Sewing Machine Needle Sizes and Types Guide

Sewing machines come in various shapes and sizes. What size needle should I use for my sewing machine?

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A sewing machine is a tool that allows you to create beautiful fabrics and clothing. Sewing machines have a variety of features, such as stitch length, thread color, and even the type of fabric you want to sew.

There are three main types of needles: straight, zigzag, and decorative. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.

Sewing Machine Needle Sizes and Types Guide (1)

Decorative needles are often used for embroidery or quilting, whereas straight needles are usually used for general stitching. The best choice depends on your needs.

In addition to these basic types, there are many other options available. Some people like to use specialty needles, which are designed for specific tasks.

For example, some people prefer to use a satin stitch needle when they are making a garment with fine details. Others may choose a pearl cotton needle for their projects.

Needles can be purchased separately from the sewing machine; however, it’s generally easier to purchase them together.

Most sewing machine manufacturers offer different combinations of needles. You will need to decide what combination works best for you.

The Parts of A Sewing Machine Needle

Shank

The shank is the name of the thick upper section of the sewing machine needle. This is the section of the sewing needle connected to the machine.

Sewing machine needles are made up of a flat side and round side to help position the needle correctly.

Always refer to your machine manual for the correct method to use when inserting the needle.

Industrial machine needles have an entirely round shaft, and the grooves are used to know which direction they need to be inserted into the machine.

Shaft

The shaft of a needle is the area from its base (the shank) to its tip (the point). The shaft of the needle includes the groove, scarf, eye, and point of the needle.

Groove

A groove is along one side of the needle where the thread lays into the eye.

To understand why a different size sewing needle would be needed for heavier threads, use your fingernail to feel the grooves of the needles on various sizes.

Scarf

The scarf is the grooved section of one side of the sewing needle. The scarf allows for a bobbin case hook to intersect with the upper thread and form stitches

Eye

The size of the eyes can vary and works in tandem with the groove of the needles.

A needle with an eye that’s too small or too large may cause your thread to shred or break.

Point

The point of the sewing needle is the first contact between the fabric and the sewing machine. It determines how the needle penetrates the fabric.

Needle points come in three main varieties: sharp, ballpoint, or universal.

For all woven fabrics, sharp needles are required. The pointed tip is especially useful for sewing straight lines and tasks like topstitching.

Knit fabric needles are designed to glide smoothly through the loops of knitted fabric without disturbing the fibers of the fabric. Sharp needles for stitches that are straighter than ballpoint needle stitches.

You can use universal needles with woven or knit fabric, too. A universal needle has a sharp tip, but it’s also slightly rounded, so you get the benefits of a ballpoint and a sharp needle.

If you’re not happy with the stitches the machine is making, try changing the needle type from a ballpoint to a sharp.

Sewing Machine Needle Types

Sewing machine needles come in standardized sizes. They are compatible across many different brands, including Brother, Husqvarna, Janome, Pfaff, Elnabra, and so on.

You can be sure that any sewing machine needle we sell will be compatible with any reasonably modern domestic sewing machine. It’s not that hard to understand the different types. We’ve listed the top needles and the techniques and materials they’re used for.

Most people use the most common type of needle, which is called a universal needle. They can be used for woven fabrics, synthetics, and some knit fabrics, but check the other needle types listed below for specific types of knitted fabric.

Fine needles are mostly used for light fabrics. For heavier weight fabrics, larger sizes are used. You should use polyester/cotton or silk threads with a universal needle.

Ball Point Needles

A ballpoint needle is more rounded than an ordinary sewing needle. It pushes the fabric fibers apart rather than cutting them.

These needles are ideal for working with rib knit, interlock, cotton knit, fleece, double knit and generally most knit fabrics, because they prevent them from running or laddering as a result of stitching.

Polyester and polyester/cotton blends are best for use with round needles, and finer fabrics should be sewn using fine needles.

Stretch Needle

Stretch needles are a type of ballpoint needle that doesn’t damage stretch fabrics when sewing them.

Stretch needles are slightly less rounded than ballpoint needles and can be used to prevent skipped stitches on elastic materials like rib knit, Lycra, or spandex material. They have a modified scarf and eye, designed for better pickup of the top threads by the hook.

Stretch needles have a scarf that creates extra room for the hook to pass closely, preventing skipped stitches. 

This makes it ideal for use on fabrics including Lycra, power net, silk jersey, two-way stretch knit, spandex and other elasticated synthetic fabrics. Stretch fabrics are notorious for being tricky to sew, and using the right type of needle is essential.

Sharp Needles

If you’re working with multiple layers of cotton and wading or if you’re working with tightly woven fabrics such as silk or microfiber, use a sharp needle.

