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Know Your Needles

There are a lot of variable in sewing, which can be overwhelming especially in the very beginning! Below is a guide for purchasing and using your sewing machine needles. Print it out and keep it in your sewing area so you remember to change your needles to best suit your sewing project!

If you want to delve even further into the history of machine needles, you can visit the Schmetz website here.

The two most important things to know about choosing sewing machine needles are the type and the size.

You should select the type of needle based on the textile construction (i.e. knit vs. woven fabrics), and the needle size is determined by the thickness of the thread and the weight of the fabric you will be using for your project.

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Image via Schmetz Needles

It helps to understand the different parts of a home sewing machine needle.

• The shank is the part of the needle that fits into your sewing machine, with the flat side to the back.

• The blade is what determines the needle size. (For example, a size 75 needle has a blade that is .75 mm in diameter.)

• The shaft is the “body” of the needle, and the groove that runs the length of the shaft holds the needle thread. Did you know that the diameter of the thread you are using should take up no more than 40% of the groove?

• The point and tip of the needle refer to the size, shape and length — all of which vary based on the type of needle.

• The scarf of the needle is an indentation on the backside that allows the bobbin hook to smoothly grab the thread under the sewing machine throat plate to create a proper stitch.

Needle types

There are three main types of needles that are used for the majority of sewing, as well as many specialty needles.

• Universal needles have a slightly rounded tip, and this general purpose needle should be used on wovens as well as some sturdy knits.

• Jersey needles have a medium ballpoint tip designed especially for knit fabrics because it slips between the knit fibers and does not break or damage them while sewing.

• Stretch needles, often confused with Jersey needles, are also a medium ballpoint tip, but these have a special eye and scarf that are designed for extremely stretchy fabrics and elastic. Swimwear is an ideal application for this type of needle.

In addition to the three most widely used needle types, there are also specialty needles for sewing with denim and leather, sewing suede, topstitching, needlepoint and embroidery, along with specific needles for quilting. Remember to select the needle first based on fabric type or usage, and then determine the correct size based on the weight of the fabric and the size of the thread you will be using.

Needle sizing

There are two needle sizing systems: American and European. American needle sizes range from 8 to 19, and European sizes range from 60 to 120. The larger the number, the larger the blade of the needle. Often you will see both sizing numbers on the needle package, such as 60/8 and 70/10.

Home sewing machine needles are also classified as the 130/705 H system, which means they are for use in home sewing machines rather than industrial machines. That designation means the needles have a flat shank and a scarf.

Needle lifespan

Needles are one of the least expensive components in a sewing project, so feel free to change your needle after one or 2 new projects. Sewing machine needles only have a lifespan of 6 to 8 hours of sewing time, but that can be even less if the fabric is particularly tough to sew. In short, change your needles often as you run the risk of damaging your project by using a dull needle.