Textile art newbies are often surprised to find out that sewing machine needles come in a variety of types and sizes. It’s understandable, of course, considering that the differences between the various types of needles are hard to see and appreciate.
Nevertheless, make no mistake about it. The type of needles you use can affect the quality of your stitching big time.
New needles every time
Before anything else, it’s probably helpful to remind ourselves that we should always use a sharp needle when working on our projects. A sewing machine needle can get bent, become blunt, or get burred after just a few hours of use. A good rule of thumb is to replace your needle after around 6 to 8 hours of continuous sewing. Other people replace their needle after finishing a project.
Always using a sharp needle can prevent a host of problems, from damaged fabrics and skipped stitches to fabric wrinkling and lopsided seams. New needles are very affordable, so don’t risk a headache and a damaged workpiece by not replacing them as often as you should.
It wasn’t so long ago when all we had to work with were natural fabrics like cotton, flax, silk, hemp, and wool. This changed beginning in the 1930s, when an employee of chemical giant DuPont invented nylon, humankind’s first synthetic fiber. Nowadays, we have so many types of fabrics to choose from for our sewing projects—from natural and synthetic fabrics to blended fabrics and composite materials.
With so many fabric types one can use, it is essential that you familiarize yourself with the different needles that go with these variants. The most important things you should consider are the following:
- What material is the fabric made of?
- How was the fabric constructed or in what manner was the fabric woven?
- How heavy is the fabric?
When you go shopping for needles in the store or online, you may notice that there are two variants of size labeling. The ones with smaller numbers (8 to 20) are usually marketed in the United States, while those labeled with bigger numbers (60 to 120) are usually sold in European jurisdictions. Many needle manufacturers mark their products with both the American and European sizes.
Larger and thicker needles are typically used on heavier fabrics, while smaller and thinner ones are for lighter fabrics:
- Very thin needles (8/60, 9/65) are used on delicate fabrics like silk, chiffon, lace, organza, and voile.
- Thin needles (10/75, 11/75) are used for lightweight fabrics like synthetics, velvet, batiste, and taffeta.
- Medium needles (12/80, 14/90) can be used on a variety of fabrics, including medium-weight cotton, linen, corduroy, chambray, gingham, wool, knits, jersey, tricot, spandex, lycra, flannel, poplin, pique, percale, and muslin.
- Thick needles (16/100, 18/110, 20/120, 21/130, 22/140, 23/160, 200/25) are used for heavier fabrics like gabardine, tweed, denim, canvas, tickling, and leather.
Needles also come in different point types. The three most basic multipurpose variants are as follows:
- Sharp/Regular (RG) – Otherwise known as microtex needles, sharps have very fine points and are generally used for sewing delicate or lightweight fabrics, tightly woven fabrics, artificial leather, and laminated materials.
- Ballpoint – Ballpoint needles have rounded points that are designed to slide easily between the woven threads of fabrics. They are ideal for elastic and stretchy fabrics like spandex and lycra.
- Universal/Medium Point – Universal needles can be used on a wide variety of fabrics. Their points are only slightly rounded, making them more versatile than ballpoint needles and sharp needles. They can be used on knits, woven fabrics, and stretchy fabrics.
These needles come in different sizes, as explained above, so make sure that you are getting them in the right sizes as well.
Additionally, there are many other types of specialty needles that are made specifically for certain materials or purposes. There are needles that are made for stitching denim (ending in San6), light garment dye fabrics (ending in San10), leather, and stretch fabrics, as well as for performing specific sewing tasks like embroidery and quilting. We will discuss these in detail in a future article.