These needles are designed for use with multiple layers of fabric thanks to their longer shaft which helps to avoid broken needles and a sharper point which enables them to pierce through the fabric and produce perfectly straight buttonholes.

A short round threader eye gives extra strength when sewing.

Quilting Needles

Quilting needles similarly have a reinforced shaft, designed for use on multiple layers of fabrics and wadding. 

However, they are typically shorter in overall length compared to sharp needles, as this allows for quilters to achieve quick and even stitches.  Smaller needles, such as a size 7 to 8, are typically easier for beginners to use. 

Leather Needles

Leather needles are commonly known as chisel points, because they look and act like chisels when used. These needles are meant for use with genuine leather, suede and hard to sew projects, but they shouldn’t be used with PU imitation leath­er, ultra suede or synthetic suede.

This is because the characteristics of these imitation fabrics are very different from their real counterparts.

Metafil Needles

A Metafil needle is perfect for sewing or embroidery woven or knitted fabrics, which tend to be quite stiff. Metafil needles have an enlarged eye, meaning they feed through more easily and won’t get shredded or split during sewing.

If you ever struggle with threading a needle, then a Metafil one would be a good buy. It is also easier to thread than a regular needle.

Embroidery Needles

Embroidery needles feature a larger eye, which allows threads including rayon, polyester or cotton machine embroidery threads to pass smoothly when embroidering with a sewing machine.

Missed stitches can occur when machine embroidery because the fabric moves up and down quickly as a result of the rapid movement of the embroidery stitch. To prevent this from happening, embroidery needles feature a scarf with a pontoon design that has a large bump on one side.

Top Stitch Needles

Top stitch needles have a sharp tip which will easily penetrate any type of fabric, and the large eye allows thicker top stitching threads to be used.

Topstitch needles are designed to stitch through multiple layers of fabric, which means they have a very large eye and a very sharp point. They’re also designed to accommodate thicker, decorative threads.

Wing Needles

These needles are similar to embroidery needles in that they have a large eye, which makes it easy to thread. The only difference between wing and embroidery needles is that the wings are curved rather than blunt. This means that they don’t damage your fabric when you’re using them.

Wing needles can be used in conjunction with the special stitch setting on your sewing machine to replicate drawn thread work on the fabric. Natural fabrics such as cotton should be used with these needles.

Denim/Jeans Needle

These very strong needles have a long, sharp point and work well on tightly woven heavyweight fabrics such as denim and canvas. These needles are also ideal for dense fabrics such as heavy twills, canvas, and heavy linen. 

Whereas stretch and ball point needles are designed not to cut the fabric, jeans needles have a very sharp point and a stronger shank to prevent needle bending or breakage and push through the heavy fabric.

Threads such as synthetic or blends, 100% polyester, heavier top stitching threads and cotton wrapped polyester should be chosen when working with these needles and fabrics.

Handicap or Self-Threading Needles

Needles are the perfect solution for people who have trouble threading a needle. Handicapped or self-threading needles have a slight slit at the side of their needle close to the eye, which makes them easier to use.

Threading these types of needles is easier because you just slide the thread against the side, and it’ll go through the small slit and into the eye.

Self-threading needles don’t come in all different point varieties and sizes.  You can only get them in sizes 80/12 and 90/14.

Twin and Triple Sewing Machine Needles

These needles are used for decorative stitching and pin tucking. They need to be used at a slower speed than other types of needles. They aren’t compatible with all machines, so be sure to read the manual first.

With twin and triple needles, you can sew beautiful decorative designs.

A double needle is attached to a single shank by way of a crossbar. This design allows for perfect, evenly-spaced rows of stitches.

To use these needles properly, your sewing machine should have the zigzag capability and a throat plate with a large enough hole to accommodate the needle. You cannot zigzag stitch with the multiple needles in a sewing machine. 

You need at least two thread spool holders so that each needle has a separate thread source. Threads usually follow the original thread pattern, as one thread goes through one needle and then is threaded through another needle.

Your sewing machine manual should be the best resource for operating any sewing machine with multiple sewing needle types.

The numbers on the packaging for these sewing machine needles are slightly different from regular sewing machine needles. The first number is how far apart the needles are. The second number is how big the needle is.

Triple needles are also known as drilling needles.

Wing Sewing Machine Needles

If you want to learn how to create heirloom details, you need to get yourself a wing sewing needle.

A wing needle is a type of sewing needle used for heirloom stitching. The sides of the needle shank are flared, so they create openwork stitching on weaved fabrics.

There are two different needle sizes available: 16/100 and 19/120.

Microtex Needles

Microtex needles are smaller, with a sharper point and are great for sewing silk and other very fine fabrics. They’re great for both foil and coated fabrics, too.

What Do the Size Numbers Mean on Sewing Machine Needles?

