How To Choose Which Sewing Machine Needle To Use

Stuggling to work out which needle to use, well struggle no longer! Check out this simple guide to helping you sew better.

So up until I started this blog I didn’t really know much about sewing machine needles. This may shock some of you but it was never something that was taught. The university didn’t find it a major requirement to the curriculum. Imagine walking up to a wall full of sewing machine needles with different numbers and names and uses (queue Jaws music). Cora was with me and she has no clue how to work a sewing machine (bless her) so I was stuck, luckily I had a picture of the broken needle on my phone and went with that. I stuck to universal, paid and ran hoping when I got home I made the right choice. No pressure.

I have done research, spoke to friends that have been sewing many years and asked advice. Looks like I did pick the right ones! Phew! I am here to set a few things straight for you and learn a lot on the way.


Universal Needles

Universal needles are as they say universal,  they are more commonly used and work well with most brands and models of sewing machine. These needles can be used with woven fabrics, synthetics and some knit fabrics. Though double check again before starting your project. There are finer needles more often used for lightweight fabrics and the larger needles are used for medium to heavy weight fabrics. Fabrics such as polyester, cotton and silk require universal needles.


Stretch Needles

The stretch needle has a ‘scarf’ that allows room for the hook to pass close and prevents skipped stitches which make it great to use for fabrics such as lycra, two-way stretch knits, spandex, power net and other elasticated fabrics. The best threads to use on these fabrics are polyester or cotton wrapped polyester. These stretch fabrics are known for being one of the more difficult fabrics to work with as they will move and of course, stretch out of place while sewing. Picking the right needle if important to enable you to create a good end product.


Ball Point Needles

These needles have a rounded tip compared to the universal needle which helps push the fabric fibres apart instead of cutting them. This type of needle is great for working with interlock, cotton knits, rib knits, fleece and generally most knit fabrics. The needle works well with these fabrics as it prevents the fibres running and laddering while stitching. The best thread to use with these fabrics is polyester and polyester/cotton blends.


Sharps Needles

Many quilters will know that working with several layers of cotton and wadding that you should be using a sharps needle. You can also use these needles if you are working with woven fabrics such as silk and microfibre materials. The sharps needle is made to work with many layers of fabric and has a stronger shaft that helps avoid bent or broken needles. The needles also penetrate the fabric to create a smooth buttonhole. The needle has a short round threading eye that also gives extra strength while sewing.


Jeans Needles

I’m sure you won’t have to ask what type of fabric these needles are made for. Of course denim, but you can also use these needles for other densely woven fabrics like twill, canvas and heavier linens. Though the stretch and ball point needles are made to work around the fibres, the jeans needle is made to be very sharp and stronger to push through and prevent bending and breakage. The best thread to use would be a 100% polyester, synthetic or blends and heavier top stitching threads.


 Quilting Needles

These needles are made to be used with multiple layers or fabric and wadding, this is due to the reinforced shaft but they are much shorter in length compared to the sharps needle. Beginners will often use the smaller needle like a size 7 or 8 and more experienced quilters will opt for a larger size.


Leather Needles

These needles are known as chisel-point needles due to the point that looks and acts like a chisel. A leather needles should be used with only genuine leather, suede and more difficult to sew projects. These needles should not be used on imitation leather, ultra suede or synthetic suede as the makeup of these fabrics are different to the real ones.


Metaphil Needles

These needles are great if you love working with metallic threads in sewing or embroidery on woven fabrics. This needle has a larger eye that enables the metallic thread to run through freely and won’t cause damage such as splitting or shredding to the thread. These needles are also great if you struggle to thread the needle for general sewing, they are much easier to use thanks to the larger eye.


Embroidery Needles

During sewing embroidery, missed threads can occur due to the fast pace movement of the fabric flexing. Embroidery needles have a pontoon scarf with and oversize bump that reduces the movement of the fabric which reduces the missed threads. These needles are made with a wider eye that will allow that threads to pass through freely and easily during embroidery. The threads most commonly used are rayon, polyester or cotton.


Twin Needles And Triple Needles

These needles are used for tasks such as pin tucks and decorative stitches,  they are better used with a reduced speed. Not all machines are compatible with these needles so check out your manual or online before using.


 Top Stitch Needles

Topstitch needles have an extra sharp point that will stab through all fabrics easily and with a large eye allows a thick top thread to run through with ease.


Wing Needles

Wing needles are often used in along with the special stitch options on your machine. It will produce holes within the fabric to copy the drawn thread work. The needle is made to be used on more natural fabrics such as cotton.


What Do The Numbers Mean On The Needles?

While shopping for needles it can get so confusing looking at all the different numbers and which one it is that you need. It can get confusing over which number you will need to pay attention to the 60 or the 8? This is one of the most confusing parts of picking a needle, you think you have won because you have picked out what needle you need for your project. Now for the next hurdle, this is a small bump in the road, these numbers are reference numbers. Yes, you do need to pay some attention to them but it doesn’t have to be confusing. The numbers ranging from 60- 110 are the European numbers, whereas the numbers ranging from 8- 18 are the American.

 How Often Should I Change My Needle

You may want to change your needle for every new project you do, within reason. If you have made something quite small and quick don’t change your needle for the next project. A good indication is looking at your needle and looking for scrapes or bends. If you have a bend within your needle this can cause a thumping sound when the needle hits the fabric. It may also cause the needle to jam and get stuck leaving unsightly damages to your fabric.



Eye – This is the point in which the thread will come through, good machine needles will have a smooth eye to reduce threads being shredded or caught. Depending on the type of needles and size they eye can be smaller or larger.

Shaft – The shaft will vary in size depending on the use on fabric. For thicker and hardwearing fabrics the shaft will be stiffer.

Shank – This is the part that goes into the machine, it has 1 side that is flat to ensure proper insertion.

Point – The point is the start of where the needle will go into the fabrics, these can vary on different needles for different fabrics.

Scarf – This point will enable the hook to get close to the needle to avoid missed stitches.


And so that is all that you will need to know about sewing machine needles. I definately altered the way I sew down to this information. There are plenty of articles and guides that are more than willing to help if you have a special requirement.

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