The two most important things to know about choosing sewing machine needles are the type and the size.
You should select the type of needle based on the textile construction (i.e. knit vs. woven), and the needle size is determined by the thickness of the thread and the weight of the fabric you will be using for your project.
Image via Schmetz Needles
It helps to understand the different parts of a home sewing machine needle.
- The shank is the part of the needle that fits into your sewing machine, with the flat side to the back.
- The blade is what determines the needle size. (For example, a size 75 needle has a blade that is .75 mm in diameter.)
- The shaft is the “body” of the needle, and the groove that runs the length of the shaft holds the needle thread. Did you know that the diameter of the thread you are using should take up no more than 40% of the groove?
- The point and tip of the needle refer to the size, shape and length — all of which vary based on the type of needle.
- The scarf of the needle is an indentation on the backside that allows the bobbin hook to smoothly grab the thread under the sewing machine throat plate to create a proper stitch.
There are three main types of needles that are used for the majority of sewing, as well as many specialty needles.
- Universal needles have a slightly rounded tip, and this general purpose needle should be used on wovens as well as some sturdy knits.
- Jersey needles have a medium ballpoint tip designed especially for knit fabrics because it slips between the knit fibers and does not break or damage them while sewing.
- Stretch needles, often confused with Jersey needles, are also a medium ballpoint tip, but these have a special eye and scarf that are designed for extremely stretchy fabrics and elastic. Swimwear is an ideal application for this type of needle.
In addition to the three most widely used needle types, there are also specialty needles for sewing with denim and leather, sewing suede, topstitching, needlepoint and embroidery, along with specific needles for quilting. Remember to select the needle first based on fabric type or usage, and then determine the correct size based on the weight of the fabric and the size of the thread you will be using.
There are two needle sizing systems: American and European. American needle sizes range from 8 to 19, and European sizes range from 60 to 120. The larger the number, the larger the blade of the needle. Often you will see both sizing numbers on the needle package, such as 60/8 and 70/10.
Home sewing machine needles are also classified as the 130/705 H system, which means they are for use in home sewing machines rather than industrial machines. That designation means the needles have a flat shank and a scarf.
Needles are one of the least expensive components in a sewing project, so feel free to change your needle with each new project. Sewing machine needles only have a lifespan of 6 to 8 hours of sewing time, but that can be even less if the fabric is particularly tough to sew. In short, change your needles often! Whatever you paid for your fabric, it was certainly more than the cost of a needle. It’s not worth the risk of damaging your project by using a dull needle.
Medium, slightly rounded tip that goes between threads rather than piercing them
Uses: Knit Fabric
Sharp point to pierce threads
Uses: Woven fabrics; heirloom sewing; when perfectly straight stitching is desired
Sizes: 60/8 – 90/14
Point is slightly rounded for use with knit fabrics, yet sharp enough to pierce woven fabrics
Uses: Most woven and knit fabrics; all household sewing machines that accept a fiat shank
Extra-sharp point and stiff shank
Uses: Stitching denim, or other densely woven fabrics; stitching through multiple fabric layers
Wedge-shaped point easily penetrates tough fabrics
Uses: Leather; heavy, faux leather; suede; and other heavy, nonwoven fabrics
Sizes: 80/12 -110/18
Specially designed scarf and large eye prevent shredding and breakage
Uses: Rayon, metallic, and other machine embroidery threads; dense embroidery designs
Sizes: 65/9 -90/14 in ballpoint and sharp
Fine shaft and sharp point eliminate thread breakage; elongated eye accommodates thread, large groove prevents threads from shredding; specially designed scarf prevents skipped stitches
Uses: Metallic threads; monofilament threads
Tapered point sews through thick layers and crossed seams
Uses: Piecing a quilt; machine quilting layers together
Sizes: 75/11 and 90/14
Slot on one side allows thread to slide into the eye
Sizes: 80/12 and 90/14
Spring around needle acts like a flexible presser Foot, lowering and raising as the needle enters the fabric
Uses: Free-motion machine embroidery; quilting; monogramming
Sizes: universal 70/10 – 90/14; stretch 75/11 & 90/14; denim 100/16; embroidery 75/11 & 90/14; quilting 75/11 & 90/14
Deeper scarf prevents skipped stitches
Uses: Knit fabrics; synthetic suedes
Titanium nitride layer on surface extends life of needle up to five times that of conventional needle
Sizes: 70/10, 75/11, 80/12, and 90/14 in ballpoint and sharp
Extra-sharp point, extra-large eye, larger groove
Uses: Topstitching thread; using two strands of all-purpose thread
Twin or Triple
Two or three shafts on a crossbar that extends from a single shank; twin currently available with two denim, two stretch, two embroidery, one wing and one universal, or two metallic shafts; triple available with three universal points only
Uses: Heirloom and decorative stitching; multiple, parallel stitching; machine must have zigzag capabilities and front to back threading
Sizes: Sizing slightly different – the first number is the distance between needles, the second number is the European size
Sizing slightly different: the first number is the distance between needles, the second number is the European size
Uses: Decorative openwork stitching on tightly woven fabrics such as linen and fine batiste
Sizes: 100/16 and 120/19