Sewing Needle Types and Sizes | How To Pick The Right Needle

Sewing Needle Types and Sizes | How To Pick The Right Needle

February 06, 2020

You’ve picked a beautiful fabric you’re dying to work with and now you’re puzzled over which needle and thread to use to bring your dream sewing project to life. Choosing the right needle is absolutely essential for beautiful, even stitches. 

Luckily, we’ve created this easy-to-follow guide to choosing the best needle for any project. 

How To Pick The Right Sewing Needle

pick the right sewing needle

When it comes to picking the right sewing needle, there are two golden rules to follow:

Pick your needle size based on the fabric’s weight and thickness of your thread

Choose your needle type based on your fabric (scroll down to ‘Sewing Needle Types’ for more helpful tips!)

What Do the Size Numbers Mean on Sewing Needles?

Sewing needles come in an astounding range of sizes, which on first glance can appear super confusing, if not downright mysterious. You’ll quickly discover most sewing needles have two numbers on the label: for example, 60/8 or 120/19. 

Why are there two numbers, you ask? It’s actually really simple. Essentially, there are two sizing systems: metric (European) and imperial (American). Both are conveniently written on the label at once. 

From finest to thickest, European sizes range from 60 to 120, while American sizes range from 8 to 19. 

When picking your needle size, there’s a simple rule of thumb: the finer your fabric, the finer your needle should be (to avoid unsightly holes!) The heavier your fabric, the sturdier your needle should be. 

Pro tip: Keep a collection of different needles on hand to make finding the right needle for your project easy. 

Needles for lightweight and fine fabrics

Fabrics

  • 60/8 - Silk, chiffon, georgette, batiste, cotton lawn, organza, crepe-de-chine, sheer fabrics, rayon
  • 70/10 or 75/11- Cotton lawn, taffeta, swim, Cotton Lycra (knit 180 and knit 220), bamboo spandex, double brushed poly 

Thread suggestion: Smaller size needles pair best with lightweight, fine thread. Using a thread that is too large for the needle can lead to thread breakage. 

Needles for medium weight fabrics

Fabrics

  • 80/12 - Cotton, polyester, linen, satin, cotton shirting, quilting cotton
  • 90/14 - Cotton, polyester, linen, cotton sateen, lightweight upholstery fabrics

Examples: Jersey, Lycra, linen, quilting cottons, silk dupioni, calf leather, cotton lycra (knit 220 and knit 260), French Terry, canvas, minky, squish

Thread suggestion: A needle of this size works best with an all-purpose polyester or 50-weight cotton thread. 

Needles for heavy fabrics

Fabrics

  • 100/16 - Denim, tweed, curtain fabrics, soft furnishings
  • 110/18 - Leather, PVC, vinyl
  • 120/19 - Thick denim, heavy canvas, thick leather

Examples: Denim, vinyl, thick leather, dense upholstery fabrics, heavyweight canvas

Thread suggestion: This size needle is best with heavyweight threads, such as upholstery and topstitching threads.

Sewing Needle Types

sewing tips - lady sewing

Sewing needles come in a bewildering variety of sizes. Here are the different types and the techniques and fabrics they’re used for: 

Sharp and Microtex Needles

Sharp and Microtex needles are the sharpest, most slender needle type. Its slim, sharp point cuts through tightly woven fabric and are ideal for natural fabrics, both woven (cotton and linen) and knit (wool and cotton jersey). These needles are designed to penetrate multiple layers of fabric without bending or breaking, thanks to a stronger shaft. 

Uses: A sharp or Microtex is an excellent choice for sewing with microfibre, silk or synthetic leather, peachskin (boardshort) fabric

Troubleshooting: Essentially trouble-free. However, fabric may require a Teflon, roller or even/dual-feed presser foot. 

Universal Needles

A universal needle has a slightly rounded, sharp point with a tapered needle — midway between a sharp and ballpoint needle. Easily slipping through fabric waves, it is sharp enough to pierce woven cotton fabrics, but not so sharp it will damage knits. 

Uses: The universal needle is an all-purpose, safe choice for most sewing projects, including wovens and sturdy knits. The best thread to use with a universal needle is a polyester-cotton or silk thread. 

Troubleshooting: A universal needle is a good all-rounder, not a specialist. If your fabric is not a medium-weight woven, consider a different needle that’s designed specifically for that fabric. 

Ballpoint

A ballpoint or jersey needle is a large needle with a rounded tip. This ballpoint is designed to slide between the yarns of fabric without snagging, cutting or stretching the material out of shape. This makes it ideal for working with stretchy fabrics like knits and lycra. 

Stitches made with a ballpoint needle are not as straight as stitches with a sharp needle. This non-straight stitching is better suited to sewing seams with stretchy knit fabric. 

