Updated on July 25, 2022 by Sarina

how to select sewing machine needles

At what point do you think about sewing machine needles and about changing them from what you got from the showroom ? Is it when you start to have

  • Skipped stitches
  • Uneven seams
  • Damaged fabrics due to snagged threads
  • Needle plate damage
  • Dropped stitches

Sewing needle happens to be the least expensive part of your sewing machine and you think about it the least. But it’s worth is far far more. Think of what all it could do if you wait till it gets worn  bend or damaged. All the above problems can be results of either using the wrong, unsuitable needle or using worn out or damaged needle. Ever read the  story “For want of a nail”.

There are many types of sewing machine needles available. Choosing the best one for you project is dependent on many things like 

  • The type of fabric
  • The technique you are using
  • The thread used for the project  

The sewing machine manual you got when you purchased the machine also can guide you in which needle to choose. Then you have to take into consideration the fabric you are going to sew on and also the thread being used and the technique. Some machines will have a label on its body indicating the type of needle it takes.

Sewing Machine Needle sizes

Machine needle size numbers indicate the needle’s width. Basically, the thicker the needle, the bigger the number. As a general rule, the lighter weight fabrics use smaller needles and heavyweight fabrics use larger needles.

In selecting the sewing machine needle You need to know the appropriate number for the fabric you are sewing.

Finer the fabric, lower the number of the needle.

The most common sizes used among the universal needles  are 12 and 14. This is the American number system. For the most common needles European metric needle sizes number needles from 60 to 120. So the first number on the needle is the American number system and the next European metric sizing. For both numbering systems, the lower the number the finer the needle and the higher the number the larger the needle.

Sewing Machine Needle sizes for different Fabric types

sewing machine needles

One peeve I have about these needles is that it is difficult to read the writing on them. Unless you store them in their covers it is mighty impossible to read the numbers unless you have a magnifying glass or a 20 year old’s vision.

This post has some good points on Sewing machine threads. Also checkout some tips on easily threading the needle

Different types of sewing machine needles

Do not feel overwhelmed, reading about all these varieties of sewing machine needles available. You can use a 11 sharp for embroidery and 12 universal for general sewing, like I do. But it is good to know you have choices.

General purpose needles (Universal needles)

These are as the name says, needles you can use with most materials like wovens and knits. These are available in many sizes. It is classified according to the weight of the fabric. A universal needle is similar to a sharp needle, but has a slightly rounded tip.

Ball Point needles

The ball point needles are of two types – Jersey needle and Stretch needle ; Stretch needle is designed for extra stretchy fabrics and Jersey needles are meant for medium stretch fabrics. 

Ball point needles are specifically designed to stitch knit and stretch fabrics like Lycra. I would also use this on other synthetic materials like polycotton, polyester etc

These needles have a blunt tip which slides between the threads of your fabric instead of piercing them. So to prevent damage to the soft knit (snagging threads and holes) you had better change the needle when sewing that t-shirt to a ball point needle. Stretch needles also have a coating on them which make stitching smooth

Stretch needles

This has a rounded tip and a small hump . The needle prevents skipped stitches. It is great to use with elastic, lycra, silk jersey , spandex and slinky knit fabrics. 

   Sharp needles / Microtex needles

These are Fine needles with a slim sharp point. They are specifically meant for woven fabrics like the cotton and is excellent for top stitching. You can use these needles for even very heavy fabrics like leather canvas etc.This is also right for delicate fabrics like silks, taffeta and for heirloom sewing. This needle will give you perfect straight stitches. 

Do not try using the sharp needles for knits or use the ball point needles for woven cloths. Stick to universal needles. It is a safe bet. You can sew both wovens and knits reasonably well with them. Just remember to change often. For embroidering on knits Sharp needles are ok.

Denim needles / Jeans needles

These are sharp and thick needles with a thick shaft meant to sew denim and other heavy materials like canvas, twill. This is also a great needle to use if you have to stitch several layers of fabric together. You can also use universal needle of size 16- 18 as an alternative. A special polyester thread meant for jeans is to be used with the needle for sewing on jeans.

Quilting needles

This thin needle has a very sharp point and is ideal to sew many layers of fabric together.

