Types of Sewing Machine Needles

Learn the BEST way to choose the right needle for your sewing project. Do you know that you need to change your needle for every new project ?

how to select sewing machine needles

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

The sewing needle is the least expensive part of your sewing machine, and you think about it the least. But its worth is far, far more. Think of what all it could do if you wait until it gets worn, bent, or damaged.

At what point do you think about sewing machine needles and 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
My broken needles

All the above problems can result from using the wrong, unsuitable needle or wearing worn-out or damaged needles. Ever read the story “For want of a nail”?.

There are many types of sewing machine needles available. Choosing the best one for your 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 consider the fabric you are going to sew on, the thread being used, and the technique. Some machines will have a label on their body indicating the type of needle it takes.

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

sewing machine needles

General purpose needles (Universal needles)

As the name indicates, general needles can be used 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 that 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 ballpoint needle. Stretch needles also have a coating on them which make stitching smooth.

Stretch needles

A stretch needle has a rounded tip and a small hump. The needle prevents skipped stitches. The stretch needle is used to sew elastic, lycra, silk jersey , spandex, and slinky knit fabrics.  

Sharp needles / Microtex needles

Shrp needles 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.They are 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, and 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 for sewing many layers of fabric together.

Leather  Needles 

These are needles with a wedge shape that will easily penetrate leather and suede. I have not used this needle; I just read about them. It sounds like something to look out for.
It would be best if you used 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

A twin needle is a special kind of needle with two shafts fixed on a bar and a single shank.

twin needles in different sizes
This needle makes 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 yet to see them 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

Metallic needles are 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 that 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. 

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.

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.

Which sewing machine needle is best for sewing woven fabrics like cotton and Linen ?

Universal point machine needles are best for sewing fabrics like linen, and cotton. They can be used to sew fabrics with spandex mix too. Sharp needle also can be used to sew wovens. Medium-weight fabrics like cotton or linen typically require a needle size like 80/12.

Which sewing machine needle is best for sewing silk fabrics?

Silk being a delicate fabric needs to be sewn with a small needle so that the needle will not leave holes. You can use a quilter’s needle. Microtex needles are thin and penetrate the fabric without causing snags or visible holes.

Which sewing machine needle is best for sewing knit fabrics?

Use jersey needles/ ball point needles for sewing knits, fleece. The ballpoint needle slides between the knit fibers instead of piercing them, reducing the risk of snags and runs.

Which needle is best for sewing thin fabrics like chiffon?

For lightweight fabrics like silk or chiffon, it’s recommended to use a fine needle with a sharp point, such as a universal needle or a microtex needle. You can use a smaller needle size, such as 60/8 or 70/10.

If I can have only one needle, which one should it be?

A universal needle of 80/12 needle can sew through most fabrics. Some generic sewing machine needles can be used with all machines. But some machines need to be used with branded needles only. I had a Singer sewing machine earlier, and the retailer specified that it would take only special needles from the company itself. The first thing you need to tell the salesperson when buying your sewing machine needle is the make and model of your machine.

Which needle is to be used for thick heavyweight fabrics?

Heavyweight fabrics require a sturdy needle that can handle the thickness. A jeans needle or a topstitching needle is often recommended

Which needle is to be used with stretch fabrics like spandex?

Stretch fabrics like spandex need a needle that will accomodate their stretch without skipped stitches and fabric damage. Stretch needles with a rounded point or a ballpoint tip helps to prevent this.

If you want to know the sewing machine sizes you should have check out this post : Sewing Machine needle sizes


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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.

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