Uses: Ballpoint needles are ideal for working with heavier, looser knit fabrics like rib knits, cotton knits, fleece because it stops them from running or laddering as a result of stitching. It also works well with synthetic materials like polyester, polyester-cotton, rayon and jersey. The best thread is a polyester or polyester-cotton blend. 

Troubleshooting: Unsure whether to use a ballpoint or a universal needle for a knit? Try test-stitching to check which one won’t cut the yarn and achieves the best result. 

Stretch Needles

Stretch needles have the same rounded tip as a ballpoint needle, coated in Titanium or chrome to allow the needle to slide through stitches. Its specially designed eye and scarf prevent skipping stitches. 

Uses: A stretch needle is perfect for difficult-to-sew elastic fabrics such as lycra, two-way stretch knits, silk jersey and elasticated synthetic fabrics. This is hands-down the best needle for sewing Lycra and swimwear. It works best with a polyester or poly-cotton thread. 

Troubleshooting: If you’re finding your ballpoint needle is leaving skipped stitches, a stretch needle can come to the rescue.

Topstitch Needles

This slim, sharp needle has a sharper point, an extra-long eye and deeper groove, resulting in better penetration and fewer skipped stitches. 

Uses: Topstitching is a form of decorative stitching where you make a row of continuous stitches on the visible part of the fabric. A topstitch needle excels at this. A topstitch needle is ideal for piercing silks, cottons, microfibres and multiple layers. With this needle, it’s best to use a rayon thread, or match your thread to your fabric, pairing cotton with cotton or polyester with synthetic fibres. 

Troubleshooting: To avoid punching large holes in your fabric, use the smallest size topstitch needle that accommodates your thread. 

Denim Needles

A denim needle has a heavy-duty, sharp point, slender eye and strong shaft specifically designed to pierce and push through extra-thick woven fabric without bending or breaking. 

Uses: Denim needles remove most of the headaches that occur when working with dense fabrics like denim, duck, heavy twill, canvas, upholstery fabrics, artificial leather, vinyl and heavy linens. 

Pair your denim needle with a 100% polyester ‘jean’ thread, heavier top-stitching thread or cotton-wrapped polyester thread. 

Troubleshooting: If your stitches skip when sewing with a heavy fabric, try using a larger needle and sew slowly. Alternatively, you can walk the needle through the fabric by turning the hand crank. 

Leather Needles

A leather needle is a wedge-like, triangular point that looks like a chisel or spear. This point allows the needle to make a large, clean cut through thick materials.  

Uses: A leather needle is a dream when working with genuine leather, suede and tough materials, but never be tempted to use it with PU imitation leather, ultra suede or synthetic suede. 

Troubleshooting: If you’re sewing with synthetic leather, this needle will cut rather than pierce stitches and can tear leather. It’s best to use a Microtex or sharp needle with synthetic leather. 

Twin Needles

A twin needle is actually two needled mountains on one shaft. This needle creates two rows of stitches simultaneously. Be careful when selecting your twin needle that you select either universal for woven fabrics or stretch for knit fabrics for the best results. 

Uses: A twin needle is useful for hemming, heirloom stitching, pintucks, parallel rows of topstitching, and decorative stitches. 

To use a twin needle, your sewing machine must be fitted with a throat plate with a hole wide enough for the needle. You’ll also need more than one thread spool so each needle has its own thread feed. 

Troubleshooting: Twin needle stitching can sometimes create a tunnelling effect, where the fabric between the two lines of stitching rises. Adjusting your stitch length and needle tension and testing on scraps of fabric until you’re happy with the results. 

You may also need to adjust your bobbin tension, as well as top thread tension, to achieve the best result. Do not back stitch with a twin needle, as this will cause the needle to break. Instead, overlap your stitches at the start and finish, pull your top threads to the reverse side and tie off in a knot. 

When Should I Change The Needle Size?

If you use the wrong needle, all hell can break loose: you might damage your bobbin hook, throw off your machine’s timing, get puckered seams, break or shred thread, punch holes in your fabric, or simply create an inferior stitch. 

Do I Need A Smaller Needle?

Here are the tell-tale signs you are using a needle too large for the fabric and need a smaller needle:

  • Puckering around the needle entry point or parallel to the sewing line
  • Unintended gathering
  • Snagging

Do I Need A Larger Needle?

If your needle breaks, try a larger needle. 

How Often Should I Change My Needle?

Sewing needles have a lifespan of 6 to 8 hours of sewing time — even less if you're sewing with heavy fabrics. Do yourself a favour and follow these two simple rules:

  • Reach for a new needle every time you start a new project
  • Always replace a dull or damaged needle straight away

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