Sewing Machine Needle Sizes and Types Guide (1)

If you don’t understand the meaning of the numbers 80/12 and 110/18 on sewing machine needles, then here’s an explanation for you. One number is the European size and the other is the American size.

Ranging from  the thinnest to the thickest needle, the European sizes are between 60 and 110, whereas the American sizes are between 8 and 18. 

A general rule of thumb is that an 80/12 needle is usually used for dressmaking (although some people prefer a 60/8 needle). Your sewing machine will typically come with an 80/12 needle.

Sewing Machine Needle Sizes

Knowing and understanding the numbers associated with sewing machine needles will help you choose the right needle for your machine and possibly solve any problems you may be having.

All of the numbers that go into sewing machine needles can be overwhelming. It’s a simple label system, but the confusion arises because they use both an American and European labeling system.

The American system uses a system that ranges from 8 to 19, with 8 being a thinner sewing needle and 19 being a thicker, heavier sewing needle.  The European system, on the other hand, ranges from 60 to 120, with the higher number being the thicker needle.

Let’s look at fabric associated to needle size:

For a fine sheer window curtain, you’ll need a fine needle, such an 8/60 needle. Using a 19/120 needle would leave holes in the material.

For heavier upholstery fabric, you will need a thicker needle, such as a 19/120.  If you use a thin 8/69 sized needle, the needle will surely bend and break. A 19/120 needle is strong enough to pierce the fabric and carry a thicker thread that is strong enough for this type of material.

Let’s now look at a combination; for example, you have a light fabric, but you want to stitch a heavy top-stitch detail with heavy thread.

Usually, the heavy thread would require you to use a heavier needle such as a 19/120-gauge needle, but that would leave large holes in your fabric. Ideally, you’d  want to try and experiment with a needle that fell somewhere in the middle, such as 12/80.

Test your thread and fabric combinations on scraps of fabric rather than the items you’re working on. Be careful when using a sewing needle, just like you would be careful with scissors when cutting your fabric. 

When Should I Change My Sewing Machine Needle?

We usually recommend changing your needle after each project. Needles are pretty inexpensive, so it won’t cost you an arm and a leg, and you know that your needles will always perform as expected, no matter what.

If you’re not sure whether the needle has jammed, we recommend checking it visually. Jamming can cause the needle to bend, which can lead to poor stitch quality.

If your sewing machine makes an unusual thumping noise when the needle goes through the fabric, then you should definitely change the needle.

Choosing The Right Needle

When choosing the right needle for your sewing machine, consider the type of project you’re going to sew. There are several considerations when deciding upon the right needle.  These include:

  • Fabrics
  • Fabric weight
  • Thread Type/Thickness

As we have discussed previously, different fabrics require different types of sewing machine needles. 

Woven fabrics – Typically with woven fabrics you will want to use universal needles, jeans/denim needles, embroidery or Microtex needles.

Knit fabrics – You will want to sew knit fabrics with knit, ballpoint or stretch needles.

Leather – Obviously, leather needles are used for sewing leather.  This is because it is designed specifically for this purpose, and the needle is thick, sharp, and sturdy enough to penetrate leather safely. 

All fabrics come in different weights, from lightweight, sheer fabrics like chiffons to heavy-duty fabrics like denim and canvas.  Take this into consideration when choosing the right sewing machine needle for your project. 

Sewing Machine Needle Sizes and Types Guide (1)

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long do Sewing Needles Last?

A typical sewing needle lasts about 1 year. Some people say that their sewing machine needles only last 3 months, while others claim that they last 10 years!

What are the Benefits of Using a Sewing Machine Needle Cover?

Using a sewing machine needle cover protects the tip of the needle from getting dull over time. It also helps prevent the needle from breaking off.

Is there Anything I Should Avoid when Using my Sewing Machine?

Yes. Avoid using your sewing machine in areas where moisture collects, such as near sinks, toilets, showers, etc. Also, keep your sewing machine away from heat sources such as radiators, stoves, ovens, etc.

What are 80/12 Needles Used For?

80/12 needles are used for quilting, appliquéing, patchwork, and other similar handwork.

Why Does my Sewing Machine Needle Get Stuck?

Sometimes, the needle gets stuck due to the material being too thick or too thin. If you notice that the needle is not moving through the fabric easily, try adjusting the tension.

How Can I Remove a Broken Sewing Machine Needle?

If you find yourself needing to remove a broken needle, try these methods:

  1. Use an awl to pry the needle out.
  2. Try using a pair of pliers to pull the needle out.
  3. Use a screwdriver to push the needle out.
  4. Use a knife to cut around the area where the needle is stuck. Then, gently pull the needle out.
  5. Use a hammer to tap the area where the needle was stuck until it comes loose.
  6. Use a pair of tweezers to grab the end of the needle and pull it out.
  7. Try using a magnet to attract the needle towards the surface.

