Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Needles for Your Sewing Project: An Overview

We've all been there. A knot of loopy, twisted bobbin thread develops on the bottom side of your sewing, and it kills your desire to sew. Because the birds nest is located on the underside of the fabric, you may blame the bobbin. Most of the time it has NOTHING to do with the bobbin. In fact, it is usually the upper tension, the thread or the needle that caused the problem.
If the bobbin thread is smoothly and evenly wound on the bobbin, the bobbin is not the problem.

 Look over these tips first:
  • Always thread the sewing machine with the presser foot up. As long as the presser foot is up, the thread can seat properly. When the presser foot is down, the tension is engaged and it will not allow the thread to seat properly.
  • Re-thread the sewing machine making sure the thread is passing through every thread guide on its way to the sewing machine needle. The manual that came with your sewing machine is the best guide to how to thread your particular sewing machine.
  • Check the upper tension. I keep a notebook near my sewing machine so that I can write down the best tension for each fabric type. It makes things easier the next time.
  • Change the sewing machine needle. Be sure you are using the proper sewing machine needle for the fabric you are sewing and the job at hand. ( I sewed for years before figuring that one out!!!)
Remember: All sewing machine needles have the same basic parts. The variation in needles is caused by the shape of the parts and the length of the parts.

It's time to Change Your Needle when ...

You have repeated broken or shredded threads 
You repeatedly have skipped or uneven stitches

Your fabric is puckered or damaged when sewing

You hear popping sounds made by your sewing machine

Understanding Your Needle

  • The top of the needle that fits into the sewing machine
  • The upper part of a sewing machine needle is called the shank. This part of the needle is inserted in the machine. Sewing machine needles are composed of a flat and a round side, which ensures that you have the needle in the correct position.
  • Always refer to your sewing machine manual for the correct way to insert the needle into your machine.
  • (Industrial machine needles have a completely round shaft and the groove is used to know which direction to put a new needle in the machine.
  • The shaft of a sewing machine needle is the area from the bottom of the shank to the point. The shaft contains the groove, scarf, eye and point of the needle.
  • A groove is in the side of the needle leading to the eye. The groove is a place for the thread to lay into the needle.
  • The scarf is a groove out of one side of the needle. The scarf allows the bobbin case hook to intersect with the upper thread and form stitches.
  • The eye of the needle carries the thread so the machine can keep forming stitches.
  • The size of the eye can vary and works in conjunction with the groove of the needle.
  • Using a needle with an eye that is too small or too large can cause your thread to shred and break.
  • The point of the needle is the first contact with the fabric and responsible for how the needle pierces the fabric.
  • The most common types of point are sharps, ballpoint and universal.
    • Sharp needles are for all woven fabric. The sharp point is especially helpful when sewing straight lines and tasks such as tops stitching.
    • Ballpoint needles are designed for knit fabric so that the point glides between the loops of a knit fabric without disturbing the fibres that make up the fabric. Ball point needles do not form as straight stitching as sharp needles. The non-straight stitching is more apt to stretch with the fabric.
    • Universal needles can be used with woven or knit fabric. The point of a universal needle is sharp yet very slightly rounded giving it the characteristics of a sharp and a ballpoint needle. If you are not happy with the stitches your machine is forming, try switching the needle to either a ball point or sharp.

Choose your needle size according to thread thickness and needle type according to fabric used

Needle Size Needle Type
American size European Size Ballpoint Needle
(for use with knits)
Universal Needle
(great for general-purpose)
(highly elastic knits)
(for use with all denims, thick fabrics and some quilts)
Microtex Sharp
(for use with silks, artificial leather, foils, etc)

Medium ballpoint
Feature: slightly rounded point
Medium ball point, special eye and scarf.
Modified medium ball point and reinforced blade.
Very sharp tip
8 60 --------- -------- --------- ---------- Sheer fabrics
9 69 For ultra fine knits sheer fabrics Sheer fabric ------------ ----------
10 70 -------- ---------- ---------- Lt demins -------------
11 75 Light weight knits Light weight fabrics Light weight fabrics --------------- --------------
12 80 ---------- ------------- ------------- Med wt denims Med wt fabrics
14 90 Medium weight knits Medium
weight fabrics
Medium weight fabrics (a good universal stretch needle choice) Med wt
(a good universal denim needle choice)
Med wt
16 100 Heavy knits Heavy fabrics
Heavy fabrics Heavy fabrics
18 110 Very heavy knits Very heavy fabrics
Very heavy fabrics Very heavy fabrics

Always test your thread and fabric combination on scraps of fabric rather than the item you are working on. 

Consider the needle as dangerous as scissors to your fabric.

You may find a needle size listed as 90/14 or 14/90. The order of the numbers does not effect the size. 

Self-Threading Needles are needles that have an ever-so-slight slit in the side of the needle at the eye of the needle. Sliding the thread against the side of the needle, allows the thread to slide into the eye of the needle. (only available in 80/12 and 90/14)

Twin and triple needles:
  • These are attached to a single shank by way of a crossbar. These needles are perfect for evenly spaced rows of stitching.
  • See the package or your sewing machine manual for threading these special needles.
  • The numbers on the packages for these needles is slightly different than regular sewing machine needles: the first number is the space or distance between the needles. The second number is the needle size. 

  • Triple needles are labelled Drilling Needles. These needles can be difficult to locate. See a sewing machine dealer or shop online for a wide variety of these needles.


  1. I've recently come to realize the importance of needles when I made a lunch sack out of oilcloth. The pins left holes in my fabric and I had to scrap a few pieces and re-cut out more fabric because of the wrong needle on my machine

  2. Wow, this is really good information. thanks for putting this together.

    1. Thanks Sigrid. I'm re-educating myself as I write these posts!

  3. I love this blog Nothy!

    Here are some tips I got from my sewing teacher:
    Place your pins at right angles to the seam you want to sew so that you don't sew over the needle
    Always keep a good selection of different kinds of needles in different sizes on hand.
    Include the right sewing machine needle in your list of needle supplies when purchasing items for a project. (She says the needle should be listed with fabrics on the pattern envelope!)
    Change your needle after 8 hours of sewing or at the start of each new project or whenever you encounter poor stitching quality.
    Thread breakage may be due to a dull needle or one with a burr.
    Bent needles may break or cause skipped stitches.

  4. The most important thing to remember is that the finer fabrics need needles with smaller thread holes. Sharpness of needle is necessary for slinky fabrics...

    I love your blog!

  5. Update:

    I read a post (http://3hourspast.com/2011/10/22/7-things-to-know-about-sewing-machine-needles/#comment-8649) that suggested a sharps bin for disposed needles. That's a great idea - especially if you have curious kids or pets around.

    1. I read that post too. There are some really helpful tips there. Thanks for recommending it!

  6. You're right needles can be as dangerous to the fabric as scissors. I never thought of it as simply as that but it is true.

  7. This is great information. I just found your site. Great blog!



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