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Quick Tip: Using a Twin or Double Needle

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We've been asked numerous times by Sew4Home visitors, "How do you get your double rows of stitching so perfectly even?" We've quietly given out our secret to several of you. But now we've decided it's time to reveal it to the world. The way to get perfectly even, super close, double rows of stitching is... to use a twin needle. If you're one of those people who think twin needles are way too complicated, you're in for a very pleasant surprise: twice the stitching is half as hard as you might imagine.

What Is A Twin Needle?

A twin needle (also called a double needle) is basically two needles attached to a single shank. One is slightly shorter than the other so your bobbin can catch the thread from both needles. So clever that bobbin! 

Twin needles come in a variety of sizes just like regular needles. But they have two number designations: one is the space between the needles and the other is the needle size. For instance, a 4/80 twin needle has 4 mm between two size 80 needles. The picture below shows a Janome needle pack on the left; many Janome models come standard with a twin needle. On the right is a Klassé twin needle. Several manufactuturers offer twin needles; check to be sure it's a proper fit for your machine.

There may be some limitations as to how wide a twin needle your sewing machine can take. That answer should be provided in your manchine's manual. Or even better, buy your twin needle directly from your sewing machine dealer. He/She can tell you which size will be best for your project.

A twin needle installs in your machine just like a regular needle. With the flat part of the shank toward the back, insert it into the needle hole and tighten the screw.

This may be the spot where you're saying, "Wait a minute. A twin needle needs two threads to stitch." Correct - your sewing machine is designed to feed one thread at a time. And even if it could feed two, where are you supposed to put the extra spool?

Most machines come with an extra spool pin and a hole to put it in. That's where you put your second spool. Again, consult your owner's manual to see what your extra spool pin looks like and exactly where it goes.

If your machine doesn't have an extra pin, you can use a thread stand. Or, you can put the additional spool in a coffee mug to the side of your machine. (Just make sure there's no coffee in it.)

If you want the same thread color in both needles, but you only have one spool of that color, wind some thread onto an extra bobbin. You can use this bobbin as your second spool.

Thread your machine as you normally would, one thread at a time . The most important thing is to make sure the threads don't get twisted around one another. Some machines allow you to separate the threads at the tension disk. Again, check your machine's manual for specific instructions.

The only sad part is that you can't use an automatic needle threader with a twin needle. It helps to have a hand needle threader. You can also try what we often do: find someone younger with better vision to thread the needles.

Which Stitches Can I Use?

A simple straight stitch with a twin needle always looks crisp and exact. It's the one we use most in home décor sewing. However, your machine may be able to sew a zigzag or decorative stitches with a twin needle, which can be very pretty, especially with two different colors of thread.

As mentioned above, the slight difference in the length of the needles is what allows the single bobbin thread to secure both threads as they penetrate through to the back of the fabric. The image below shows you the back of straight as well as decorative stitch options. 

Some machines, including many of the Janome models in our Sew4Home studio, actually have a twin needle setting. When you select the twin needle setting on the machine, any stitches that cannot be used are grayed-out or otherwise disabled so they cannot be selected.

You may not have this screen setting option. If so, just make sure the needles don't swing too wide. The biggest danger is that one of the needles will hit the presser foot or needle plate and damage your machine (not to mention the eye risk of flying needle shards). Before even beginning your test stitching, use the hand wheel to take your twin needles through one full stitch cycle, making sure they're safely within the tolerances of your machine and the foot. Then, do some test seams on a scrap to make sure you're getting the effect you want.

A standard presser foot that can accomodate a zig zag stitch is the most common option to use for double needle stitching. The goal is to use the presser foot with the widest opening for the needle swing.

Now, go forth and make perfectly parallel lines of stitching.


Comments (14)

Snnie Mitchell said:
Snnie Mitchell's picture

Great intro to twin-needles! I use mine for all manner of decorative and functional sewing - all sizes from 1.6mm and up through the 'wing and straight' to make insertion lace for heirloom garments, placemats, cushions, etc. But my all time fav use for the twins is pintucking (need a specialty foot for that one) and not just for garments - wow does a sofa cushion (pillow in the US) look great made up of alternating direction pintucked blocks - so quick and easy and packs a lotta decorative punch! I also love the twins for knit garment hems/neckline/cuffs. I'm glad to see you've included the sanity-saver tip of using a hand needle threader to thread the needles. 

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

@ Snnie Mitchell - Thanks! And yes! Pintucking is so pretty. Good reminder.

Tanna said:
Tanna's picture

One of my absolute favorite techniques!  Picture a lilac blouse with purple and white twin needle decorative stitching around the collar and down the front.  Endless compliments every time I wear it.  Also used this technique using a brightly varigated thread (like dk brown, orange and green) on one needle and a neutral (beige) on the second needle.  I did this down one side of bias quilt binding and then bound my quilt with that.  To die for! 

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

@ Tanna - both of those descriptions sound amazing! Playing with the two thread colors is definitely part of the fun. Thanks for the inspiration. 

Betty Meyskens said:
Betty Meyskens's picture

Great tutorial. I have not used a twin needle yet but plan to.  So I am going to save this article for future reference.

mrb said:
mrb's picture

this is really helpful- I have yet to try twin needles- where can I find the project  your demoing above with the twin needles?

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

@ mrb - that isn't an actual project, it was just us practicing sample stitches on a scrap of canvas.... just like you should do 

someone said:
someone's picture

I have a doubt regarding twin needles. At the top of the machine i understand how it works but how does the point underneath is made? How works in bobbin?

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

@ someone - We answered your same quetion on Facebook as well. The needles are attached as one to the shank so they operate as one. But, one is slightly shorter than the other so your bobbin can catch the thread from both needles. It looks almost like a zig zag on the back as it grabs both upper threads. Good question - we will add an a photo of the back of the stitching.

mpistey said:
mpistey's picture

I just purchased a circular sewing attachment for my machine.  I'm wondering if  I would be able to use a twin needle to sew circles?

mpistey said:
mpistey's picture

Oh yes, now I remember that project.  That is beautiful!  Thanks for the reminder.

juliainnorway said:
juliainnorway's picture

Thanks for this wonderful quick tip! When I bought my machine they did show me how to use a double needle, but I'd forgotten all about it. I recently made some lunch bags where you have 2-4 rows of stitching around the top edge - I just realized how much time I have been wasting doing one at a time! Plus they come out perfeclty even with this needle. This is brilliant - thanks so much for  this "refresher course". Keep the tips coming!!!

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

@ juliainnorway -- So glad to be able to job your memory. Double needle stitching is so cool.

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