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Everything about sewing machine needles

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You might be surprised to know that the right needle can make all the difference in your sewing project’s success.

A needle that is the right size will make beautiful, even stitches.

However, using the wrong or damaged needle on a project can cause a host of problems such as missed stitches or uneven stitches and holes in your fabric.

How can you tell which needle is right for your project?

Anatomy of a Needle

Knowing the anatomy of a needle can help you understand why it is important to change the needle every time you start a new project. Also, the best way to choose the right needle for your particular project.

Although all needles share the same basic components, there are variations to make them different for different types of sewing.


The Shank is the upper portion of a needle. This is the portion of the needle that goes into a domestic sewing machine. It is shaped on one side, and can only be used in one direction. The flat side faces the rear, while the rounded portion faces the front. Specialty machines, such as longarms, use rounded shanks. For more information on your machine, please refer to your manual.


The shaft is the part of the needle that tapers from the Shank to the point. The shaft also contains other components of the needle, such as the groove, scarf and eye.


A Groove runs along the shaft’s front. This is the place where the thread lies securely (in the groove), as the needle goes into fabric. This groove can be felt by running your fingernail along the needle’s front.


The Scarf is an indentation at the back (above the eye), that allows the bobbin to reach close enough to make a stitch.


The Eye is the place where the thread is inserted from one side to another. Depending on which type of needle is being used, the eye may vary in size.


The needle’s point is the area that comes in contact with fabric the most. There are three types of needle points: Universal, Ball Point and Sharp.

  • You can use universal needles with knit and woven fabrics. When sewing with knits, however, you should only use a universal needle.
  • Ball Point needles are specifically designed for knits. They will pass through knit fabric without leaving any holes.
  • Sharp needles work best with woven fabrics. These needles are great for quilt piecing and top stitching.

Needle Sizes

The numbers 80/12 are the bottom of the needles shown in the above photo. These numbers indicate the European and American sizes of the needles in the package.

Understanding the needle labeling system will help you make the right needle selection for your project.

  • American needle sizes are between 8 and 19. As the number increases, the needle size corresponds to the larger number. A size 8 needle is for very fine fabrics, while a size 19 needle is for thick and heavy fabrics.
  • European systems of sizing needles use numbers between 60 and 120. As the number increases, the needle size corresponds to a larger size. A size 60 needle is for very fine fabrics, while a 120 needle is for thick and heavy fabrics.

How to choose the right size

  • Fine and very fine fabrics can be used with needles sizes 60/8 or 65/9.
  • Use 70/10 needles for light weight fabrics. 75/11 uses 70/11 needles
  • Medium-weight fabrics can be used with needles 80/12 or 90/14
  • Use heavy weight fabrics with needles 100/16 or 110/18
  • Extra heavy weight fabrics: Use needle size 120/19

Types of Needles

You may believe that all needles are the same if you closely examine the eyes and points of the different needles. However, this is false.

Different needles have different openings for the eyes. This will depend on what type of sewing you are doing. A larger eye, for example, will allow specialty threads to glide through the needle.

  • Universal Needles: For normal-sized eyes and a slightly rounded tip. For most general sewing. Both knits and woven fabrics are compatible. Every new project requires a new needle.
  • Jeans/Denim Needles – Normal sized eyes and medium point. These are for thicker fabrics such as denim or extra thick woven fabrics.
  • Jersey/Ball Point Needles – Normal sized eyes with rounded points. This needle is suitable for use with all knits and some stretch fabric.
  • Microtex/Sharp Needles: A normal-sized eye with a sharp point. This needle is designed to sew straight stitches on delicate microfiber fabrics.
  • Stretch Needles: A normal-sized eye with a deep scarlet on the back. This prevents skipped stitches. This is a sewing machine for faux suede and elastics.
  • Quilting needles: A normal-sized eye with a tapered shaft and rounded tip. This eye is designed to pass through multiple layers of fabric/batting while quilting.
  • Topstitch Needles: Larger eye, groove and sharper point. This is designed to allow for thicker topstitching stitches to pass through fabric.
  • Embroidery needles: Larger eye. This needle is for rayon and polyester embroidery threads that sew at high speeds.
  • Metallic Needles: Large, polished eyes. This is used to protect specialty threads such as metallic thread from being shredded.
  • Leather Needles: For normal-sized eyes. This needle is designed to sew leather, faux, and other heavy, non-woven fabrics. Every place the needle touches, it will leave a hole.

Specialty Needles

Do you want to elevate your sewing skills? You can take a project to the next level by incorporating special needs.

There are many specialty needles available in different sizes, with some being able to be used for knits as well as woven.

  • These needles can be used for heirloom sewing. These needles have flared sides and can be used for hemstitching or other applications that require fabric openings.
  • Quick Threading Needles for Handicapped: These needles can be used by anyone who has trouble threading a needle. The needles have a small slit in their eye that allows you to insert the thread without having to squeeze it through.
  • Double Eye Needles: This needle is double-eyed, as the name suggests. When you use two different colors of thread, this needle can give dimension to your decorative stitch.
  • Twin/Triple Needles. This needle can be used for both knits (blue) and woven(red). You can use it for many purposes and comes in different widths. It’s especially useful for hemming knits.

You can make your project stand out by choosing the right needle.

It is a good idea to buy a variety of sewing machines and begin to experiment with them. Use them with specialty fabrics or decorative stitches.

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