Leather  Needles 

These are needles with a wedge shape which will easily penetrate leather and suede. I have not used this needle, just read about them. Sounds like something to look out for. You need to use a longer stitch length with this needle, as you would not want too close holes in your leather. This needle should not be used to sew synthetic leather or suede

Twin needles

This is a special kind of needle with two shafts fixed on a bar and a single shank.
This needle make two rows of stitching lines parallel to each other. You need two spools of thread fixed on spool pins for this needle to work.

You can use the twin needles for heirloom sewing, pin tucking, hemming and top stitching. For me this is the best way of top stitching; no need to keep an eye on stitching lines being parallel and straight, and two lines of stitching in one go- perfect. This needle does work hard.

Triple needles are also available though I have not seen it anywhere.

In the package for twin needles there will be a number given – this is the distance between the two shafts of the needle, indicating the difference between stitches. Check out the post on twin needle stitching

Top stitching needles 

These are best to use with heavy top stitching thread (these needles have a big eye). An 18 number Universal needle also will work the same.

Machine Embroidery needles

These are used for machine embroidery with embroidery thread; No more breakage when sewing the dense filling stitches with colorful rayon or polyester thread. The eye of this needle is bigger to accommodate thicker embroidery thread. They work very well with all types of fabrics. 

Nowadays you get Titanium needles to do machine embroidery. They stand long and continuous use with dense stitches done continuously.

Metallic needles

Meant to be used with the extra delicate metallic threads. If you have worked with metallic thread and they break every other second making you thread again and again you will feel the need for these needles

  Wing Needles

These are needles with a special wide shape ( extend to sides which look like wings). They are used to create holes in the fabric while stitching. It is of great use in heirloom sewing and makes the fabric look like you have done pulled thread embroidery.

Self threading 

These are needles with grooves through which thread will get inside. This needle can be used with most wovens as well as some knits and also artificial leather or suede

How to choose the best needle for your fabric?

When sewing with fine fabrics like satin, silk etc use a small needle like 8/60, 9/65 or 10/70 needles would do. 

When sewing with heavy tightly woven fabrics like denim or corduroy use a larger needle 11/75, 12/80 or 14/90 sharp needles. When sewing with very heavy fabric use 16 sharp needles.

When sewing with loosely woven fabric like tapestry use a ball point needle

When sewing with knits and loosely woven fabrics use a ball point needle.

How often should I change the needle ?

Blunt needles are the bane of beautiful fabric, especially delicate ones. A blunt needle will catch on the fabric, snagging it every time it pierces it.

Remember that the blunt needle can mark your beautiful smooth fabric. Why risk your expensive fabric. For want of a nail —-

Some seamstresses change the needle before starting a new project. At least change the sewing machine needle after every 8-10 hours of use, even though you feel that the needle is going fine. Serger needles need to be changed after 15 hours of use.

Even if you do not want to change the needle as frequently, change them as soon as you see thread breaking or skipped stitches. That is a good indication to look out for.

You may also need to change the needle more often for thick, dense fabrics, as they wear the needle more.

Tip : If you find that the needle is leaving large marks on the fabric you may need to change the needle and use a smaller needle.

How to change the sewing machine needle

Read your sewing machine manual for proper instructions on how to insert the needle. The general way that I do is as follows

how to change sewing machine needle

Step 1.

Turn the hand wheel towards you. This will make the needle go high up.

Step 2.

Now loosen the needle bar screw a little ( not too much so that it comes out, you just need it loose for the needle to be inserted)

Step 3.

Insert the new needle into the space with flat side away from you. Shank is that top portion of the needle that you have to insert into the machine.  The curvy side of the needle should be facing you.  Push it as high as you can.

Step 4.

Tighten the screw. You can use a screw driver which you get with the sewing machine.

An important tip on using sewing machine needles

Do not sew over pins . Remove pins as you sew. Pins can break needles or blunt them

I had a Singer sewing machine earlier, and the retailer specified that it would take only special needles from the company itself. First thing you need to tell the sales person when going to buy your sewing machine needle is the make and model of your machine.

Related posts:

All about Sewing Machines 

Sewing machine repair

Learn to sew : All the Sewing Techniques you always wanted to learn

how to read a tape measure  

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