Choosing the right needle for your sewing project makes a huge difference. Using the wrong needle can damage your sewing machine, the needle, fabric, causing frustration and wastage of time.
By understanding the parts of a sewing machine needle, it will be able to help you choose the correct needle size and type of needle for the fabric and thread you are using for your sewing project.
All sewing machine needles have the same basic parts. The differences in needles is determined by the shape of the parts and the length of the parts.
Parts of A Sewing Machine Needle
It is located at the top of a home sewing machine needle. The thick part that is round on the one side and flat on the other side is called the shank. This part of the needle is inserted into your sewing machine.
Below the shank, there is shaft which is the round part from the bottom of the shank to the point. The shaft consists of the groove, scarf, eye, and point of the needle.
A groove is the side of the needle below the shank all the way to the eye. The thread will travel down the groove before going through the eye of the needle.
Feel the groove and you will feel the difference in the thickness of a sewing machine needle. This will make you understand why a different size needle is needed depending on the fabric you use.
Above the eye of the needle is a short groove called scarf. The curved slot allows the bobbin case hook to pick up the upper needle thread to form stitches.
The eye of the needle is the hole you see below the scarf where the thread channeled through it. It holds the thread so that the sewing machine can keep forming stitches. The size of the eye can vary and works in conjunction with the groove of the needle.
Point is the part from the needle eye to the tip. It helps the needle to pierce into the fabric. Selecting the right needle point that is appropriate for the type of fabric you are using will prevent any damages. The most common types of needle points are sharp, ballpoint and universal.
Sewing Machine Needle Sizes:
What do the numbers mean?
Sewing machine needle comes in varies sizes. Understanding the numbers associated with the sewing machine needle will help you pick the correct needle size which in turn reduce any possible machine problems and delays.
When looking at sewing machine needles, you will see two numbers labeled on the needle and this is when the confusion comes in. The numbers is the needle size and represent the thickness of the shaft. Though it is a simple labeling system, manufacturers use both the European and American labeling system.
The European needle sizes ranges from 60 to 120 with 60 being the fine needle and 120 being the thick needle. The American needle sizes starts with 8 to 19 with 8 being the fine needle and 19 being the thick needle. Either way, the smaller the needle size, the finer the needle and the finer the thread it can accommodate.
This is why you often see needles having the two measurements label – a European size number followed by a backslash and then an American size number, or vice versa. For example, 80/12 or 12/80.
One fun fact is the European size number is the exact diameter of the needle. A 100 European size needle is 1mm in diameter and a 0 European size needle is 0.8mm in diameter.
The general rule is the bigger the size number, the bigger the needle.
Considering Fabric Weight
Fabric weight is determined by the thickness and composition of the threads it is made of and the density of these threads. In general, a delicate or light weight fabric just need a fine needle to pierce through. Using a thicker needle will damage the fabric.
To sew a chiffon scarf, a 8/60 needle will do the job. A 18/110 needle will leave big holes on the chiffon fabric which is quite unsightly.
Think of sewing a heavyweight canvas tote bag. You will need a thicker needle like 18/110 that is strong enough to pierce through the canvas fabric effortlessly. Using a fine needle like 8/60 will lead to the needle breaking or bending.
Now let’s take a look at this combination:
You want to sew 6 layers of lightweight cotton fabrics and a zipper. Referring to the table below, the 12/80 or 14/90 needle will be the needle size for cotton fabric. However, that will risk your needle from breaking or causing machine problems. All in all, you have to take into consideration on the combined weight instead of just the individual fabric type. For this combination, try experimenting with a needle that is 16/100.
|American Size||European Size||How's It Written||Fabric Weight||Fabric Type|
|Lightest||8||60||60/8 or 8/60||Delicate||Fine silk, Chiffon, Organza, Voile, Fine lace, Tulle, Thin cotton, Sheer nylon, Fine tricot, Gauze|
|9||65||65/9 or 9/65||Delicate|
|10||70||70/10 or 10/70||Delicate|
|11||75||75/11 or 11/75||Light weight||Cotton voile, Silk, synthetics, Spandex and Lycra, Chiffon, Batiste, Taffeta, Poplin|
|12||80||80/12 or 12/80||Light weight|
|14||90||90/14 or 14/90||Medium weight||Quilting fabrics, Cotton, velvet, Fine corduroy, Linen, Muslin, Jersey, Tricot, Knits, Light wool, Sweatshirt, Fleece|
|16||100||100/16 or 16/100||Medium to heavy weight||Denim, Corduroy, Canvas, Cotton duck, Suiting, Leather|
|18||110||110/18 or 18/110||Heavy weight||Heavy denim / Dungaree, Thick canvas, Upholstery fabric, Faux fur / Pile fabric, Overcoatings|
|Heaviest||19||120||120/19 or 19/120||Very heavy weight||Extra heavy fabrics|
There is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to which needle to use for each type of fabric. For example, there are lightweight and heavyweight denim fabric so you have to pick the right needle size for each. Therefore, take this table as a guide to help you have a general overview. Make sure to be flexible enough to adjust accordingly base on the various materials combination you use.
Considering Thread Weight
The thread weight and type of thread you are using are also factors you need to consider when picking a sewing machine needle size.
