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11. All Things Sewing Machine Needles

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Hi there. I’m Nicole Gilbert and you’ve joined the stop scrolling and start selling podcast. Are you new to sewing and want to start quilting, but have no idea where to begin? Each Wednesday, join me as I share the ins and outs of that quilt life. If you don’t have a sewing machine, have no idea how much fabric you need, or you’re just trying to figure out where the heck to stick that bobbin this is the podcast for you.

Hey there. Welcome to the stop scrolling start selling podcast, episode 11. On this episode, we’re chatting about sewing machine needles, which ones to use when you’re quilting, how often you should change them out. And some safety tips you should definitely keep in mind. So, first we’re going to go through a little bit of sewing machine 101 in modern sewing machines, home machines use needles with a flat back and industrial machines use needles that are around now. It’s not necessarily a hard and fast rule, especially when you get into using some of our vintage machines. Um, but in general, when you’re shopping, you’re going to look for the needles with the flat backing to them, not the round ones. I’m not saying that you should, but I’ve used a round needle in my sewing machine. And guess what guys? No one died. So just keep that in mind.

Now, when it comes to machine needle sizes, they’re always given in the American sizing system, as well as the European metric sizing, which is why you see like one number slash another number. And so most needle companies do show both sizes on the packages. The sizes are not exclusive to your machine. They are exclusive for the type of sewing that you’re doing. So, um, I know a lot of beginner sewers will get a machine, see that they come with 14/90s or 11/80s and think, okay, that’s the size sewing machine needle. My machine needs, no, that’s kind of the middle of the road size needle. And so most machines come with them, um, to kind of cover the bases. But in reality sizes start as, since we’re in America, I’m just going to do the American sizing, sizes start as low as nine, and they go up through 16.

Um, if you’re European, it’s 70 through 100. Um, and so our size nine needles are suitable for lighter fabrics, silk taffeta. Um, our size 11/80 are suitable for your medium fabrics, cotton, linen, satin. A lot of you will use 11/80s a lot, um, size 14/90 are suitable for medium to heavy fabrics. So this is kind of like the ideal in between needle. A lot of your sewing machines are going to come with this size needle and then there’s size 16/100, which is for your heavy fabrics. Uh, think like denim and curtains or upholstery fabric, or like tweeds and corduroy. That’s what you’re going to use a size 16/100 needle for. So remember your size of your needle is not about the machine you have. It’s about the fabrics you’re using. And if you’re ever in doubt, unless you’re using a heavy fabric, heavy fabric, always go for a huge needle, uh, go with the 14/90.

It’s a sturdier it’s on the sturdier end, but will work well with like your cottons and whatnot. So now I actually am going to go and like break down the different types of needles that you will see out there. Um, as well as some of like the colors stripes that you will see. Um, and when I talk about the color stripes, it will kind of be in particular specifically about which ones to look for when you are quilting.

So first type of needle up is a microtex needle. Sometimes you will see them referred to as sharp needles, which is kind of ironic cause it’s a needle of course its sharp. So sharp point needles are for use with really tightly woven fabrics. They have like a very skinny point that is great for top stitching and makes really good, perfectly straight stitches when you’re quilt piecing. Cause it’s really fine. So the holes that it point punches are super fine. Um, they come in all of the sizes and they even go up to the heaviest size, which I didn’t mention before, which is an 18, but it’s very few and far between to find them. Usually you have to go to a little bit more of a specialty shop. Um, you usually won’t find it like on the shelves at Michael’s per se.

So from there, we’re going to move over to universal point needles. And again, these are usually going to be the needles that come with your machine. So you’re probably going to get a 14/90 size and they’re probably going to be a universal point needle. So universal point needles are your all purpose needles and they’re for sewing, both woven and knit fabrics. And the point of the needle is ever so slightly rounded. Um, and the needle itself comes to a taper so that it can kind of slip in between the weave of knits easily while still retaining enough sharpness to Pierce woven fabrics. So it’s like one of those Jack of all trades kind of a thing, uh, universal needles typically come with all of your sewing machines, like I said before, and they come in many different sizes and your 14/90 is definitely going to be the most popular. And the one that you see the most often.

Now a ballpoint needle, um, are made, especially for sewing on knits so that it can actually like slide in through the weave. It’s the rounded point is designed, um, so that it doesn’t snag at the weave of the knit fabric. Um, they come in sizes as fine as a 10/70 and then they go all the way up through a 16/100.

Um, just make sure that again, we are always choosing the size needle for the fabric that you are sewing into. Um, once I get down to a little bit of sewing machine needle safety, you’ll see why it’s super important to use the right size needle.

Now, a jeans needle, um, has a point designed for really punching through, extra thick fabrics. And the blade itself is reinforced, um, so that you don’t have breakage. So usually like when you get a jeans needle, they’re like one size fits all because they’re a 16 or an 18, like you’re not getting a nine jeans needle because it would just snap. So, um, they are really sturdy, um, sturdy needles and, um, there are specific needles getting to it a little bit later for leather and whatnot. But if you are in kind of a more general purpose store, grab a jeans needle and they will work on your leather. If you’re going to try sewing something a little bit tougher.

