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Choose the Perfect Sewing Machine Needle for Your Project

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R.Kay Design: Choose the Perfect Sewing Machine Needle for Your Project

Friday, November 18, 2011

Choose the Perfect Sewing Machine Needle for Your Project

Knowing which sewing machine needle to use can be confusing. Before I learned what the numbers mean and what choices I have, you would find me standing in the aisle at the fabric store, staring at all the packages of needles hanging on their pegs rubbing my chin. I admit I didn't have a clue.

I started sewing when I was really young, and honestly, I don't think there were as many choices, or maybe it's just that my grandmother kept the drawer in her sewing machine desk stocked and I never had to think about it. When I started sewing again years later, I had to test all the different needles before I had the knowledge to make a good choice.

I'm going to give you a basic overview of single needles and in a later post I'll cover double needles. And I'll also tell you which needles I choose when making my purses and handbags.

I normally use the Schmetz brand needles. They have every size and variety you will ever need. I also like the little boxes they are packaged in as they store nicely in my sewing chest and are easy to handle. I think Singer makes needles too, but I imagine you can use Schmetz needles in a Singer machine, correct me if I'm wrong. There are other brands as well, but I never see them at Joann's or Hancock, so convenience wins my vote.

Needles are sized in both American and European sizes. You will see the American Size/European Size or vice-verse on the package, i.e., 70/10 (Schmetz shows the sizes in this order) or you might see 10/70, it just depends on the manufacturer. Below is a chart showing the sizes that are available.

Sewing Machine
Needle Sizes
American European
Finest 8 60 Finest

9 65
10 70
11 75
12 80
14 90
16 100
18 110
19 120 Strongest/
As you can see, the smaller the number, the finer the needle. If you were sewing a very thin cotton fabric, you would choose the 60/8 size as it's the smallest, thinnest needle. If you were to choose a large thick needle you would make large holes in your fine fabric. Likewise, if you have a heavy home dec fabric, you would choose a larger, thicker needle, maybe an 110/18 or 120/19.

You will notice that needles have other labels like "Sharp", "Ballpoint", or "Universal". And you will also see specialty needles labeled "Leather", "Jeans/Denim", "Stretch", and "Handicap". Each of these types of needles are used for different fabric types or, in the case of the Handicap needle, special situations. I'll explain below.

Regular Needles - these needles are normally available in all sizes

Sharp - Sharp needles should be used for woven fabrics. They sew a very straight line and work great for top-stitching. When I sew handbags with quilt weight cotton, I use a Sharp needle and depending on how heavy the fabric is and how many layers I'll have, I choose anywhere from size 75/11 to 100/16. If I have a very heavy home dec fabric, I'll choose the 110/18 or 120/19 Sharp or maybe a Jeans/Denim needle.

Ballpoint - Ballpoint needles should be used for knit fabrics. The ballpoint goes between the loops of the knit without snagging it. They do not sew as straight a stitch but work well with knits because the stitch stretches better with the knit. I haven't used a knit for any of my purses.

Universal - The Universal needle is a mix of a Sharp and a Ballpoint. It's not quite as sharp and not quite a ballpoint, so it will work with both fabrics. I only use Universal when I don't have another choice. I keep a package of 80/12 Universals in my sewing kit just for an emergency.

Specialty Needles - these needles are not usually available in all sizes

Leather - The Leather needle's point is wedged so it can penetrate dense fabrics like leather.

Jean/Denim - Jean/Denim needles are very strong and can be used for thick fabrics or many layers. Imagine what would happen if you were sewing eight layers of denim with a mid-weight needle, it would break wouldn't it? The Jean/Denim needle is extra sharp and extra strong.

Stretch - Stretch needles are used on knits when a ballpoint needle leaves skipped stitches. Tightly knitted fabrics like Lycra frequently require a Stretch needle.

Handicap - A Handicap needle has a little slit on the side of the eye where the thread can be slipped in instead having to thread it. I've never used one of these needles but might need it if my machine didn't have a needle threader.

Lastly, I can't end this post without telling how important it is to use a sharp needle. Use a new needle after every two projects or if you hit a pin. Also, using the wrong size can cause your stitches to be uneven and can make your thread break. Take the time to choose and insert the correct needle so your new purse will look professionally made.

Oh - one more thing! If you throw out your needles in the trash you risk getting stuck when empty the trash. To save yourself from that, take an old prescription bottle and poke a hole in the top. Whenever you trash a needle, stick it in the bottle. When you trash the bottle full of needles, put masking or duck tape over the hole and throw it in the trash can. Everyone will be save and it's a really convenient place to put your old needles and bent/broken pins.

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Thanks and until later ~


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At November 22, 2011 at 1:39 PM , Blogger path7401 said...

I love the pill bottle idea! I have been sticking my bent needles to cardboard and wrapping them in masking tape. The bottle is much better idea. Thanks for all the great info on needles.
Pat H.

At November 22, 2011 at 8:58 PM , Blogger Reba said...

Thanks Pat, I absolutely love the prescription bottle for needles, but that's not the only thing they are good for. I use them to hold buttons, snaps, magnetic closures, or anything small. I even saw in Threads magazine where someone sent in a tip saying she uses them to put together travel sewing kits because she didn't like the cheap ones that you buy at the store. Thanks for reading!



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