A fine needle has an eye wide enough to fit a fine thread, and conversely a thick needle accommodates well for a thick thread. If you use a fine thread with a thick needle, the needle point will leave larger holes on your fabric which is not pleasing to the eyes and might mimic a tension problem. Likewise, if you use a thick thread with a fine needle, you risk broken threads and skipped stitches when the thread face difficulty running through the fine needle’s eye.
Always test your thread, needle and fabric combinations on scraps of fabrics rather than the actual materials you will be working on for your sewing project.
Type of Sewing Machine Needles
Universal Point Needle
Universal point sewing machine needle has point being sharp yet slightly rounded. It is your best all-purpose needle and is the most common needle in every sewists’ studio. Used for woven or knit fabric.
With the characteristics of a ballpoint needle and sharp point needle, you can start with a universal point needle when in doubt.
With rounded point, this needle is designed for knit fabric as it slips through between the loops of a knit fabric rather than piercing through. In this way, it protects the fabric from damaging or skipping stitches.
Sharp Point Needle
As the name indicated, the sharp point needle has a sharp point and narrow shaft. Perfect for piercing through all woven fabric especially high-density ones like silk. The sharp point makes it great for sewing straight lines and topstitching.
When a ballpoint needle skipped stitches, it can be easily solved with a stretch needle which has a slightly less rounded tip.
Stretch needle is your go-to needle for sewing high stretch knit fabric or elastic materials such as silk jersey, rib knit, Lycra, or spandex. With a modified scarf and eye, it is better at picking up the top thread by the hook which is helpful in preventing skipped stitches on knit and elastic fabrics.
Use a leather needle if you are sewing with leather, faux or heavy non-woven synthetics. It is a wedge-shaped needle with sharp point and edges that cuts the fabric as the needle inserts, creating visible holes. As such, you will want to go slow and be careful with every stitch.
Denim / Jeans Needles
Don’t be deceive by its name, denim needle is not just purely for sewing denim.
These needles have a very sharp point and strong shaft thus making it a strong needle for sewing through many layers of fabric or tightly woven heavyweight fabrics like denim, canvas and duck.
When you want to add embroidery on your projects to give it a personalised feel or to beautify it, using an embroidery needle with rayon, acrylic or specialty embroidery threads allows you to have a trouble-free embroidery process.
The specially-shaped scarf and longer eye help to protect the delicate embroidery threads, preventing them from breaking and fraying as the needle goes in and out rapidly through your fabric.
If you want to sew embroidery on knit fabric, use ball point embroidery needle.
A quilting needle has a tapered sharp point and slightly stronger shaft for sewing through multiple layers of fabrics and intersecting seams. Engineered for use in both piecing and machine quilting.
Topstitch needle has an extra large eye, a large groove and a very sharp point to serve thick decorative threads, embroidery threads or more than one strand of all-purpose thread for topstitching multiple layers.
This is the needle you need to use when sewing metallic threads for decorative stitching or embroidery. Metallic needle has an extended eye, a larger groove and a sharp point.
The large eye is able to reduce the chances of thread breaking and prevent shredding of metallic thread, allowing metallic thread to pass through easily with minimal friction.
This needle is also compatible with monofilament.
Twin Needle (Double Needle) and Triple Needle (Drilling Needle)
Twin and triple needles are attached to a single shaft where the needles are evenly spaced out. Twin needle also known as double needle produces two rows of parallel stitches. Triple needles also labeled as “drilling needles” is your needle if you ever find yourself needing a line of three parallel stitches.
Perfect choice for sewist who wants flawless parallel stitches. These needles are usually used to sew hems on garments like jeans and decorative stitching.
To use these needles, make sure that your sewing machine has the ability to perform it as it requires certain functions like having more than one thread spool holder so that each needle has its own thread spool holder. Before proceeding to use either a twin or triple needle, refer to your sewing machine manual on operating your sewing machine with the various sewing machine needles.
When purchasing twin needle, the first number on the packaging is the space or distance between the needles, and the second number is the needle size.
Hemstitch Needle (Wing Needle)
When you are ready to try your hand on hemstitching (also known as heirloom stitching) or decorative stitching, this needle is a must have. Suitable fabrics are light or medium weight loosely woven fabrics.
Hemstitch needle has a wide blade on each side making it looks like a pair of wing. The wings needle produces the hemstitch effect as it makes its way through the fabric where threads are sewn around the small holes creating eyelets, lacework and embroidery.
When to replace a Sewing Machine Needle?
It is recommended to change your sewing machine needle after 8-10 hours of sewing or every time you start a new project. That said, this really depends on your usage and sewing machine. If you regularly sew heavyweight fabrics or layers of fabric, then you will need to change it more frequently.
Below are four scenarios that you definitely need to change the sewing machine needle:
- Your machine is making an unusual thumping sound as the needle pierce through the fabric.
- Dull needle causing skipped stitches, uneven stitches and thread breaking or fraying.
- Needle is bend or broken.
- When you need a different needle size or type for the fabric and/or thread you are using.
Needles are inserted into your sewing machine in different ways depending on which brand and model your sewing machine is. It is best to check your sewing machine manual for the correct needle replacement instructions.
Here are some of the sewing machine needles for your consideration. Just again, remember that the lighter weight your combined fabric is, the smaller needle size you will want to use. Not to forget to take into consideration the type of fabric and thread you are using.