Metallic needle, to accommodate the thread and ensure smooth stitching.
When using an embroidery machine to quilt in the hoop, you can use Embroidery needles for the task. These needles are designed to handle the high speeds of machine embroidery and are equipped with larger eyes to accommodate embroidery threads, which are often used in decorative quilting patterns.
Schmetz long arm quilting needles are engineered to meet the specific requirements of long arm quilting machines. These machines are designed for large-scale and heavy-duty quilting projects, and the needles reflect that with their sturdy build and specialized design.
The Schmetz long arm quilting needles typically feature a deep scarf to prevent skipped stitches, which is a common issue when quilting through multiple layers of fabric and batting at high speeds. The deep scarf also allows for a more generous loop formation, ensuring that the hook or shuttle can easily catch the thread for consistent stitch formation.
Sewing Machine Needles For Decorating Projects
Decorative sewing projects often call for specialized needles that can add unique textures and visual interest to the fabric.
A Hemstitch or Wing needle is one such tool, that creates distinctive holes in the fabric, reminiscent of heirloom sewing and openwork embroidery. This needle is used on woven fabrics and can produce a beautiful hemstitch effect. These needles have wide, flared sides that push the weave of the fabric apart to create the holes without cutting the threads.
I have a detailed tutorial on using the Wing needle – How to Use a Wing Needle for Hemstitching.
The Wing needle is particularly popular for linen and cotton materials, where the openwork can be easily seen and is often used for decorative borders, table linens, and garments that feature a vintage style.
Twin and Triple needles are also popular choices for decorative stitching. Twin needles have two needles mounted on a single shank, allowing you to sew two parallel lines of stitching simultaneously. This can be used to create pintucks, decorative hems, and dual lines of topstitching for a professional finish.
Triple needles take it a step further by adding a third needle, enabling you to sew three parallel lines at once, which can add even more emphasis and detail to your project.
Metallic needles are specifically designed to work with metallic and other specialty threads that can be quite challenging to sew due to their texture and tendency to break or fray. These needles come equipped with a larger eye, which allows the metallic thread to pass through more freely, reducing friction and the risk of the thread breaking.
In addition to the larger eye, Metallic needles often feature a coated, polished surface to further reduce friction and a larger groove to protect the delicate threads. The design improvements in metallic needles help to ensure that the thread does not become damaged as it moves at high speeds through the fabric and the needle.
✅Related tutorial: Metallic Thread For Embroidery And Sewing: Top 10 Tips You Must Know
They are not available in many sizes, typically they are a size 80/12 or 90/14 to accommodate different weights of metallic thread. When using metallic needles, sew at a slower speed, if possible, and to use a thread net over the spool of metallic thread to prevent it from unraveling too quickly and tangling. With the right metallic needle, you can add shimmering, eye-catching details to your sewing projects without the frustration of constantly breaking threads.
Specialty needles can transform a simple piece of fabric into a work of art with their ability to create complex, textured patterns and designs.
Choosing Self-Threading Needles
I’ve guided you through selecting the correct needle for various fabrics and sewing tasks. Now, let’s consider how Self-threading needles fit into this decision-making process. While most needle choices are based on fabric type and sewing application, self-threading needles are selected for their ease of use.
Self-threading needles, also known as easy-threading or one-second needles, offer a convenient solution for those who find threading a needle challenging, whether due to vision difficulties, unsteady hands, or simply to save time. These needles are designed with a small slit at the top of the eye, allowing the user to simply slide the thread down through the top and into the eye, bypassing the often tedious task of aiming the thread through a tiny space.
While the primary feature of self-threading needles is their ease of use, it’s important to consider the type of project you’re working on when choosing to use them. They are generally available in a variety of sizes to suit different thread weights and fabric types, much like traditional needles.
But they may not be the best choice for all sewing applications. For example, they may not be suitable for heavy-duty sewing or projects that require a very fine, precise stitch, as the thread can sometimes slip out of the slit if the needle encounters too much resistance.
Did you find this guide on how to choose the right needle useful? If yes, why not save this pin to your Pinterest board? That way, you can easily return to the article whenever you need a refresher on sewing machine needles. And for an ongoing stream of handy tips, tutorials, and all sorts of creative inspiration, make sure to follow me on Pinterest.
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