Needle Sizes, Types & Tips: How to Choose a Sewing Machine Needle

Selecting the appropriate sewing machine needle is essential for the success of your sewing endeavors. The proper needle guarantees smooth stitching, safeguards your fabric from damage, and improves the overall quality of your projects. This guide will assist you in understanding the various types of sewing machine needles, choosing the correct size, and ensuring you use the right needle for your fabric.

Key Takeaways

  • Match Needle to Fabric Type: Ensure the needle type is appropriate for your fabric to avoid damage and achieve optimal stitching quality.
  • Size Matters: Select needle size based on fabric weight, using smaller needles for lightweight fabrics and larger needles for heavier fabrics.
  • Specialty Needles: To enhance sewing effectiveness and integrity, use specialty needles, such as ballpoint or sharp needles, for specific fabrics.
  • Testing is Key: Experiment with needles on fabric swatches to find the perfect match before beginning your project.

Table of Content

Sewing Machine Needle Anatomy

The design of sewing needles hasn’t changed much over the years. According to archaeologists in Novosibirsk, Russia, you or I could still stitch by hand despite being over 50,000 years old.

The basic design of sewing machine needles has remained the same for many years. Over time, however, variations of that design have evolved to suit a variety of sewing disciplines better.

As a result, identifying sewing machine needles is easy once you know the fundamentals. Sewing machine needles consist of the following parts:


In other words, this is the needle’s “head.”. A flat or rounded head may be used. You insert this part in the needle bar.


The shank extends downward from the butt. Depending on your sewing machine type, needle shanks come in different shapes. Round, threaded, or grooved shanks are standard on industrial sewing machine needles. An ordinary sewing machine uses a needle with a rounded shank on one side and a flat shank on the other.


A shoulder is a sloping space between the shaft and the shank. Some sewing machine needles have color-coded shoulders to indicate the needle’s usage.


The shaft, also called the blade, is the main body of the needle. The needle size depends on the shaft thickness.


The shaft of sewing machine needles has a groove on the front. Different needles have different lengths and widths of this groove. By guiding the thread to the eye, the groove makes stitches smoother.


There is an indentation called the scarf between the groove and the eye. Bobbin Hooks can grab the thread with the help of this indentation. Different needle types have various sizes of this indentation.


The needle’s eye is the hole where the thread is inserted. Different types of needles have eyes of different sizes and shapes.


Your fabric first comes into contact with the needle’s tip or point. Sewing needles can have varying sharpnesses, depending on the fabric they are designed for. It is necessary to use a sharper needle for heavier materials. Compared to other needles, stretch fabric needles are relatively blunt. In between the two are universal needles, which are designed to sew a variety of fabrics.

How Do You Choose the Right Needle?

Despite their similar appearance, slight differences in sewing machine needles can affect fabric, thread, and stitching. What are your choices?

A needle’s purpose, its size, and the thread weight you’re planning to use are the three things you should consider.

What’s Your Project?

It can be used for various types of sewing with a universal needle. In contrast, needles specially designed for crafts like embroidery and leatherwork should be used for particular tasks. Certain types of sewing will require needles explicitly designed for specific crafts.

What Type Of Fabric Are You Using?

To work efficiently with different kinds of fabrics, needles have different features.

Denim sewing machine needles look very different from silk sewing machine needles. There is a difference in weight and sharpness between denim needles. There is a difference between these two types of needles and machine embroidery needles. A specially shaped scarf and a longer eye distinguish them. The list goes on and on.

Choose a heavier gauge needle for heavier work; choose a thinner, lighter needle for lighter fabrics.

What About Thread Weight?

It would be best if you also considered the thread’s weight. Lighter threads should be used with smaller needles, while heavier threads should be used with larger needles.

Due to their similarity to needle gauges, thread weight numbering conventions can be confusing. In a moment, we’ll discuss this in greater detail.

What Types of Sewing Machine Needles Are There?

What Types of Sewing Machine Needles Are There?

There are many types of sewing machine needles, and you might be surprised at how many there are. Each has a slight difference. Let’s take a look at this.

Universal Needles

A universal sewing machine needle can be used with most fabric and thread types. Needles made for heavier fabrics have a pointed tip, but their shafts are medium in diameter.

