Sewing Machine Needle Sizes – How To Identify Them

Sewing Needles vs Sewing Machine Needles: All you Need to Know

We will discuss the process of identifying and selecting sewing machine needles, all the basics and tips into this one blog!

The top two mistakes that people make is:

  1. Using generic needles which may not be compatible with the machine you’ve bought.
  2. Using generic needles when they should be using fabric-specific types (which are discussed here).

Making any of these mistakes can not only break your needles (which can be pricey!), but it can also damage your machine in the long run (which is even pricier than that!). Check out our machine reviews if you’re undecided on which sewing machine to buy too!

Knowhow #1: Needle Anatomy

Take a look at this handy map:

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Shank

  • This is the thick upper section of the needle, which is to be inserted into the machine. Many home sewing machine needles are designed with a curved and flat side to assist with easy and correct insertion.
  • Industrial sewing machines have a completely round shaft with a groove used to indicate which direction to insert a new needle.

Shaft

  • This is the area from the bottom of the shank to the point of the needle; it contains the groove, scarf, eye and point of the needle.

Groove

  • This is the important part- it leads to the eye and acts as a place for the thread to lay into the needle.
  • Run your finger across the groove on needles of varying sizes to understand why we need to select different sized needles for heavier (or lighter) threads.

Scarf

  • This is the name given to one of the side grooves on your needle.
  • Allows the bobbin case hook to merge and intersect with the upper thread in order to successfully form stitches.

Eye 

  • The eye carries the actual thread so that the machine can consistently form strong, even stitches.
  • The size of this varies based on the overall needle size.
  • If the eye is too big or small, your thread will end up shredding and snapping!

Point

This is the first mode of contact with your target fabric, and is wholly responsible for how the needle pierces it. 

  • The three most popular needle points are:
    • Sharp: Ideal for woven fabrics- sharp points help sew straight lines, best for making tops
    • Ballpoint: These are designed for knit fabrics so that the point glides between the strands better, without soiling the fibres of the material. They don’t stitch as straight as sharp needles, making it better suited to stretch with the fabric
    • Universal: These can be used with woven or knit fabric, as the name suggests. If you’re unhappy with how this one stitches, consider changing to a more specific style.

 

Knowhow #2: Sizing

Below I’ll compare the standard American versus European needle sizing (starting from lightest at the top):

US – EU

8 | 60   LIGHTEST

9 | 65                     

10 | 70                       

11 | 75                      

12 | 80                     

14 | 90                     

16 | 100                     

18 | 110                    

19 | 120   HEAVIEST

 

Picking the right size will save you time tirelessly troubleshooting issues later on. Stick to our handy chart and you’ll be fine!

Note: The higher the number = the thicker the needle.

Selecting Fabric

When selecting a fabric appropriate for the needle size you’ve opted for, you need to take into account how loosely it’s woven, how delicate the material is, overall fabric thickness etc. As a rule of thumb:

  • For sheer, fine fabrics (think chiffon, organza- curtain nets and fancy Asian scarves), use a fine needle. Ideal for this would be 8/60. Essentially, you are looking for a needle which pierces a hole similar in the size to the looseness/tightness of the material’s weave.
  • For heavy upholstery (think bedding, throws, sofa covers, cushion/pillow covers), use the thickest of needles. This would be 19/120. Essentially, we need a strong enough needle to stab the fabric repeatedly to create stitches. Flimsy, delicate needles on the finer side would simply break if used with a material like this.
  • For combined fabrics, where one part is thin material and the rest is thick, you would need to opt for a needle that falls in the mid range. A good choice would be a 12/80.

A good way to save yourself some precious needles and just generally take care, is to test out your stitches with the needle and a spare piece of fabric. Incorrect usage of the needle can prove to be detrimental.

Knowhow #3: Alternatives

Self-threading / Handicap Needles

These are designed to quicken and ease the task of threading needles. While these are pricier, they’ll save you time. They have a tiny slit on the side of the needle, so you simply slide the thread against the needle between your fingers and voila!  One downside of the handicaps is that they’re not very diverse in point-style or size.

 

Twin and Triple Needles (AKA “Drilling Needles”)

These needles are attached to a single shank via a crossbar. They make for perfect, evenly spaced stitch rows- meaning it’s ideal for decorative stitching. These needles are only compatible with machines that have zigzag capabilities and a throat plate with a wide enough hole for it. Only one needle may be used at a time, so make sure there isn’t multiple needles otherwise you can’t zigzag stitch. If you wish to keep many needles in the machine, you’ll need more than one spool holder in order to give each one a thread source. The threads usually follow the original threading pattern, as one thread and then are threaded into each needle. Refer to your machine manual for guidance just in case.

How to Read the Label: Don’t be off-put by all those numbers when buying these needles- the first number is the space / distance between the twins/trio and the second number is the actual needle size.

 

Stretch Needles

This is the healing needle, we like to call it. That is because it can be used to mend any skipped stitches when working with knitted fabrics. It’s like a plan B, last resort, lifesaver needle for when the ballpoint needles just fail to do their job correct. Best used for stretchy, synthetic swimwear fabrics and Lycra. Available sizes are usually 11/75, 14/90.

Wing Needles

If you’re trying out heirloom detailing, you should go ahead and invest in this needle. It’s used particularly for it! The design is made special: the shank is flared to create openwork stitches, great for woven fabrics rather than knitted ones. We advise that the only sizes available are 16/100, 19/120.

 

Leather Sewing Needles

Yes, leather does need special needles- why wouldn’t it?! The task isn’t very difficult when you’ve got the correct needles, so make sure you invest if you do much leather work. The needle is wedge-shaped, so it penetrates the fabric more broadly, thus spreading out the pressure on the surface area of the point. This prevents needles from breaking. Available sizes include 11/75, 14/90.

 

Denim and Jeans Sewing Needles

These needles are equipped with an extra sharp and stiffer shank. This makes the needle stronger and abler to stitch through tough materials like denim, or even several layers of fabric. Available in a range of sizes including 10/70, 18/110. The most broadly-sized bespoke needle out there.

 

Embroidery Needle

Finally, the embroidery needle is used for creating beautiful, commercial style patterns and patches on your clothes. It is designed to create dense stitches, which helps to achieve that “coloured-in” look. In addition, these special needles help do the task without shredding the the thread (for example polyester thread, or rayon). Available in sizes 11/75, 14/90.

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