Do All Needles Fit all Sewing Machines?

No. Different brands of sewing machines have different types of needles. You must check your manual to see what type of needle fits your machine before purchasing them.

What is the Difference Between a Standard Sewing Machine and a Serger?

A standard sewing machine uses a single feed dog to move the fabric underneath the needle. Sergers, on the other hand, use two feed dogs to move the fabric under the needle. This allows the serger to stitch multiple layers of fabric at once.

Why are Singer Needles Different?

Most Singer sewing machines come with three different sizes of needles – A, B, and C. The A-size needle is best suited for light fabrics like cotton, linen, silk, and rayon.

The B-size needle is ideal for medium weight materials such as denim, leather, corduroy, wool, and suede.

The C-size needle is perfect for heavy duty fabrics like canvas, vinyl, nylon, polyester, and acrylic. 

What are the Three Types of Needle Points?

There are three main types of sewing machine needle points: straight, curved, and blunt. Each point has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Straight Point Sewing Machine Needles

These needles are made up of one sharp edge and one flat edge. They work well for most fabrics but may cause problems if used on slippery surfaces. Straight needles are usually found in both regular and long lengths.

Curved Needle Points

Curved needles are typically used for embroidery purposes. They tend to be more flexible than straight needles which makes them easier to thread. Curved needles also make it easy to create curves in stitching. However, when used on slippery surfaces they may slip off the fabric causing damage to the fabric.

Blunt Needle Points

Blunt needles are often found in combination with straight needles. These needles are used to help prevent fraying and breaking of the fabric. They are also helpful for creating decorative stitches. 

Why Do Some Needles have Two Holes?

Some sewing machine needles have two holes because they are designed to attach to a presser foot or a bobbin case.

Some people prefer this design because it helps keep the needle from moving too far away from the fabric while sewing. Others dislike this design because it can lead to an uneven stitch line.

How Many Threads Should I Leave when Starting a New Project?

You should always leave enough length of thread so that you don’t run out during the course of the project. If you need to add more thread, simply cut another piece of thread. It will not affect the quality of the finished product.

Can I Use a Sewing Machine Needle to Sew by Hand?

Sewing machine needles should not be used for hand sewing, as they are not suitable for this purpose.  

Do all Sewing Machines Require the Same Type of Needle?

No. All sewing machines require their own specific needle size. You must match your sewing machine’s needle size to the material being sewn.

How Do you Know What Size Sewing Machine Needle to Buy?

Most sewing machine manufacturers provide information about their products online. You can find this information at the manufacturer’s website.

Is it Okay to Reuse Sewing Machine Needles?

It depends on how you plan to reuse the needle. If you are going to reuse the needle for a similar project, then it’s most likely fine to reuse.  However, we do recommend that you replace the needle for each new project, just to ensure that it functions properly. 

What is the Difference between Sewing Machine Needles and Hand Sewing Needles?

A sewing machine needle is a tool that attaches to the throat plate of a sewing machine. The needle has a pointed end and a blunt end. The blunt end of the needle is used to push the fabric through the machine.

The pointed end is used to guide the fabric as it passes over the top of the machine. Hand Sewing needles are similar to sewing machine needles, but they are smaller and usually made out of metal.

Hand Sewing needles come in various sizes depending on the thickness of the fabric being sewn. 

What is the Scarf of a Needle?

The scarf of a needle is the part of the needle that connects to the eye of the needle. This is where the thread is attached.

What is the Purpose of the Eye of a Sewing Machine Needle?

The eye of a sewing machine needs to be large enough to accommodate both the thread and the fabric. A larger eye allows for easier insertion into the fabric.

What is the Function of the Point of a Sewing Machine Needle?

This is the tip of the needle that pushes the fabric through the machine and guides the fabric as it moves past the needle.

What is the Name of the Hole in the Center of a Sewing Machine Needle Called?

This hole is known as the eye of the needle, and it is located in the middle of the needle.

Conclusion

The best way to choose the right needle for your project is by testing out various needles on scrap pieces of fabric first. Remember that the thickness of your fabric matters. Thicker fabrics require heavier needles than thinner ones. 

So, how do you decide which needle size to use? It really depends on the type of fabric you are stitching. For instance, if you are sewing a delicate piece of lace, you might want to go with a very fine needle.

However, if you are sewing something more durable, you might need something thicker.

In general, we suggest sticking to one type of needle for all projects. That way, you’ll know that they will work together without any problems.

This is also true for threads. We don’t recommend mixing different threads for the same project. They may look good together, but they could be incompatible. So, stick to one kind of thread for all your projects.

Amanda Brown

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