Self-Threading Needles

You can slot the thread through the gap sideways instead of poking it through the eye of self-threading sewing machine needles.

Needles for Heavy Materials

Universal needles have a thinner shaft and a sharper point than needles for heavier fabrics.

Leather Needle

The chisel point of leather needles allows them to cut and penetrate simultaneously. Each leather needle has a different diameter corresponding to a different leather thickness.

Denim (Jeans) Needle

The needles used in denim or jeans are also extremely thick and sharp. In addition to canvas, duck cloth, and other thick fabrics, you can also use them with thin fabrics.

Needles for Lighter Materials

When working with lighter threads and materials, smaller and sharper needles are often necessary. Fabric is less likely to be damaged when the needle passes through it this way.

Ball Point Needle

The tip of a ballpoint needle is rounded, like the tip of a ballpoint pen. It is commonly used to sew knits and loosely woven fabrics with a ballpoint needle. Using a ball tip, the needle passes through the fabric without damaging its fibers. Therefore, knit fabrics will not run due to the needle’s action.

Jersey Needle and Stretch Needle

It is a type of ballpoint needle, just like jersey needles or stretch needles. Fabrics like these are sometimes challenging to stitch because of their unique design features.

Jersey needles and stretch needles have medium ballpoints. In addition to having a shorter, narrower eye, a deeper scarf, and a special coating, stretch needles can also pick up different materials during the sewing process. Due to these features, knits and stretchy fabrics can suffer from skipped stitches.

Metallic Needle

Anyone who has ever tried sewing with metallic thread knows the difficulty. Metallic needles make it a bit easier. They have a large eye and groove, preventing the metallic thread from fraying.

Task-Specific Needles

Instead of sewing a particular type of fabric, some needles assist with a specific task.

Twin Needle

Do you ever see identical, parallel rows of decorative stitches when you look at garments? Twin needles were used to make those. Stitching with twin needles can also reinforce seams. In a twin or double needle, two needles descend from one shaft.

Triple Needle

Three needles descend from a single shaft in a triple needle. Try one of these decorative tips to take your stitching to the next level.

Embroidery Needle

An embroidery machine has a variety of needle sizes and weights. The ballpoint variety is as sharp as the sharp variety. In addition to having longer eyes, they also have specially shaped-scarves. These features allow delicate embroidery thread to be worked more easily without fraying or breaking.

Topstitch Needle

Topstitch needles are famous among quilters and sailmakers. Universal needles have a smaller eye than topstitch needles, and they also have a deeper groove. Titanium coats are also standard on topstitch needles. Because of these features, topstitch needles can withstand heavy work and even double threading.

Quilting Needles

Quilting can be done with either a universal needle or a topstitch needle. On the other hand, quilting needles are made specifically for sewing machines. Due to their thin, tapered shafts, multiple layers can be smoothly passed through quilting needles.

Wing (or Winged) Needle

A winged needle is a specialty needle for loose-woven fabrics such as linen. Its flange on the side opens a wide hole in the fabric.

Can you tell me why you might want this? Some kinds of heirloom stitching use wide holes to decorate the piece. This machine can also sew embroidery thread. Pushing the edges through the fabric allows flanges to seal raw, easily-frayed hem edges.

How About The Colors?

Some sewing machine needles have colored stripes across the shoulders. The colors indicate the needle’s purpose.

  • If the needle has a yellow band, it is for stretch fabrics
  • The blue needle indicates that it is designed for denim
  • Purple bands may be found on needles intended for use with a microfiber cloth
  • If the needle has a red band, it is meant for machine embroidery
  • On quilting needles, you will often see green bands.

Further Reads

Why Do Sewing Machine Needles Have Numbers On Them?

As we’ve already seen, the size of a sewing machine needle plays a significant role in sewing quality and ease. Stitching quality is also affected by needle size and how it interacts with your materials. Different needle sizes are also suitable for various types of work.

In needle sizing, the diameter of the needle is considered. The gauge may also be used to describe it. You must understand the numbering convention if you’re wondering what gauge a sewing needle is.

Adding to the difficulty, different conventions exist in the United States and Europe.

What Is The American Sewing Machine Needle Numbering?

American sewing machine needle sizes range from eight to 19. The larger the number, the larger the blade’s diameter.

What Is The Needle Numbering for European Sewing Machines?

