All About Sewing Machine Needles

Sewing machine needles come in different types and sizes for different applications. Using the right one is key to achieving a professional finish – it also saves you from headaches and wasting time on broken needles, snags, and puckered seams.

Whatever type of needle you are dealing with, the shank (top) of the needle has a round and a flat side to ensure you insert it correctly. Moving down the shaft, the front of the needle has a thread-guiding groove, while the back has a scarf (indentation) that hooks the upper and lower thread to form a stitch. Then comes the eye and the point at the end.

General Rules For Choosing A Sewing Needle

1. General-Purpose Sewing Needles

Choose a needle that suits either woven or knit fabric:

Ball point needles (also called jersey needles) slide between the loops of knits to avoid snagging them.

The sharp point and narrow shaft of Microtex needles make them the best choice for finely woven fabrics, as well as pintucks, heirloom stitching, and topstitching through multiple layers of fabric.

Of all the machine needle types, universal needles are most commonly used because their point is slightly rounded – making them suitable for knits – but sufficiently sharp for woven fabric.

2. Specialty Needles

There are many needles designed to make specific tasks easier and better finished. Some examples include: leather needles, quilting needles, jeans needles, wing needles, twin needles and triple needles, machine embroidery needles, and stretch needles.

Sewing Machine Needle Sizes Explained: What Do The Numbers Mean?

As with so many craft tools, sewing machine needles come in both American and European sizing, both of which are labelled, for example, 80/12. The machine needle sizes relate to the measurement of the diameter of the shaft. The European sizes range is easy to convert into millimetres – just move the decimal point two places to the left, i.e., a 90 needle has a shaft diameter of 0.9 mm, a size 10 is 1 mm, and a 110-needle size is 1.1 mm in diameter.

In most cases, you will pick your sewing machine needle size and type based on your fabric and thread characteristics.

Sewing Machine Needle Size: Considering Fabric Weight

Choose your sewing machine needle size according to the weight of your fabric. Because fabrics of the same type can still vary in thickness and density, a good rule of thumb is to use your hands to physically gauge their weight. Too thick a needle, and you will end up with puckers and snags; too thin a sewing needle will break.

For your convenience, here is a useful table to print, cut out, and keep:

Lightweight fabrics Chiffon, organza, silk, voile, lace 65/9 – 75/11
Medium weight Quilting cotton, jersey and knits, satin, poplin, thin denim and linen, elastic 75/11 – 90/14
Heavyweight fabrics Upholstery, heavier denim, vinyl, corduroy, canvas, wool, leather, oilcloth 100/16
Very heavyweight Thick denim, leather, or upholstery fabric 110/18

Sewing Machine Needle Sizes: Thread Weight And Type

The larger the needle number, the thicker the thread it can accommodate. While a smaller number is suitable for finer threads.

Using the wrong combination will result in tension problems, broken thread, and skipped stitches.

A final note on your needle – change it frequently! Many sewists are guilty of giving it no thought until a blunt needle snags your beautiful creation. Either replace needles after every eight hours of sewing or at the start of each new sewing project.

At Empisal, we not only sell overlockers, sewing machines, and steam presses, but also all the sewing equipment you need – including sewing machine needles. Get in touch with us for advice on the right tools for the job!