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Two important factors need to be considered when choosing which sewing machine needle to use,: the weight and the type of fabric you are working with.
Types of Sewing Machine Needles :
There are various different types of sewing machine needles available. The needle ‘type’ refers to the point of the needle, which is the first contact with the fabric and is responsible for how the needle penetrates the fabric. The sharpness of the needle point can vary, depending on which fabric the needle is designed to sew. Heavier materials require a sharper needle whereas needles meant for stretch fabrics are comparatively blunt. Universal needles that ae designed to sew a variety of fabric types, are somewhere between the two.
The most common needle types are shown below:
Universal Needle: Universal needles are a good all-round needle type for a range of fabrics. The point of a universal needle is sharp yet also slightly rounded so they can be used a wide variety of woven and knit fabrics. Polyester or cotton thread should be used with a universal needle.
Jersey / Ballpoint Needle: Specifically designed for stretch and knit fabrics, this needle has a rounded tip that pushes the fabric's threads aside instead of creating holes. Use with rib knits, lightweight jersey, cotton knits, fleece, and double-knit fabrics i.e. the type of fabrics you would use for tops, t-shirts, dresses, and jumpers. Polyester and polyester / cotton blend thread are best for use with ball point needles.
Stretch Needle: Stretch needles are for very stretchy fabric that have a high content of spandex. They are slightly less rounded at the tip than ballpoint needles and are often coated to allow them to slip though fabric more easily. This helps to prevent skipped stitches on elastic materials such as two way stretch knits, Lycra, spandex, power net, highly elasticated synthetic fabrics, and elastic. The eye of the needle is also slightly higher than regular needles so that the loop created when the stitch is being formed is a little bigger. This allows the seam to stretch more with the fabric and reduces the chance of the seam popping open. Use Polyester or cotton wrapped polyester thread for these fabrics.
Jeans/Denim Needle: This needle has an exceptionally sharp point, making it an excellent choice for denim and other heavy fabrics such as canvas, twill, or oilskin. It is also useful for sewing through multiple thick layers. The needle has a very sharp point and stronger shank which helps to prevent it from breaking or bending. Threads such as synthetic or blends, 100% polyester, top stitching threads and cotton wrapped polyester should be used when working with these needles and fabrics.
Microtex / Sharp Pont Needle: A Microtex needle has a sharp fine point which makes it especially good for piercing high-density woven fabric such as silk, polyester, sheer linen, waterproofed, coated, and foiled fabrics. If your sewing machine struggles with very delicate fabrics, switching to a microtex needle can help.
Leather Needle: Also known as chisel point needles, this needle has a wedge-shaped tip and is more robust compared to universal or denim needles. A leather needle features a sharp point and edges that cuts the fabric as the needle inserts, this also means that the needle makes holes in the fabric for the thread. Sew slowly and be careful because if you need to rip a seam, the little holes will still be visible. A leather needle is specifically designed for leather and suede. It should not be used with imitation leather.
Topstitching Needle: This needle features an extra strong point and a longer eye to accommodate thicker threads which are used for decorative topstitching.
Twin Needles: A twin or double needle comprises of two needles located on a single shaft which produce two rows of parallel stitches. A twin needle can be used when sewing hems on garments, for pintucks and decorative topstitching. When purchasing a twin needle, the first number of the package is the distance between the needles, and the second number is the size of the needle. Twin needles also come with many different types of points such as denim, stretch, universal, and more. Select the right size and point type just as you would a single needle.
When sewing with a twin needle, use the handwheel first to lower the needle to ensure neither of the points will hit the presser foot.
Sewing machine needles are measured using two systems: European and American. European sizes range from 60 to 110, whereas the American sizes range from 8 to 18. Most needle packages include both measurements, for example: 80/12.
Needle size refers to the thickness of the needle’s diameter in millimetres. Smaller size numbers indicate a smaller (thinner) needle which are used for light weight fabrics whereas larger size numbers indicate a larger (thicker) needle which should be used for heavier weight fabrics.
What Sewing Machine Needle Should You Use?
Generally, a 80/12 needle is suitable for dressmaking and you will probably receive start with these when you first purchase your sewing machine.
The table below shows the type and size of needle for use with most different fabric types. Don’t forget to always try your needle on a test piece first to check your stitching before starting your project.
Can’t remember which needle is in your machine?
If it’s been a while since you last used your machine, you may not remember what kind of needle is in it. Luckily, on some manufacturers needles there is a handy little two band colour guide on the needle shoulder to indicate the type and size of the needle. The top colour band shows the needle type whilst the bottom colour band shows the needle size.
Note: Universal needles generally only have one band which relates to the needle size.
How Often Should You Change The Needle On Your Sewing Machine?
A dull sewing machine needle can harm your fabric, cause skipped stitches, snag or break your thread, and throw your thread tension off. So, how often should you change it?
The general recommendation is to change your sewing machine needle after 8 hours of sewing however if you’re working with heavier or layered materials or sewing through coated materials, you may need to change your needle more often.
Always check your needle if you machine has jammed as this can result in the needle bending. And, if the sound of the needle changes to a popping or thudding noise as the needle penetrates the fabric then this is a sign of a dull needle.
So, there you have it, all you need to know to help you choose the right needle for your next sewing project.