Using the wrong type of sewing machine needle is one of the most common mistakes we come across. It can lead to needle breakage, difficulty working with the chosen fabric, and poor stitch quality.
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Three Consequences of Needle Too Small
- Thread breaks regularly – the needle is too small for the thread used, causing thread abrasion and breaks.
- Malformed stitches occur regularly – the needle is too small for the material, causing needle deflection.
- Needles break, even when replaced with new ones – breaking needles is a sure sign of a problem, and can lead to personal injury and machine damage.
Three Consequences of Needle Too Large
- Skipped stitches – thread is uncontrolled, making consistent loop formation difficult.
- Fabric Damage – larger than necessary holes in the stitch line, leading to,
- Seam Pucker – fabric is deformed along the seam line, which can result in seam leakage with some sewn products.
An Easy Way to Check Your Needle-to-Thread Size
- Grab a needle and about 12 inches of the thread you use.
- Thread the needle.
- Hold both ends of the thread and move one end up to create a 45-degree angle. The needle should slide down the thread.
Now reverse the process and see if the needle slides back down the thread.
Does the needle slide freely down the thread? If so you know the needle is large enough – if not, your needle may be too small. In general, you want the smallest size that will slide freely down the thread.
While there are many other features to consider when choosing the right needle for your sewing application, size is one that is pretty easy to determine and check.
12 Types of Sewing Machine Needles
The first thing to know is that sewing machine needles are standardized. They are compatible across a range of brands, including Janome, Brother, Husqvarna, Elna, Pfaff, etc.
The number of different types and sizes of machine needles can seem a bit bewildering at first. However, it’s not that difficult to get a handle on the different types.
As the name suggests, universal needles are the most commonly used needle. They can be used with woven fabrics, synthetics, and some knit fabrics, although check the other needle types outlined below for specific types of knit fabric. The finer needles are mostly used for lightweight fabrics. Larger sizes are used on medium to heavyweight fabrics. Polyester/cotton or silk threads should be used with a universal needle.
Ball point needles
Ball point needles have a more rounded tip than a universal needle which pushes the fabric fibers apart rather than cutting them. This makes ballpoint needles ideal for working with rib knits, interlock, cotton knits, fleece, double knit, and generally most knit fabrics because it prevents them from running or laddering as a result of stitching. Polyester and polyester/cotton blend threads are best for use with ballpoint needles and finer threads should be used for finer needles.
A stretch needle has what is called a ‘scarf’ which allows extra room for the hook to pass close by and prevents skipped stitches making it ideal for use with fabrics such as Lycra, power net, two-way stretch knits, silk jersey, spandex, and highly elasticated synthetic fabrics or indeed elastic itself. Polyester or cotton-wrapped polyester threads should be used. Stretch fabrics are renowned for being more difficult to work with and choosing the right needle is crucial to achieving a good result.
If you’re a quilter working with several layers of cotton and wadding or you’re working with densely woven fabrics such as silk and microfiber a sharps needle should be used. These needles are designed to work with several layers of fabric thanks to a stronger shaft that helps to avoid bent or broken needles and a sharp point that enables it to penetrate through the fabric and produce smooth buttonholes. A short round threading eye also gives extra strength during sewing.
Quilting needles are also designed to be used with several layers of fabric and wadding thanks to a reinforced shaft, however, they are much shorter in length than the sharps needle to allow quilters to achieve quick and even stitching. Beginners will most likely find a smaller needle such as a size 7 or 8 easier to use whilst more experienced quilters often choose a larger option.
No prizes for guessing which fabric these needles are designed for! Yes, denim is the most obvious choice, but these needles are also best for other densely woven fabrics such as heavy twill, canvas and heavy linens often used for workwear. Whereas stretch and ball point needles are designed not to cut the fabric jeans needles have a very sharp point and a stronger shank to prevent needle bending or breakage and push through the heavy fabric. Threads such as synthetic or blends, 100% polyester, heavier top stitching threads, and cotton-wrapped polyester should be chosen when working with these needles and fabrics.
Leather needles are often known as chisel point needles thanks to a point that looks and acts like a chisel when in use. Yes, you’ve guessed it, these needles should be used with genuine leather, suede, and difficult-to-sew projects, but should not be used with PU imitation leather, ultra suede, or synthetic suede since the characteristics of these fabrics are quite different from their real counterparts.
If you’re a bit of a magpie when it comes to thread and loves a pretty metallic or rayon, a metafile needle is ideal when sewing or embroidering on woven or knitted fabrics. Metallic needles have an extra large eye meaning these fancy threads feed through more freely and won’t shred or split as a result of the sewing motion. If you ever struggle to thread your needle a metallic needle would be a good buy because it is also appropriate for general sewing and is much easier to thread due to the larger eye.
Embroidery needles are designed with a wider eye to allow threads such as rayon, polyester, or cotton machine embroidery threads to pass freely and easily when embroidering. Missed stitches can often occur when machining embroidering thanks to the fabric flexing up and down rapidly as a result of the fast-moving embroidery stitch. Embroidery needles have a pontoon scarf with an oversize bump which reduces the chance of this happening by reducing the amount of movement in the fabric.
Top stitch needles
Top stitch needles have an extra sharp point that will pierce all types of fabric easily and the large eye allows the thick topstitching thread to be used.
Twin needles and triple needles
These needles are used for pin tucking and decorative stitches and need to be used at a reduced speed. They are not compatible with all machines so always check your manual before using them.
Used in conjunction with the special stitch options on your machine, wing needles will produce holes in the fabric to replicate drawn thread work. Fabrics made from natural fibers such as cotton should be used with these needles.
Works Cited: How to Choose the Right Sewing Machine Needle