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How To Choose The Right Machine Needle For The Job

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A fresh needle makes a a big difference in your sewing experience, but using the right size and type of needle is equally important. Choosing the correct needle is not quite as difficult as searching through the proverbial haystack, but it can be a little overwhelming. They all look pretty much the same unless you pull out the magnifying glass. But, different needles DO have different tips, eyes, shanks, groves and shafts; and what you select can make a big difference in how well your machine sews through your fabric.

Needle Sizes

What the heck are those random numbers? The first thing you see on a needle package is the needle size. This will be shown as one number over another, such as: 70/10, 80/12 or 90/14. These numbers refer to the size of the needle.

There are two numbers because one is the American numbering system and one the European. The American system uses 8 to 19; 8 is a fine, thin needle and 19 is a thick, heavy needle. European sizes range from 60 to 120, 60 is a fine, thin needle and 120 is a thick, heavy needle. Some companies list American first, some list European first.

Here's the rule: the lower the number the finer the needle and the smaller the eye

For example, if you are going to sew a sheer window curtain, you would want a fine needle such as 60/8. Using a 120/19 would leave giant holes in your fabric. On the other hand, if you were to try to sew through upholstery fabric with a 60/8 needle, it would bend or break. Using a 120/19 would give you strength to penetrate your heavy home décor fabric and would have an eye large enough to carry the thicker thread you'll need to use.

Test first on a scrap!

When it comes right down to it, a needle can do as much damage to your fabric as a pair of scissors. Always test your needle with the actual thread you've chosen on a scrap of the actual fabric you'll be using for your project.

Needle Types

Click to EnlargeOnce you have the size figured out, next you'll have to choose the TYPE of needle you want. As with any tool, you have general options and specialty options.

For the majority of home decor projects, go for the Universal needle. It works well for most woven fabrics, knits and synthetics.

Other home décor needle options:

  • Jeans: has a sharp, strong point for denim, canvas and other tightly woven fabrics. 
  • Leather: has a chisel point for genuine leather only.
  • Sharps: good for silks and micro-fibers.
  • Metallic: if you are topstitching or embellishing with specialty threads, this needle has a larger eye to allow the thread to flow through without fraying and breaking.

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As you become more advanced, you can investigate other unique needle options, like stretch, twin, triple and wing.

Your needle is a very important part of your project. I think of it this way: a good needle in your sewing room is like a good knife in your kitchen.


Comments (36)

Gretchen Kruziki said:
Gretchen Kruziki's picture

Hi and thank you for this forum. I am sewing on organza. Is the Universal 75/11 Klasse needle too large? I contiinue to get puckered sewing on my "sample". Any help I might receive would be appreciated.

Destiny J said:
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I'm currently making a toiletry bag with vinyl. 4 layers is the thickest that I have had to sew so far. I'm breaking titanium needles. I've been using a roller foot, but still breaking them. I've tried using jean and leather needles, still breaking. The problem as far as I can tell is the needle is coming out of the vinyl alot slower. The viny is pulling the needle with it and when it comes back is hitting the plate and breaking. Does anybody have any ideas on how to make this work? I'm out of solutions.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Destiny J - For laminated cottons, vinlys and the like, you want to use a larger needle to penetrate this substrate's added thickness. We recommend a NEW Universal needle in a size 12 or 14. These have sharp points that will easily penetrate the laminate coating. We've also read about some people who prefer a Topstitch needle or a Denim needle in a size 14 or 16. These needles are sharper than the standard Universal needle. As always, test for yourself, and be your own judge. We sometimes stitch with a thin layer of wax or parchment paper between the fabric and the presser foot. This could help with needle penetration, although it is usually used more to help the foot move across the stickier surface. 

Destiny J said:
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Thank you for answering so quickly. Yes I've tried the tissue/tracing paper it works but is a pain. I will try the topsritch needle. I've tried baby powder which also works.

Thank you again

Destiny J said:
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Thank you for answering so quickly. Yes I've tried the tissue/tracing paper it works but is a pain. I will try the topsritch needle. I've tried baby powder which also works.

Thank you again

Diane Snyder said:
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I have an old Western Electric (1929) Sewing machine.  The accompanying manual shows a picture of the needle size, and lists manufacturers - none of whom I can find in business anymore.  The length of the needle I need is 1 13/16" long.  What does that translate to in "modern" terms? 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
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@ Diane Snyder - that's a very specific question about a very old machine. I would recommend you take it to a local sewing machine dealer for advice. I think most current machine needles are about 1-5/8".