There are 60 to 120 sizes of needles for European sewing machines. A more significant number indicates a larger blade diameter—for example, a size 60 needle blade measures 0.6 millimeters.

What About the Numbers on the Package?

Many needle manufacturers list American and European sizes on their packages to sell their products worldwide. Numbers in Europe are numbered first. In this regard:

  • Thin silk and other excellent, lightweight fabrics are best suited to 60/8.
  • Lightweight fabrics such as taffeta and lining work best in 65/9, 70/10, and 75/11.
  • Medium-weight fabrics, linen, and flannel work best with 80/12 and 90/14.
  • Denim, fleece, tweed, and wool are heavier-weight fabrics that fall between 90/14 and 100/16.
  • Material like leather, vinyl, and canvas ducking should be 100/16, 110/18, and larger.

Thread Weight And Needle Sizes

The wrong needle size may be causing your thread to break, shred, or skip stitches. What needle size should I use for which thread size?

It is confusing that thread weights are measured using the same conventions as needle gauges: two numbers separated by a slash. In reality, the numbers mean something completely different.

An Explanation Of Thread Weight

Thread size can be described using several different conventions. The weight standard is one of the most common conventions, so we’ll focus on it here.

As needle gauges get smaller, needles become smaller. Similarly, thread weight is determined by its number: the lower it is, the heavier it is.

As the needle gauge does, thread weight measures weight, not needle diameter. One kilogram of thread requires how many kilometers. In other words, if you have a 30-weight thread, it weighs one kilogram for 30 kilometers.

On the other hand, a 50-weight thread is lighter since making one kilogram would require 50 kilometers of it instead of 30.

But what if your thread is “30/2”? Can you tell me what that second number means? A thread’s second number indicates how many plies it contains or how many strands it has.

The following are some examples:

  1. For general sewing, 50- and 60-weight threads are recommended.
  2. When quilters want to make their stitches stand out visually, they often use 30 or 40-weight thread. Decorative stitching in upholstery is also often done with 30-weight thread.
  3. For ultra-heavy materials, a 20-weight thread is recommended.
  4. Hand embroidery often uses thread in the 12 to 18 weight range.

In addition to the Number Standard, another standard labels threads by number, such as #100, #50, etc. Unlike the weight system, in this system, a higher number indicates a thinner thread, but a #50 thread does not equal a 50-weight thread.

How to Match Thread Weight to Needle Size?

If your needle has a large number, your thread should have a smaller number.

As the needle gauge increases, the shaft becomes larger, and the eye may also become larger. The needle is designed to handle heavier threads. On the other hand, finer, thinner needles require a finer thread, which has a greater thread weight measurement.

Are you still confused? Here is a chart to help you. This is only a rough guide. In addition to the threads and needles shown here, there are heavier and lighter threads and needles:

UsageNeedle GaugeThread Weight
Ultra-light fabric, fine silk60/8100 weight
Lightweight fabric70/10100 weight
Medium-light fabric80/1250-60 weight 
Medium fabric90/1440 weight
Upholstery100/1630 weight
Leather and other heavyweight materials100/1620 weight

Sewing Machine Needle Tips to Make Sure You’re Using the Right One

Consider Your Task

Can you tell me about the type of sewing you will be doing? The right needle is likely to be available for whatever your task is. Most general sewing tasks can be accomplished with a universal needle, but there are a few situations where you might want a task-specific needle:

  • Embroidery
  • Quilting
  • Leather
  • Knits
  • Stretch fabrics
  • Heirloom sewing.

Think About Your Fabric

After choosing the right needle type, you must match the gauge to the fabric weight. Thinner, lighter needles are needed for lightweight fabrics, while thicker, sharper needles are needed for heavier materials. You will get a larger hole if you use a larger needle, so consider this when calculating your dimensions.

What Kind of Thread Are You Using?

The next step is to choose the right needle for the thread. The fabric can be a good match here, but it’s not always the case. A smaller needle is needed for threads that are lighter and finer. A needle made for metallic threads is recommended since metallic thread is very fragile. A thick needle with a larger eye is also necessary when working with thick, heavy threads.

It is important to remember that the smaller the thread-weight number, the larger the needle gauge you need.

