Understanding sewing machine needles will go a long way in ensuring a more professional finish and overall better sewing experience.
Sewing machine needles might seem like a fairly minor component within your sewing toolkit. However, understanding the value of these seemingly humble tools can make a substantial difference in the overall success of your sewing projects.
There are a variety of types, systems and sizes available that are worth familiarising yourself with. In this article, I will explore the nuances of sewing machine needles, and how to select the right needle for your next project.
Wrap-up of this article
Anatomy of a sewing machine needle
Anatomy of a sewing machine needle
Shank: The thick upper part of needle that is inserted into the sewing machine. It has a flat side, just like the picture above, to help ensure correct insertion. Be sure to check your machine manual for correct insertion instructions.
Shaft: The long body of the needle that determines the needles thickness and strength.
Scarf: The small groove or tunnel on the back of the needle (above the needles eye), that assists in the formation of stitches.
Eye: The hole near the point where the thread goes through. The size of the eye varies depending on the type of needle
Point: The end of the needle that goes through the fabric. The shape varies depending on the needle type.
Why is it important to choose the correct sewing machine needle?
Sewing machine needles play a pivotal role in ensuring a more professional finish and overall better sewing experience. Specifically, choosing the correct needle is crucial for several reasons:
Achieving quality stitches: Correct needle selection will ensure that the needle is able to pass through the fabric smoothly, while maintaining the necessary tension. This will ensure you achieve even and regular stitches, while also avoiding snags, runs, or fabric puckering.
Preventing thread breakage: The needle is essentially guiding the thread through the fabric. Therefore, a mismatch can lead to thread wear and breakage.
Protecting your machine: An incorrect needle choice can not only damage the fabric, but potentially lead to mechanical problems with your machine (e.g. issues with the bobbin case and shuttle). Not ideal!
Saving time and ensuring a better sewing experience: Matching the right needle to your project may just save you the frustration of unpicking uneven or puckered stitching lines.
How to read a sewing machine needle packet
The are many manufacturers that produce sewing machine needles. 'Schmetz' is one of the more commonly recognised brands.
I've been using 'Schmetz' since I began sewing. Therefore, for the purpose of this post, I will explain how to decipher the information on a 'Schmetz' sewing machine needle packet. It's worth noting that this is pretty general information so will be applicable to sewing machine needles from other brands as well.
There are various types of sewing machine needles each designed for specific fabrics and techniques. Some of the most common needle types include:
Universal needles typically feature a slightly rounded point and medium sized eye. They will work on most of your common woven synthetic and natural fibres, and some knit fabrics. Universal needle packets will often contain multiple needle sizes (e.g. 70-90). I use these needles a lot as I do a lot of sewing with light to mid weight linen and cottons.
Ballpoint or jersey needles are used on knit fabrics as they feature a round tip that rolls and pushes fibres of the fabric aside instead of piercing and breaking them. These needles are suited for ribs, interlock, and fleece.
Stretch needles are similar to ball-point needles but less rounded. They are recommended for highly elastic fabric such as spandex.
Sharps are designed for working with tightly woven fabric, featuring a strong shaft to accomodate this.
Denim or jean needles are for, you guessed it, denim and other heavy and densely woven fabrics like canvas. They feature a thick, sharp point and strong shaft, with a larger eye that makes them suitable for top-stitching thread.
Leather needles, as the name suggests, are for leather or suede. They feature a chisel-like point that easily penetrates the fabric.
Quilting needles feature a tapered point and strong shaft that allows it to penetrate multiple layers of fabrics, including wadding.
Embroidery needles feature a larger eye to allow for embroidery threads to pass through.
Twin needles feature two needles attached to a single shank by means of a crossbar. They create two evenly spaced rows of stitching, and create more of decorative stitch. I would recommend consulting your machine manual before sewing with one of these, just to be sure, and sew slowly! ensures evenly spaced rows of stitching
I actually didn't know what these numbers meant myself until researching for this article. However, in a nutshell, the 130/705 refers to the needle system. This particular needle system is used by most, if not all domestic sewing machines, and refers to those with a flat shank. Interestingly, the 'H' is short for 'Hohlkehle', the german word for hollow, referring to the indentation of the scarf.
Sewing machine needle sizes are identified by two numbers. The first number is the European size, and the second is the American size. The larger the number the larger the needle, and the smaller the number the smaller the needle. Generally speaking the heavier the fabric, the bigger the needle you will probably need.
See the table below for an overview of the available needle sizes ranging from European 60-110, and American 8-18, and their recommended usage.
Lighter (e.g. voile, chiffon)
Medium (e.g. linen, terry)
Heavy (e.g. denim, cord)
Note: Twin needles will feature two numbers. The first number is the distance between the needles, and the second number indicates the needle size.
Obvious signs that your sewing machine needle may not be quite right
There are a few things we can look (and listen) out for that may indicate that our sewing machine needle is not quite right for the fabric we are working with. If you notice any of the following, it is probably a good idea to review the type of needle you have chosen.
Uneven or skipped stitches.
Pulling or puckering.
Tears, snags or holes.
Noises while sewing.
Fabric that isn't feeding through the machine smoothly.
5 things to remember when selecting a sewing machine needle
Consider the fabric type: Consider the weight, texture and composition of the fabric you are working with.
Consider the thread thickness: Match your needle size to the thickness of your thread. Heavy threads may require larger needle sizes with larger eyes.
Test on a scrap of fabric: If you're unsure, test the needle on a scrap piece of the actual fabric before starting your project. This will help you observe how the needle performs.
Replace any blunt needles: Change your needle regularly, especially if they become dull or bent. Dull needles can cause skipped stitches and fabric damage. You can sometimes hear when a needle is blunt, as it will make a noise as it pierces the fabric.
Check in with your sewing machine manual: Your sewing machine's manual might have specific recommendations for needle types and sizes based on the machine's features.
Tip: Change your needle regularly. It is good for your sewing machine, and your sewing projects! A rule of thumb is after approx.10 hours of sewing, or when beginning a new project with a different fabric type. Or of course if you experience any of the issues mentioned above.
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