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Sewing Machine Needle Guide

Which sewing machine needle to use

Do you ever get confused as to which needle you should be using?  Then this useful guide from sewing expert Ann Haughton will help.

Schmetz Quilting Needles What size needles to use

This is a massive subject!  So I have decided to concentrate on the basics of domestic sewing machine needles.

Sewing machine needles come in a variety of different packaging styles. Buying the correct needle for your machine is essential if you want your machine to work correctly. For example Singer needles can only be used in Singer machines. The needles themselves are slightly longer than standard machine needles and will then not correctly form a stitch in a non singer machine. However please do not despair! There are far more needles out on the market for machines that are not Singer, than there are singer needles.
The correct size and type of Sewing machine needle is essential to produce a good quality stitch. The old adage of you get what you pay for really is true with machine needles. In my opinion the Schmetz range of needles is by far the best for value for money and longevity. Schmetz was established in 1851 and is still a family owned company. The Schmetz sewing machine needles are manufactured to the highest possible standards to offer unrivalled performance in just about every application.
Schmetz needles from The Village Haberdashery

Sewing Needle Sizes and their uses.

Needles are sized in metric and imperial. The smaller the numbers the finer the needle. The size of a needle is calculated by its diameter, thus a 90 needle is 0.9mm in diameter.

Size 10 = 70
Size 11 = 75
Size 12 = 80
Size 14 = 90
Size 16 = 100
Size 18 = 110
Size 20 = 120
No 60 = Silks, cotton lawn, organza and sheer fabrics
No 70 = Cotton lawn, lining fabrics
No 80 = Cotton shirting, quilting cotton,
No 90 = Linen, linen union curtain fabrics, cushion fabrics, cotton sateen curtain linings,
No 100 = Denim
No 110 = Upholstery fabrics and canvas weight fabrics, leather, pvc and vinyls
No 120 = Thick Denim and Heavy Canvas, thick leather

Within the different sewing needle sizes are different types of needles.

Sharp Needles

Natural materials i.e. cotton, linen, wool, cotton jersey you will need to use a ‘sharp’ needle. Now I’m not being funny they are referred to as sharps!


Prym Ballpoint Needle use for jersey

Ballpoint or Jersey Needles
Man made materials i.e. poly cotton, polyester and viscose or other mixes, most lining fabrics then the needle of choice should be a ballpoint needle. Sometimes ballpoint needles are referred to as jersey needles.

Stretch Needles

Stretch needles are ballpoint needles that are coated to allow them to slip through difficult fabrics. Stretchy fabrics are tricky for the needle to separate the fibres and sew well. The result is puckering and or missed stitches in a seam. The coating on the stretch needles just enables them to slide through the fibres and maintain a good stitch


       Prym needles from Raystitch

Leather Needles

Leather needles are spear shaped to help cut the leather as the stitch is being formed. If you try to sew leather and faux leather with for example an ordinary size 110 needle the machine will struggle. So by using a leather needle the machine will be able to sew more easily.

Machine Embroidery Needles

These are again available in a variety of sizes and are generally used in the top end embroidery machines. These machines produce intricate designs at a significant speed. The needles enable the machine to sew dense designs without snagging at the fabric or breaking the needle. More recently Titanium needles have become available. The titanium needles are able to cope with the intense heat that is created by the rapid movement machine to create these designs and not break as an ‘ordinary’ needle would. Embroidery 

needles also have larger eye’s to accommodate the slightly thicker nature of embroidery thread.

Microtex Needles

Why is my needle breaking?  And other sewing machine needle queries

These are usually the cure all for all problems! Either with stetchy fabric or embroidery or waterproofed fabric, it is the get out of gaol needle!

Why do Needles Break?
Needles break because they are not right for the application that you are doing. If you tried to sew Denim with a size 70 needle it would just break. Denim needles are slightly angled at the end so that instead of penetrating the fabric at a 90 degree angle it does it at a reduced angle thus going through the layers at slightly less tension.

How often should I change my needle?

Needles should be changed after 6 hours of sewing or at the end of a project, whichever comes first.  If ever you have a stitching problem, the first thing you should do is to change your needle.

 Hemline Needles from Habbydays

If you enjoyed this guide why not read our guide to sewing machine feet. 

Which presser foot to use on my sewing machine