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How To Choose The Right Sewing Machine Needle For Your Project

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You probably already know the rule of thumb for sewing machine needles: install a new one at the beginning of each project. When a needle is piercing your fabric at 600 to 1,000 stitches per minute, small things like a dulled point or an eye that's beginning to wear, can make a big difference in the quality of your stitches. But it's just as important to choose the right kind of needle. Our thanks to Janome America for helping us with the fine points of machine needles.

If you look at the needle display at your local sewing dealer, you might see a dozen different kinds. They all look pretty much the same unless you pull out a 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.

Also, it's important to take into consideration who makes the needle. Here at Sew4Home, our exclusive sewing machine sponsor is Janome America, and we do our sewing on Janome machines. Because Janome makes a line of needles designed especially to run on their machines, that's the brand of needle we use on a regular basis. However, the needle basics are appropriate for all machines as is the recommendation to change your needle on a regular schedule.

Get to know your way around a needle

All sewing needles have essentially the same parts:

Shank: The upper end of the needle, which is inserted into the machine. Janome has given their needles a flat back shank to make it easier to correctly position them.

Shaft: The body of the needle below the shank. This will vary in thickness depending on the size of the needle.

Front Groove: This groove, located on the front of the shaft, acts as the last thread guide before the thread goes through the eye of the needle.

Scarf: The short indentation above the eye of the needle. It allows the hook on your bobbin case to get close to the eye of the needle so it can catch the thread loop and form the stitch. Janome needles have a longer, deeper scarf to help eliminate skipped stitches.

Eye: You know what this is: the hole at the end of the needle through which the thread passes. Janome needles have especially smooth eye holes to keep thread feeding smoothly and to avoid snagging.

Understanding needle sizes

What the heck are those random numbers? The first thing you see on a needle package is the needle size. This will usually 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 and you really only need to pay attention to one of them.

The larger of the two numbers is the needle size according to the European numbering system. European sizes range from 60 to 120; 60 is a very fine, thin needle and 120 is a very thick, heavy needle. Some companies list American first, some list European first.

The smaller number is the needle size according to the American numbering system. The American system uses 8 to 19. So 8 is a very fine, thin needle and 19 is a very thick, heavy needle. In the US, this may be the only number you see on the needle pack.

The different size needles have been designed for optimal sewing on different weights of fabric. 

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 could bend or break. Using a 120/19 would give you extra strength to penetrate heavy home décor fabric and would have an eye large enough to carry the thicker thread you're likely to use.

Picking the right needle type

The different needle sizes described above really just reflect the thickness of the shank (the main part) and the size of the eye.

You can also get specialized needles that have modified points, eyes, tips, and even heads (the area right behind the tip). 

For instance, Janome makes a Purple Tip Needle that features a slightly rounded "ball point" tip to prevent fabric thread breakage and a special cobra shaped head. This design prevents skipped stitches caused by the fluctuation of heavier fabrics, including knits, and works for both sewing and embroidering applications.

Here are some other specialized needles you might use for home décor:

Jeans: Has a sharp, strong point for denim, canvas and other tightly woven fabrics. 

Leather: Features a chisel point for genuine leather only.

Sharps: Includes a sharper tip, making it 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.


Which one should you use?

For the majority of home décor projects, you'll want to use a Universal needle in size 11 to 14, depending on how heavy your fabrics is. This type works well for most woven fabrics, knits and synthetics. Use the notes above on size and design to determine which needle type to switch to if using a sheer or heavy weight fabric. When in doubt, ask your sewing dealer. They really know their needles.

As you become more advanced, you can investigate other unique needle options, like stretch, twin, triple and wing. We're fans of the twin needle (also called a double needle), and have an article on its use.

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. 

Our thanks again to Janome America for helping us give you the information you need to keep your sewing machine running at its best. For more about Janome machines, accessories and projects, visit them online or follow them on Facebook and Pinterest


Comments (25)

Anonymous said:
Anonymous's picture

So I'm sewing a glove using a 4 way stretch pleather fabric, i know i should use a stretch needle, but how do i know which one fits into my machine? Does that part of the needle have a size or do i just worry about the other end? I'm not necessarily new to sewing, I've always used cotton and have had a surplus of needles, so i never bought new ones, but i threw away the packaging, please help???