Carolyn Atto said:
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Universal needles really aren't the best needles for anything, they were designed for people who won't buy sharps AND ball points.  They do neither job well.

Nancy Jayne said:
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You are absolutely right!  Thanks for posting.  

flmorning said:
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Great information and needles chart, thank you...

Della said:
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I have a sears kenmore and I'm trying to find out where to by the needles for the machine. The needles only have one number on them. Does anyone know where you can purchase the needles for the kenmore sewing machines.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Della - the Kenmore machines are standard. You should be able to use standard sewing machine needles from any of the brands shown above: Klasse, Schmetz, Dritz, etc. It's more important to match the needle type to your project.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
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@Q Pat b - a Universal 11(80) needle is generally appropriate for sewing most types of fleece
MartiB said:
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THank You SOOOOO MUCH for this chart.  It is amazing!!!!! I have needed this for years!! Truely appreciate it!!!

alicia.thommas said:
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Just a quick comment on Klasse needles. We use them extensively at Sew4Home without issue. Klasse needles are considered to be quality needles in the industry. Out of curiosity, I did a Google check to see if I could find information about Klasse needles being shorter, or inappropriate for Bernina or Baby Lock machines. I found a number of Bernina dealers who recommend Klasse, but couldn't find any warnings against them for either machine. There are always anecdotal accounts about any product, but usually if they have merit, you'll find many complaints online.
sandra dennison said:
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I was told emphatically not to use Xlasse in either my Bernina or my Baby Lock Esante as they are a tiny tiny bit sorter than the other brands and will, therefore, damage the machines. It was also intimated that they are inferior.
Sew Be rebel said:
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New needles on a machine every time makes such a difference!smilies/smiley.gif
alicia.thommas said:
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Hi Isabelle. For most vinyl a #14 jeans needle works fine. For thicker vinyl, a leather needle might work better. Leather needles have a cutting point for stitching through leather. A Teflon® or Ultraglide foot is also helpful. They have a special coating on the bottom which allows them to move smoothly over sticky fabrics like PUL and vinyl. Also using waxed paper over the fabric as you sew makes the vinyl slide more easily, and you can still see what you're doing. Just tear away when finished. Some people use matte finish clear tape and just peel off when done. Another note, tie off your threads rather than backstitch. You can break the vinyl with too many stitches.
Isabelle said:
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Question is what size needle is needed to use with clear plastic for different projects? Thanks
alicia.thommas said:
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kj, S4H Editor, Liz Johnson, likes a #14 denim needle for cotton laminates - it's recommended for penetrating tightly woven fabrics. The key is to use a new needle when sewing laminates. A #12 or #14 needle is fine.
kj said:
kj's picture
I never thought about changing needles unless I broke one so I'm sure I have much to learn. Anyone know which needle to use on laminated cotton which seems to be so popular?
alicia.thommas said:
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Cubed, How often to change a needle requires a bit of common sense. I usually start a new project with new needle and that's a common rule of thumb. But if you're doing a small project, that's too frequently. You can also think in terms of time -- 8 hours on a needle is a good time to change. If you hit a pin, change the needle. Needles that are bent, dull or burred cause fabric damage that is visible on your finished project.
Dogpackmomma said:
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I've been sewing for a long lifetime & I can't always keep my needles organized! After I read Abby's & LCO's comment - I thought well yea - so I did some searching & found this most inclusive chart -

Thanks for the good article & Happy Trails!
Cubed said:
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Great information. How long should a needle be used before it loses it's effetiveness and be discarded?
LCO said:
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I like Addy's idea too - browsing through all the sewing needles/sizes online can be so confusing! It would be nice to be able to buy or print a chart with recommended types/sizes of needles for various projects. smilies/grin.gif
Crafter Jo said:
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Wow! What great advice! I've been sewing for a few years now and never knew the basics! Thank you for this article!
amy21 said:
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Also, don't forget if you're lucky enough to have a local sewing/quilt shop, the owner/employees will be happy to help you figure out the right needle for your project. I've gone in many times, explained what I wanted to do, and gotten help with choosing the right needle.
Kim A. said:
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Excellent information for a sewing newbie like me! Thanks!
Joyce Ann said:
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Thank you so much for the condensed needle information. I love the fact it is very informative. I will print this out and put it next to my sewing machines. Having it laminated in a small version is a wonderful idea.
Kathe G said:
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Thank you so much for explaining - I could never figure out what was going on with both the numbers - now I will know which needle to get.
Addy said:
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I wish someone would make a small laminated poster to keep near the sewing machine with this needle info

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