Choosing the correct sewing machine needle is a small, but essential, part of successful sewing projects. The right needle executes even stitches and produces strong seams.
The wrong needle causes aggravation, skipped stitches, snagged fabric, and other problems. Learn the differences among the various types of needles and find the right needles for your fabric.
General Purpose Needles
For most sewing you need only choose between universal or ball point needles based on the fabric you are using. Choose a needle size according to the weight of your fabric, with a 9 or 11 for lightweight cloth (batiste, tricot) up to a 16 for layers of heavy home decorating fabrics.
Universal needles are not really universal, but they do work with a variety of medium weight fabrics. The point is in between a sharp and a ball point. Both woven and knit fabrics may do well with a universal machine needle. If there does seem to be a problem with skipped stitches on knits, try a ball point needle instead. If the needle does not penetrate the fabric easily, try a sharp needle instead. When in doubt, start with a universal needle.
Ball point needles are called jersey needles by some manufacturers. The rounded tip is designed to glide between the threads of knit fabric without breaking threads or snagging the fabric. Stretch needles are also ball pointed, but they also have a scarf and eye designed to prevent skipped stitches on the most stretchy of fabrics, including elastics and lycra spandex as in swimwear fabric. When stitches get skipped with a ball point needle, switch to a stretch needle of similar size.
Jeans needles have a point that is modified and reinforced to penetrate heavy woven fabrics such as denim and upholstery. Where other needles break or skip stitches, the jeans needle is the right choice. To create the double rows of stitching seen in ready-to-wear jeans, use a jeans twin needle with two heavy-duty needles on a single shaft.
Microtex needles are acutely pointed for a sharp tip that produces perfectly straight topstitching, precision quilt piecing, and stitching of specialty coated fabrics and synthetic leather (pleather.) Also for topstitching, the topstitching needle has an extra-large eye to accommodate heavier thread such as buttonhole twist. Quilting needles are another sharp needle type, designed with a tapered point for penetrating layers of fabric and batting.
Embroidery needles have a wide eye to accommodate rayon and other special embroider threads without fraying them. Metallic needles are specially designed for fragile metallic threads to prevent shredding and breakage of the thread.
Leather needles have a special wedge point that cuts through leather and synthetic leather. Do not use this needle on regular woven or knit fabrics.
Heirloom Sewing Needles
Hemstitch needles are used on lightweight cottons and linens for a special effect. Wings on the side of the needle create holes in the fabric while using a decorative pin stitch or other embroidery stitch. Twin needles have two needles on a single shaft. Two spools of thread are used on top and parallel lines of stitches are created on one pass. In heirloom sewing, twin needles are used to create pin tucks, which are tiny tucks often used to decorate christening gowns, baby bonnets, and other heirloom clothing.
Needles and thread are the most fundamental of sewing supplies. Choose quality needles and thread in the right size and style for your fabric and enjoy easier sewing with better results. Be sure to start every project with a new needle, as needles dull and need to be replaced regularly. Keep packs of assorted needles handy in whatever styles you need for your preferred projects.