Sewing Machine Needles – A Guide for Beginners

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Working with the wrong needle size or type for a certain fabric or sewing style is a common mistake among sewing machine newbies.

Of course, most of them don’t realize it and end up blaming their amateur skill for issues such as needle breakage, broken threads, skipped stitches, poor quality stitching, and difficulty dealing with fabrics.

This is why it’s crucial that you use the right sewing machine needle size and type for the project at hand to achieve the best possible result.

In today’s article, we’re providing a simple sewing machine needles guide for beginners to make your sewing experience easier, more fruitful, and more fun!

Sewing Machine Needle Sizes

Generally speaking, sewing machine needles can be categorized according to two qualities: thickness and purpose.

When it comes to sizing by the needle’s thickness, a thicker sized needle is meant to sew through denser fabrics (such as wool and linen), while thinner sized needles are better suited for finer fabrics (for example, chiffon and silk).

Similarly, different purposes and fabrics require certain needle sizes with specific tip shapes for the best penetration of the materials. For example, there’s a specific needle size for sewing stretch fabric, one for topstitching, one for sewing denim, and one for piercing through leather projects.

How can you tell what size a needle is?

Well, just about any needle packaging should have two numbers printed on it with a slash character dividing them. For example, you’ll find something like this: 80/12.

To put it simply, the smaller number (ranging from 8 to 20) corresponds to the needle size in the American system, whereas the larger number (ranging from 60 to 120) is associated with the European system.

  • Some of the most common sewing machine needle sizes are 60/12, 70/10, 75/11, 80/12, 90/14, and 100/16.

What sewing machine needle size should you use?

The number on the sewing machine needle package can give an idea of the thickness of the fabric you can use the needle to sew. The larger the number, the thicker the material you can sew. Similarly, the smaller the number, the finer the fabric.

Here’s a simple guide to help you determine which sewing machine needle size is right for the project at hand:

  • American sizes (8, 9, 10) and European sizes (60, 65, 70): fine silk, fine lace, chiffon, organza, voile.
  • American sizes (11, 12) and European sizes (75, 80): cotton voile, silk, lycra, spandex.
  • American size 14 and European size 90: cotton, linen, velvet, muslin, jersey, light wool, fine corduroy, tricot, knits, fleece, sweatshirt knit.
  • American size 16 and European size 100: denim, canvas, corduroy, leather
  • American size 18 and European size 110: heavy denim, heavy canvas, faux fur, upholstery fabric
  • American size 20 and European size 120: extra heavy fabrics

Sewing Machine Needle Types

Now that you have a better understanding of how sewing machine needle sizes work, it’s time you learn about different types of sewing machine needles and their uses.

Universal Needles

As you can probably tell by the name, universal needles are the most commonly used type. You can use these to sew through woven fabrics, synthetic fabrics, and some knit fabrics.

Ballpoint Needles

These feature a more rounded tip compared to universal needles, which works by pushing the fibers of the fabric apart instead of cutting them. As such, ballpoint needs are ideal for rib knits, cotton knits, fleece, interlock, double knits, and most other knits.

Stretch Needles

Stretch needles carry a “scarf” that provides extra room for the hook to pass close by, effectively preventing skipped stitches. This type of sewing machine needle is ideal for lycra, spandex power net, silk jersey, two-way stretch knits, and other elastic fabrics.

Sharp Needles

These needles are meant for working several layers of fabric thanks to their added strength. This makes them perfect for quilting with multiple layers of cotton, wadding, and working with thick woven fabrics such as microfiber and silk.

Quilting Needles

Also designed to handle several layers of fabric, quilting needles are a lot shorter than sharp needles to deliver a quick and even stitching job.

Jeans Needles

As you can guess, this type of needle is designed for sewing denim. However, it also works well for other densely woven fabrics such as canvas, heavy linens, and heavy twill.

Leather Needles

Also known as chisel point needles, leather needles do exactly what their name suggests – sew through genuine leather as well as suede. However, you shouldn’t use them for PU synthetic leather, synthetic suede, and ultra suede.

Metafil Needles

This type of needle is designed for using metallic or rayon threads. Thanks to their especially large eye, metafil needles feed fancy threads more freely so they won’t split of shred.

Embroidery Needles

These sewing machine needles feature wider eyes to allow machine embroidery threads such as polyester, cotton, and rayon to pass easily when embroidering.

Top Stitch Needles

These have extra sharp points to pierce through all types of fabric, paired with a large eye to allow topstitching.

Twin Needles / Triple Needles

These needles are used for decorative stitches and pin tucking. Keep in mind that they aren’t compatible with all machines, so check your manual before use.

Wing Needles

Used with natural fiber fabrics, wing needles produce holes to mimic drawn thread work when coupled with special stitch options on your sewing machine. They are sometimes known as hemstitch needles.

Wrap Up

There you have it, a simple sewing machine needles guide for beginners to help you get the best out of your sewing machine.