If you’re new to sewing, or maybe just unfamiliar with the specificities of sewing machine needles, you’ve probably had questions similar to this. Luckily, I’m here to let you know all the ins, outs, and stitches of sewing machine needles and how to improve your sewing.
The Anatomy of a Sewing Needle
Although small, sewing needles have specific anatomy and label for each part of the needle. From top to bottom, a sewing needle features:
Shank: The thick, upper part of the needle inserted into a sewing machine
Shaft: The area from the bottom of the shank to the point
Groove: Found in the shaft—leads to the eye and lets thread lay in the needle
Scarf: Found in the shaft—groove on one side of the needle
Eye: Found in the shaft—carries the thread for the machine and works together with the groove
Point: The first contact point between the needle and fabric
This may come as a surprise, but sewing needles do go bad after use. Bent, blunt, or burred needles are often the cause of fabric damage, so it’s important to change your needles frequently. I recommend changing your needle after anywhere from four to 10 hours of sewing. Although it’s up to you and what feels right when you’re using your machine, too.
If you find your needle is skipping stitches, snagging, or making a popping sound during use, it may be time to replace your sewing machine needle. Make sure when replacing your sewing needle that the flat side faces toward the back of the machine. Also, confirm that you’re correctly inserting the needle in the needle clamp before tightening and screwing it into place.
Types of Sewing Machine Needles
I know what you’re thinking—I thought we were going to talk about universal sewing needles? If they’re universal, why do I need to worry about other types? While universal needles may get the job done pretty well in various instances, sometimes using a specialized needle will make your project go a lot more efficiently.
When purchasing sewing needles, it often gives the sizes in both American and European measurements. There are many types of needles, with each having unique properties tailored to use on different fabrics. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll need a smaller needle for lighter fabrics and a larger needle for thicker materials.
While not every fabric has its a specially-crafted needle, there are three common categories that most needles fall into:
Now that we’ve established the three most common, let’s get into the specifics of various types of sewing machine needles.
Ballpoint Needle: Have a rounded tip to pass through fabrics without separating them and are ideal for heavy knitted fabric
Hemstitch/ Wing-Needle: This needle is used in heirloom sewing and puts a small hole in the fabric as it sews. It is best suited for natural fibers like cotton and linen
Twin Needle: Best for decorative stitching, this double-ended needle creates two parallel rows at the same time
Quilting Needle: This needle is designed with a taper and slightly rounded point to help eliminate skipped stitches. As the name suggests, it’s best used for quilting projects that include thick layers or piecing together fabrics
Top-Stitch Needle: These needles are made with an extra-long eye and used to stitch completely straight, even lines when using multiple, heavy, and/or low-quality thread
Super Sharp Needle: Ideal for finely woven fabric
Denim/ Jean Needle: As the name suggests, this needle is designed with a reinforced blade for use on thick fabrics like canvas, denim, and jeans to reduce skipped stitches and breakage
Leather Needle: Created with a wedge shape and sharp cutting point, this needle is ideal for fabrics like leather and vinyl
Stretch Needle: Great for use on swimsuits and often used to fix skipped stitched in knit fabric
Embroidery Needle: This needle is designed with a wide eye, wide groove, and light ballpoint to protect fragile threads when completing embroidered and decorative stitching. Specially formatted for threads like rayon and polyester
Metallic Needle: This needle is crafted with an elongated eye and protects against shredding of fine metallic and thin specialty threads
The Universal Needle
This needle needs a separate section because we have so much to unpack! Typically, sewing machines always come with universal needles because they are so versatile. They are designed to be used on all kinds of fabrics and come in different sizes, too.
Universal needles are compatible with woven fabric, knit fabric, and a range of other fabric types from silk to corduroy. The most common sizes of universal needles are the 10/70, the 12/80, and the 14/90 and work on both lighter fabric and heavier fabric.
As the name suggests, these needles can be used almost universally. However, just because you can use them that way doesn’t mean you should.
Are Sewing Machine Needles Universal?
So, what’s the truth? Are they or aren’t they?! The correct answer to this question comes as a yes and a no.
As you’ve seen, there is a specific type of sewing machine needle known as the universal needle, and it does work on a multitude of different fabrics and threads.
However, just because it does the job decently doesn’t mean it’s always the best choice. For regular sewing projects, universal needles work wonderfully and accomplish what you’re trying to do—sew.
However, specialized needles are made for a reason. It’s to make sure you’re treating your thread and fabric correctly and getting the result you’re looking for at the end of your project—a nicely crafted, no fabric damage product. Sometimes you can accomplish that with a universal needle, but it won’t happen all the time.
So, in summary, while some sewing machine needles are universal, not all of them are. To find the best fit for your project, you need to know what fabric and thread you’ll be working with to ensure you choose a needle that’s the right size, shape, and specially crafted to work with you, not against you.