Needle Knowledge for your Sewing Machine

How do you Know Which Sewing Machine Needle is Right for the Job?


I learned to use a sewing machine more than 50 years ago.  OMG!

Way back then there were 2 types of sewing machine needles.  Regular and Ball-point.  The regular needles were available in sizes 10 (thin), 12, 14 (the size I used the most)  and 16 (the thickest).  I don’t recall the sizes of the ball-points, because I didn’t use them often.

Well, things have changed a bit.  New fibers, new fabrics, new threads and new functions, including machine quilting and also all those decorative stitches that come on sewing machines these days.

It can get confusing.

What to Know When Choosing a Sewing Machine Needle

It’s all that’s between your sewing machine and your fabric, and choosing the incorrect needle can easily ruin your project.

There are still 2 basic types of machine needles: Universal and Ball Point , and then many other types for special uses.

There are many brands of needles to choose from, too, but my favorites are Schmetz, the most common needle in the world; available in most sewing  centers and Inspira, made for my Husqvarna/Viking sewing machine.

Sizing Info

There are 2 sizing numbers on the package, the American, which is usually first, and the metric. 

  • Size 8/60 is very fine, ideal for lingerie and fine silk
  • Size 10/70 is suitable for light fabrics, silk and taffeta
  • Size 12/80 is suitable for medium fabrics, cotton, linen and satin, and the most popular for today’s sewing needs
  • Size 11/75 is a common size for ball-points and is ideal for light to medium weight knits.
  • Size 14/90 is suitable for medium to heavy fabrics
  • Size 16/100 is suitable for heavy fabrics, denim, tweeds, curtain and upholstery fabrics

Keep in mind though, that if your needle is too thick to easily penetrate the fabric, your machine motor will have to work harder.  Imagine hemming a silk blouse with a darning needle.

The Parts of a Sewing Machine Needle


Universal Point Needles
Universal needles are the all-purpose needle for sewing wovens. The point is slightly rounded and the needle is tapered so that it slips through the weave of woven fabrics. Universal needles typically come with all sewing machines. They come in many different sizes with the 12/80  being the most popular.

Ball Point Needles
Ball point needles are made especially for sewing on knits. Its rounded point is designed to slide between the yarns of knit fabrics without snagging. They come in size 11/75 and 14/90. Choose the size that will handle the thread being used when sewing on knits.

Specialty Needles

Microtex Needles
These feature a very sharp point.  Needles are for use with tightly woven fabrics sometimes known as “Micro-fibers”.  They have a very slim sharp point that creates beautiful top-stitching and perfectly straight stitches for quilt piecing. These needles come in sizes from  size 8 to the heaviest size 18.  If you’re planning on using a thick, decorative thread, be sure to choose a large sized needle.

Jeans Needle
A jeans needle has a special point designed to penetrate  extra thick fabrics and a reinforced shank to reduce breakage and skipped stitches. It is made for heavy duty stitching and is suitable for denim and similar fabrics.  Beware of using a needle too thick for the job.  I’ve used a 12/80 to 14/90 successfully in all my jeans making. 

Metallic Needle
The Metallic needle has an elongated eye to reduced the shredding and breaking of metallic threads.  Again, be sure to select the appropriate size.

Embroidery Needle

An Embroidery needle is ideal for using fragile, decorative threads.  They have a bit of a ball point, a wide eye and groove which prevents friction so you can sew with rayon, polyester and other embroidery threads trouble free.

Quilting Needle
Needles designed for machine quilting have a specific taper to the slightly rounded point to allow easy fabric penetration with no skipped stitches.

Top stitch Needle
The Top stitch needle had an extra long eye and a sharp point, making it the perfect needle for sewing perfectly straight lines with decorative threads.   Use your “Straight-Stitch Throat Plate” for perfect results.

Leather Needle
A Leather needle had a wedge shaped sharp point, like a chisel so that it can cut through leather and vinyls without making large holes.

Other Specialty Needles

Twin Needle
A twin needle is actually two needles mounted on one shaft used to create two rows of stitches simultaneously. It uses two spools of thread and one bobbin thread. The bobbin thread zig-zags back and forth between the needle stitches on the underside.  The package will show two numbers. One is the needle size; the other is the distance between the two needles. This distance varies from 2.0 mm to 6.0 mm. These are available in ball-point for knits as well.  Be sure to check that they fit into your throat plate. 

A Few Other Things
  • A sewing machine needle has a life span of 5 to 8 hours.  If in doubt, change your needle.
  • Sergers or overlock machines, embroidery or other specialty machines may use different needles. Check your manual.
  • For the most part all sewing machines needles work in all sewing machines. But there are a few brands that need specific needles.

click here for the Schmetz Sewing Machine Needle Guide

I’d love to hear if this article helped you.  I get many emails asking me to troubleshoot a sewing problem, and often the culprit is the needle.  click here for a printable PDF of  needle-knowledge

10 thoughts on “Needle Knowledge for your Sewing Machine”

  1. Thanks Yvette for the quick lesson. I have heard all this info in the past, but having it written out, where I can refer to it when needed is great. I will be adding this to my ‘favourites’

  2. Thanks Yvette! I never really thought much about the sewing machine needle when I am sewing! Now when I purchase fabric, I will match the needle to the fabric.
    Thank you !

  3. Hi Yvette, Thanks for this very handy guide. I’ve just started sewing again after a 20 year break and knew I needed different needles for different fabrics but hadn’t a clue as to how to know what was in my sewing machine and overlocker. Now I do! Hurray! Cheers, Mozz

  4. Thank you Yvette for this amazing guide which I have printed to have as a guide… I’m often in doubt what needle to use with the fabric I’m sewing… Thank you for taking the time to print this out in a PDF format to boot!!!!!

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