Printer Friendly

Needle know-how.


USING THE CORRECT sewing machine needle is integral to successful stitching. Oftentimes problems are remedied simply by installing a different-sized needle or a new, unused needle. There are a large variety of needles available today, but the general rules for usage still hold true. Use sharp points for woven fabrics, ballpoint needles for knits and universal points for both wovens and knits. Read ony to learn how to select the correct needle for any project.


All needles have basically the same parts, but the shapes and lengths of these various parts are what make each needle different. Here's a lesson on basic needle anatomy.

Shank: The shank is the needle top. Featuring a round front and flat back, this section is inserted into the sewing machine.

Shaft/Blade: The shaft is the needle body below the shank. The shaft thickness determines the needle size. The groove, eye, scarf and point are all shaft elements.

Front groove: The front groove is the slot above the needle eye in which the thread rests.

Eye: The eye is the hole at the pointed needle end where the thread is carried to form stitches. The eye size and shape determine the needle type.

Scarf: The scarf is a groove on the needle back that intersects with the bobbin case to create stitches.

Point: The point is the needle tip that pierces the fabric during stitching. Different needle types have different point shapes.



Needle sizes are usually marked with European and American numbers, with the European number first. Needle sizes range from 60/8 (finest) to 120/19 (thickest). At least one numbering system is used to mark the needle shank. Some brands also use a color-coding system in addition to the numbering system so the needle size can be easily identified. Use the chart at right as a reference when converting from one system to the other.


Needle options include those suitable for specific fabric types and those suitable for working with specialty threads. Here are brief descriptions of the basic and specialty needles available today.


Ballpoint/Stretch: These needles have a medium, slightly rounded tip that fits between the threads of a knit fabric, rather than piercing them. They're available in sizes 70/10 through 110/16.

Sharp: Also called Microtex and Standard Point, this needle has a sharp point to pierce the threads of woven fabrics. These needles are a good choice for heirloom sewing and when perfectly straight stitching is desired, such as when topstitching or creating pintucks. Sharp-point needles are available in sizes 60/8 through 90/14.

Universal: Most woven and knit fabrics can be sewn with a universal-point needle. The point is slightly rounded for use with knit fabrics, yet sharp enough to pierce woven fabrics. A universal needle can be used in all household sewing machines that accept a flat shank. These needles are available in sizes 60/8 through 120/19.


Denim/Jeans: Choose a denim/ jeans needle for stitching denim, heavy faux leather, other densely woven fabrics or for stitching through multiple layers. The extra-sharp point and stiff shank can pierce through thick fabric with less likelihood of breaking. Denim needles are available in sizes 70/10 through 110/18.

Double Eye: This needle has two eyes to allow two coordinating or contrasting thread colors to be stitched simultaneously. The two thread spools should unwind in opposite directions to prevent tangling.

Jersey Ballpoint: This needle has a rounded tip that prevents broken fabric yarns. Utilize this needle with knits and stretch fabrics, faux fur, boucle, gauze and tulle.

Leather: The leather needle point is cut in a wedge so it easily penetrates leather, heavy faux leather, suede and other heavy, nonwoven fabrics. Leather needles are available in sizes 80/12 through 110/18.

Machine Embroidery: This needle has a specially designed scarf and large eye to prevent shredding and breakage when sewing dense embroidery designs with rayon, metallic and other machine embroidery threads. They're available in sizes 75/11 and 90/14.

Metallic: Constructed specifically for use with metallic threads, these needles feature a fine shaft and sharp point to eliminate thread breakage, an elongated eye to accommodate the thread and make threading easier, a large groove to prevent the delicate threads from shredding and a specially designed scarf to prevent skipped stitches. These needles also work well with monofilament threads. Metallic needles are available in sizes 70/10 through 90/14.

Microfiber: This needle has a slender shaft with a sharp point, and is best used for straight stitching on delicate fabrics and heirloom sewing. These needles also work well on faux leather, brocade, lame, microfiber and oilcloth. Microfiber needles are available in sizes 60/8 through 90/14.

Quilting: This needle point is tapered to successfully sew through thick layers and crossed seams when piecing a quilt and machine quilting the layers together. You can find quilting needles in sizes 75/11 and 90/14.

Self-threading/Handicap: Use this needle if you have difficulty threading needles. A slot on one side allows the thread to slide into the eye of this general-purpose needle. Self-threading needles are available in sizes 80/12 and 90/14.

Spring: Free-motion machine embroidery, quilting and monogramming are all easier with this unique needle. Designed with a spring around the needle, the spring acts like a flexible presser foot, lowering and raising as the needle enters the fabric. Spring needles are available in universal, sizes 70/10 through 90/14; stretch, sizes 75/11 and 90/14; denim, size 100/16; machine embroidery, sizes 75/11 and 90/14; and quilting, sizes 75/11 and 90/14.