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

If you want to be super careful, you can buy a branded needle from your sewing machine dealer for your machine, however, branded needles are not always available in all the types (like the stretch you are looking for). However, unless your machine in vintage, a standard sewing machine needle from Schmetz, Klasse, Singer, etc. should fit your machin with no trouble, 

Mo3 said:
Mo3's picture

I have muddled up my new and used sewing machine needles.Other than replacing them all is there a way I can tell the difference?

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

@Mo3 - Wow - that's a tough one. You might be able to tell the difference under a strong magnifying glass. But you'd at least want one needle you know is new to be able to compare each one against it. You might also be able to tell by touch, but that seems like there could be blood involved. I think if I was in your shoes, I'd be tempted to buy all new.

patricia donahoe said:
patricia donahoe's picture

what size needles  for model DX 2015  serial 040132458 do i purchase   sewing on cotton and polyester.  Thank you

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

@Patricia - Janome is one of our fabulous sponsors, but we don't have specific details about all of their models. So, this question is best directed to your own Janome dealer or to the Janome America website. You can reach them at:

Mrs Rhian A Jones said:
Mrs Rhian A Jones's picture

Have a Janome machine  which has been perfect. However my stitches are now crooked and slanted. Have tried a new needle but no improvement. Any ideas?

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

@ Ms Jones - This really isn't an issue we can effectively troubleshoot long distance. There are so many variables in the machine model, settings, and accessories as well as in the fabric itself. For example, thick and/or corse weave fabrics, such as canvas, can cause stitches to "slant" as the thread follows the weave. Sounds like a trip to your local dealer is in order to try to pinpoint the trouble.

Arce said:
Arce's picture

For machine quilting what size needle should I use? I own a Janome dc2015

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

@ Arce - as we mention above, it's all about the fabric and thickness so there are variables. In general, use a universal needle for quilting. The most common size to use is 75/11 or 80/12 for piecing, quilting and attaching binding. However, you may need to vary the size depending on the type(s) of fabric you're using, if other than cotton, or if you have thicker layers. Remember to change your sewing machine needle often (approximately every 8 hours and not just for quilting) since some batting fibers can dull your needle. 

Renee Anij said:
Renee Anij's picture

Thank you for the PDF button on your articles!  It's been at least a decade since I did sewing and coming back to it requires relearning what I've fogotten. So many variables.  The How-Tos like this are perfect for my bulletin board.

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

@ Renee - Welcome back to sewing! We're happy to be a part of your learning process.

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

@ alice - that is the most traditional choice.

Lisa said:
Lisa's picture

I didn't know that European needle sizes range from 60 to 120. So, if you have a European sewing machine, do you need to get a different type of needle? I love my sewing maching. Recently sewing has become a hobby of mine, and the things I can do with a needle and thread amaze me!

Lisa |

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

@ Lisa - the needles are the same - the packaging simply shows both sizes so they can be sold both inside the US and outside. 

Carrie doty said:
Carrie doty's picture

Thank you Sew4Home!!  I now know why Janome requres only their needles!!!  Now I want a Janome machine! Lol!!

Sharon mount said:
Sharon mount's picture

What needle would you recommend foe free machine embrodiery I use the red bad blue tip needle but the thread keeps breaking

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

@ Sharon Mount - we can't effectively deal with machine specific troubleshooting long distance. If you are breaking needles a lot, there may be something else amiss, such as tension or threading. In general, most quilters prefer a sharp needle for quilting, free-motion included, such as a Topstitch size 14/90. If the problem persists, take your machine to your local dealer for a check-up.

Gale59 said:
Gale59's picture

That article makes the use of needles make much more sense. Thank you!

cori said:
cori's picture

Great information, now I understand needles. Great job.

Mary H said:
Mary H's picture

Thank you so much for this information!!  I never could remember that the front groove of the needle needed to go in the FRONT.  I can't tell you how many times I've been trying to sew and discovered I had put the needle in backwards.  Now that you explain that groove is the final guide for the thread, it makes sense!!  I'll never forget that now!  The needle sizes/numbers was a good refresher for me too.  THANK YOU SEW4HOME!  You are awesome!

Sue McIver said:
Sue McIver's picture

Great article. I have 4 Janome sewing machines and love them! I wouldn't buy anything but.

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