the ultimate guide for how to choose a sewing machine needle | Boo + Lu

The Ultimate Guide for How to Choose a Sewing Machine Needle

How to choose a sewing machine needle can be a confusing task. Are you tired of broken needles or thread, skipped stitches, and a less than perfect finish to your sewing projects? Believe me, I get it, we’ve all been there. Today I’m going to guide you through how to choose the correct needle for all of your projects.

Size DOES Matter

Okay, get your mind out of the gutter, friend. I’m talking about the size of your sewing machine needle! Choosing your sewing machine needle is not just about the type of needle, but the size is a major factor that you should consider.

When was the last time you thought about the size of the needle you purchased? If you are anything like I was when I first started out, you just look at the numbers and say, “welp, this looks right”. Then you go off and purchase without even understanding how to choose the right size or what these sizes even mean.

Let’s break it down easily for you:

  • The lower the number, the finer the fabric this needle sews.
  • The higher the number, the heavier the fabric this needle sews.

“But, Gail. There are 2 numbers here, what the heck?” Okay, settle down. I’m getting there.

Like my friend here, you may have noticed that there are two numbers on the packaging.

Most people will tell you that these numbers are the American and European sizing. If you want to get technical, the “European” sizing is actually considered “number metric” or NM for short. NM sizing is the actual diameter of the needle in hundredths of a millimeter. So, to use an example, a size 70 needle has a diameter of .70 millimeters. “American” sizing is said to have originated with Singer brand sewing machine needles. Before the 1940’s there was no “standard size” set for sewing machine needles. Each manufacturer could choose whatever sizing system they wanted.   

For the purposes of this guide I will refer to the sizing as American and European from here on out. This is what most people call it and thus will avoid causing you any confusion.

American sizing is the numbers 8-19, while European sizing is the numbers 60-120. They can be in either order, depending on the brand of needle you buy. For example, you may see it labeled 10/70 or 70/10. Both of these would be the same exact sized needle. Make sense?

Types of Sewing Machine Needles

The next factor in determining how to choose a sewing machine needle is figuring out which type is perfect for your project.

  • Universal Needle
    • All purpose needle with a slightly rounded tip.
    • Perfect for MOST woven fabrics.
  • Ballpoint Needle
    • While similar to a universal needle, the point is more rounded so that it can slip between the fibers rather than piercing and cutting them.
    • Perfect for heavier/looser sweather knits.
  • Stretch Needle
    • Designed specifically for highly elastic knits.
    • Perfect for spandex/lycra, stretch velvet, swim, performance, elastic, etc.
  • Microtex/sharp Needle
    • Finer and sharper than universal needles
    • Perfect for Microfiber, silk, rayon, chiffon.
  • Leather Needle
    • Designed to have a sharp cutting point that will pierce through leather.
    • Perfect for natural leather and thick vinyl.
  • Denim/jeans Needle
    • Stronger needle.
    • Perfect for heavyweight denim, duck, canvas, upholstery, artificial leather, lightweight vinyl.
  • Quilting Needle
    • Stronger needle designed to pierce through multiple layers of fabric and batting.
    • Perfect for quilting and bag making.
  • Embroidery Needle
    • Made specifically for machine embroidery. The shape of the eye and scarf are specifically suited to delicate threads as to not fray or break them.

When was the last time you changed your needle?

The last thing we need to talk about is how often you should be changing your sewing machine needles. I am willing to bet that you don’t change it as often as recommended.

Don’t worry, I’m fully willing to admit that I don’t either.

Most manufacturers recommend changing your needle every 6-8 hours of sewing. While it seems like a short amount of time, especially for those of you that sew to sell, changing them frequently will only result in better sewing. Thus, resulting in a less stressful sewing experience. One caveat to this rule would be, if you accidentally hit a pin when sewing (and your needle miraculously didn’t break) you should change your needle immediately as the tip will be damaged.

You may have seen a type of needle at your local store that I didn’t mention here. There are lots of different specialty needles out there, but this gives you the knowledge you need to get started. You are now an expert on determining how to choose a sewing machine needle!

What are some of your tips for choosing the right needle? Comment below, I’d love to hear! And while your at it don’t forget to check out more of my sewing content here.

xoxo – Gail

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