Try to Thread Your Needle

Note how easy your needle is to thread when you’re getting ready to sew. The needle’s eye should easily accommodate the thread. A thick thread can quickly tell if it can’t fit through the needle. In addition, a needle that is too large can create problems.

The thread and needle groove should be snugly fitted. If they fit well in the groove and pass easily through the eye, you have a better chance of producing even, high-quality stitches.

Test a Few Stitches

Test your stitches before you begin sewing. Are they even spacing and tightly packed? What is the size of each? If so, you could be using a wrong-sized needle or incorrect thread tension.

How Often Should You Change the Needle On Your Sewing Machine?

Dull sewing machine needles can damage fabric, cause skipped stitches, snag or break the thread, and cause tension problems. They can also damage the motor of your sewing machine. What is the recommended frequency of changing them?

Approximately the same amount of time passes, but different methods are used to measure it. Here are a few suggestions:

  • After 6 to 10 hours of sewing.
  • After winding three full bobbins yourself.
  • After winding two full bobbins.
  • Once a project has been completed.
  • These times vary based on factors such as sewing through coated materials or working with heavier materials.

Sewing machine needles are subject to various pressures in addition to punching through the fabric, which can cause different types of damage. Before using your needle, ensure it is free of dullness, chips, abrasions, or other damage.

Sewing Machine Needle FAQs

What Are the Basic Types of Sewing Machine Needles and Their Uses?

Sewing machine needles are categorized by their types, each designed for specific kinds of fabric. Universal needles are versatile and suitable for a variety of medium-weight fabrics. Ballpoint or jersey needles have rounded tips, perfect for knit fabrics as they separate fibers rather than piercing them. Stretch needles, like ballpoint, have a less rounded tip, which is ideal for elastic materials containing lycra or spandex. Microtex needles feature a sharp point for lightweight, densely woven fabrics, ensuring precise stitches without damage. Denim or jeans needles are robust and sharp, designed for heavy fabrics like denim, with a larger eye for thicker threads. Leather needles have a unique blade that can effectively pierce through leather or synthetic materials.

How Do I Determine the Correct Size of Needle for My Fabric?

The needle size is chosen based on the fabric’s weight. Needles are marked with two numbers, indicating their size in European and American systems. For example, a 90/14 needle is considered medium-weight and suitable for average fabrics. Lighter materials like sheer cotton may require smaller sizes, like 80/12 or 75/11, whereas heavier fabrics like denim might need larger needles, such as 100/16 or 110/18. The rule of thumb is that the heavier the fabric, the larger the needle size required.

Why Is It Important to Match the Needle to the Fabric Type?

Matching the needle to the fabric type is crucial to prevent damage to the fabric, avoid needle breakage, and ensure high-quality stitches. The wrong needle can lead to skipped stitches, fabric puckering, or tearing. Each needle type is engineered with specific features, like the tip’s shape and the eye’s size, to interact with fabric fibers to support the integrity of both the needle and the fabric during sewing.

How Often Should I Change My Sewing Machine Needle?

You should change your sewing machine needle after every project or after about 8 hours of sewing. Dull or damaged needles can lead to poor stitch quality, fabric damage, and even harm to your sewing machine. Using a fresh needle for each new project ensures optimal performance and high-quality results.

What Should I Do If I’m Unsure Which Needle to Use for a Particular Fabric?

When in doubt, test different needles on a fabric swatch before starting your project. This lets you observe how the fabric reacts to the needle and stitch quality. Listen for any unusual sounds, like crunching, which indicate that the needle is struggling with the fabric. Ensure the holes made by the needle are not too large, and there are no skipped stitches. Testing helps you determine the best needle type and size for your specific fabric, ensuring a smooth sewing experience and beautiful results.

How Can I Remember Which Needle to Use for Future Projects?

Keeping a sewing journal or a needle chart can effectively track the types and sizes of needles that work best with different fabrics. Note the fabric type, the needle used, and the outcome of your sewing. Over time, this personalized guide will become a valuable resource for your sewing projects, helping you quickly and confidently make informed choices.


Your sewing machine won’t let you know if the needle needs to be changed, so choosing the wrong one for your project is impossible. You may notice damage to your project or sewing machine as your first sign of trouble.

Make sure you pick the right needle. Consider the fabric type, the thread weight, and the kind of sewing you will do. You should also inspect your needle regularly for damage and change it regularly.

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