Stretch: If you're sewing knit fabrics using a ballpoint needle but experience skipped stitches, switch to a stretch needle. The deeper scarf prevents this problem on knits, including synthetic suedes. They're available in sizes 75/11 and 90/14.

Topstitch: Topstitch needles have an extra-sharp point, an extra-large eye and a larger groove to accommodate topstitching thread or two strands of all-purpose thread. They're available in sizes 80/12 through 100/16.

Twin/Triple: This needle has two (or three) needles on one shaft to produce two (or three) rows of stitching, best when used on lightweight cotton fabrics, such as batiste. Use for pintucks, topstitching or free-motion decorative stitching. Twin or triple needles are available as universal, stretch, denim/jeans, metallic and embroidery types. The distance between the needles ranges from 1.6mm to 6.0mm.

Wing/Hemstitch: The sides of this needle's shank are flared and look like wings. This needle is used to create decorative openwork stitching on tightly woven fabrics, such as linen and fine batiste. Wing needles are available in sizes 100/16 and 120/19.


Thread, fabric and the needle all work together in the formation of stitches so all must be considered before taking the first stitch. Not only is a needle selected based on the fabric type--woven or knit--but fabric weight is also a factor. The general rule for needle size is the finer the fabric, the finer the needle. For example, when making a dress from a lightweight wool jersey, a 90/14 ballpoint needle is appropriate. But a heavier, woven wool coating may require a sharp-point needle in a size 100/16 or 110/18. Just because both garments are made from a wool fiber doesn't mean the same needle is suitable.

Next, factor in the thread chosen for the project. The needle descriptions on the previous pages are a good place to start. Several needles are made for specific threads. However, there isn't a specific needle type for every fabric/thread combination, so knowing some basic information makes it easier.

If the eye of the needle is too small for the thread to pass through, the thread will shred. If the eye is too large, the holes created by the needle will be visible because the thread isn't heavy enough to fill them. The needle eye should be twice the size of the thread. To test the thread/needle compatibility, thread a 12" length of the desired thread through the needle you think is the correct size. Hold the thread vertically and fairly taut with the needle at the top of the thread. Spin the needle. If it slips down the thread, it's the correct size for the thread. If not, choose a larger needle.

After weighing all the factors, stitch some samples on comparable fabric or scraps from the project fabric. Take the time to find the right fabric, thread and needle combination for the best results in your stitching ventures.



Using a fit template allows you to focus on fit within the body of the pattern, where fitting needs to be addressed, and quickly address the outer edges with shapes that you know work well for your body, saving time and frustration along the way.


* Change the machine needle before every project or after 8 to 12 hours of continuous sewing.

* Keep a supply of various needle types on hand for quick and easy needle changes.

* The needle eye should be 40% to 50% larger than the thread diameter. For example, a size 80/12 needle accommodates 40-wt. thread. A size 90/14 or 100/16 needle accommodates 30-wt. thread. A higher thread weight requires a smaller needle size, while a lower thread weight requires a larger needle size.

* A bent needle can cause irregular stitching. Always replace the needle if one becomes bent.

* Always test-stitch on a fabric scrap to determine the best needle size and type, thread and fabric combination for a project.


Learn how to read and understand the coding on a needle packet in order to select the correct needle for the intended fabric and thread.


Topstitch: Needle type.

130 N: Needles are organized into distinct systems depending on the sewing machine type. Household needles are grouped in the 130 N system and fit most home sewing machines.

N: The letter is part of the needle system code and refers to the needle type. Refer to the Needle System Code Chart at right.

Needle System Code          Needle Type

DE                          Double Eye
DRI                      Triple (Drilling)
E, ET                       Embroidery
E ZWI                     Embroidery Twin
H                    Household, General Sewing
J                              Jeans
J ZWI                       Jeans Twin
L, LL                         Leather
M                            Microtex
MET                          Metallic
MET ZWI                    Metallic Twin
N                          Topstitching
Q                        Quilting, Piecing
S                             Stretch
S ZWI                      Stretch Twin
SUK                      Jersey Ballpoint
WING                      Wing, Hemstitch
ZWI                            Twin
ZWI BR                    Extra Wide Twin
ZWI HO                      Double Wing


European   American

60            8
65            9
70            10
75            11
80            12
90            14
100           16
110           18
120           19
COPYRIGHT 2016 Creative Crafts Group, LLC
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2016 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:BASIC SKILLS; sewing tips
Publication:Sew News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2016
Previous Article:Pattern transfer techniques: learn how to create fitting templates to eliminate excess adjustments and frustration.
Next Article:Twisted pleats skirt: reinvent a basic skirt pattern with flirty diagonal pleats.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters