I received an email the other day from someone confused about which sewing machine needles to buy. (She thought she only needed one type–the right one for her machine.) Can’t say I blame her for being confused, there are a lot of different numbers and types, so let’s go through them one at a time.
Choose the right needle type
The first thing you need to decide is whether to use ball points or sharps. If you’re sewing a stretchy fabric, you want ball points. If you’re sewing a woven fabric, you want sharps. Simple enough. Sometimes the packages will say “stretch” or “woven” instead, but they mean the same thing.
A universal needle will work on both stretch and woven fabrics. But sometimes it’s not the best choice. I keep a big box of universal needles on hand for most of my sewing and a few packages of common sized balls and sharps for when I need them.
Choose the right needle size
Once you know what type needle you need, it’s time to pick a size. The reason the sizes are confusing is that packages use both an American and European sizing system with a / between them. So, sometimes you’ll see a size 14, sometimes a 90 and sometimes a 14/90–all for the identical needle. Oh, and depending on the manufacturer, you might also see 90/14. Talk about confusing.
American needle sizes from lightest to heaviest are–8,9,10,11,12,14,16,18,19
European sized from lightest to heaviest are–60,65,70,75,80,90,100,110,120
Why in the world we can’t have consecutive numbers in sizing, I’ll never know.
Now, be aware you can get larger numbers, but those are for industrial sewing machines. Right now, we’re just discussing home sewing machines. You want the lightest weight needles for the lightest weight fabrics, curtain sheers, chiffon and fine silk. You want the heaviest needles for denim, canvas and upholstery fabrics. All the other fabrics fall somewhere in between.
It’s a good idea to have a variety of sewing machine needle sizes, but you don’t have to have them all. And there is no law that says you can use a size 12 for a size 10 project. It comes down to getting the best stitching. A needle that’s too large for the fabric will leave holes. A needle that’s too small will have a hard time stitching the seam at all. So, experiment with different sizes on a scrap of fabric before you start your project.
There are lots of specialty sewing machine needles for different projects. You can get easy threading needles (they have a slot in the side of the eye) and wing needles (which make intentional holes in your fabric to look like drawn-thread embroidery.) You can also get specialty embroidery needles and ones made for metallic threads. Double needles, spring needles, felting needles–all sorts of needles for specialized uses. It’s fun to browse different types of needles and see what’s out there. You never know when you’ll find a specialty needle that makes your life easier.
Don’t be too concerned with the brand names of the needles or what machines they say they’ll fit. Despite the confusing labels, sewing machine needles are pretty standardized and will fit almost any machine. Finally, remember that any time you have a machine malfunction or seam problem you should start by rethreading the machine and changing the needle. Those two things will fix 90% of machine problems without touching the tension dials or other settings.