So then we come to twin needles and I know most machines come with a twin needle. So it’s got like a single shank and then it branches off into two needles. Um, and so I guess I got a little head of myself. So a twin needle is actually two needles mounted to a single shaft. Um, and it is used to create two rows of stitches at the same time. Um, so you’re going to use two spools of thread and one bobbin thread. The packaging will show two numbers. One is the needle size and the other is the distance between the two needles and this distance, it varies from as small as two millimeters all the way up through six millimeters. And remember that the needles must fit through the hole in the stitch plate. So your needle plate. So if you’ve been using, um, a straight stitch plate, you usually have to change it to a zigzag needle plate to avoid hitting the plate with the needles. Um, some of your entry-level machines, when it comes with a twin needle, um, it fits in the needle plate. That’s there because you don’t, you don’t have a lot of attachments and stuff and they give you only what you can use straight out of the box. So if you’re been provided a twin needle with, let’s say your brother or your singer that you got at a big box store, it probably works with the needle plate that is already installed on your machine.

So, and now, so those are like the big guys here. I’m going to bust down a little bit of, um, specialty needles.

So first we’ve got the metallic needle, which the big feature on a metallic needle is the elongated eye. And so our eye of our needle is where we actually thread our needle, where we put the, the, um, the spool thread through it. So that’s your eye and it has an elongated eye so that the thread can actually kind of shift a little bit inside the needle. Um, it prevents the, um, thread from shredding or breaking metallics. So like being able, it being the thread, being able to move, you can use a metallic thread if you’ve ever put metallic thread through a traditional sewing machine needle. Um, you’ll notice some fraying and potentially breakage a metallic needle negates that. So that’s why you want that extra space is just so that, that it has got a little bit of room. And so it doesn’t get frayed.

Now an embroidery needle, um, has a light ball point, a big eye, and it also has like a groove around the eye. And you’re going to use that with all of your specialty embroidery threads, embroidery threads tend to more often come in rayon or polyester, um, and the, the widen groove and the enlarged eye protect those threads from the friction that can create like fraying and breakage. And when you’re doing embroidery, especially like heavy embroidery, like with a hoop and you’re doing some pretty elaborate pieces. The last thing you want is like halfway through, um, you were, you know, floral motif, if that’s what you’re making for the thing to break, that would suck. And so it kind of is for the same reason as, um, a metallic needle, it’s just an embroidery needle has, um, an extra large scarf, which is that big groove around the eye. And so that makes it even better for more fragile threads besides just our metallics.

So a quilting needle, uh, it’s got a very special taper and a rounded point. And so that is made, especially for piecing and machine quilting, the special taper design lets, it allows for easier fabric penetration, which is really important when we’re going through multiple layers, like when we’re showing on our binding. Um, and it helps eliminate skip stitches. Now, that being said, um, if we are doing some top stitching, which is a little bit different than actual quilting, but like, let’s say you want to, um, do some really fine, uh, machine quilting. You could also use a sharp microtex needle, but I do tend to prefer the quilting needle, just a little shout out there. And if you are looking for in the store and they’re not labeled as a quilting needle, they have a little green band around them.

So now we go onto an actual top stitch needle, which I know I just said the sharp Microtech needle can be used as a top top stitch needle. There is also such thing as a top stitch needle and this one has an extra long eye. Um, and so it allows for really heavy used threads. It also allows you to use multiple threads. So if you want like a really heavy looking stitch, you would thread your needle multiple times. And so that extra long eye allows for there to be multiple threads in there. Um, and it also allows for poor quality needles, the poor quality threads, rather. I apologize. And, um, what’s great about that is that, um, not all thread is created the same. I personally love a hundred percent cotton, 40 or 5o weight thread. Like that’s what I go with all the time. But if you are using a polyester thread, if you are using a rayon thread or just any sort of non cotton, or just kind of inferior quality thread, use a top stitch needle, it will help dramatically with breakage and fraying.

Um, now a leather needle, like I said, you can use a jeans needle, um, but it kinda has most of the same features. Um, now the thing with the leather needle, it’s a little bit different than the jeans needle is that the leather needle is also specifically shaped to allow you to go through other non woven, um, fabrics. So denim is still a woven. Some might even consider it a knit if there’s some stretch to them. Uh, and a leather needle is really for your like flat no weave, um, fabrics.

So there you have it with our sewing machine needles, all the types, I will say, if you are a quilter and you look for the needles with the blue Stripe or the needles with the green Stripe, you will be just fine. So a little sewing machine needle info. So I want you,

there’s kind of a couple of schools of thought on when you should change your sewing machine needles out.

Um, the first school of thought is that you should use a new needle for every sewing machine project or after eight hours of sewing, whichever comes first. So that’s one way to look at it.

Another way to look at it is that every time you change three full bobbins or two pre-round ones, cause you can buy them pre wound. And those are usually a little bit more densely wound. So three bobbins or two pre wound bobbins switch your needle. Um, or you can just change your needle after every project, um, or wait, every time you sew through jeans or leather, just because those tend to dull our needles a little bit more quickly. I personally go with the three full bobbins or every sewing project, whichever comes first, um, which sometimes is a little bit of a bummer because with some of my projects, I go through a lot of bobbins, which means I go through a lot of sewing machine needles.

If you have listened to some of my previous episodes where I talk about, um, supplies that you need, like I know episode one, so, I discuss all of the supplies you’re going to need to get started with quilting. And I say, always buy a pack of sewing machine needles, like legit, just always buy one. They’re pretty inexpensive. So, um, pretty much every time I’m at the craft store, I buy a box of sewing machine needles and it really, I mean, you’re going to go through them. So you might as well buy them. Um, now another thing to think about, um, now you, if you ever notice that your needle seems dull and oftentimes you can tell that your needle is dull when you are seeing the type of stitches it made previously. And then now you’re noticing that the holes that the needle is punching is a little bit larger than they used to be.

That’s a good sign that your needle is going dull. Switch it because the headaches that it can cause down the road from shifting stitches and whatnot is not worth it, just switch your needle. Um, and of course, anytime your sewing machine needle is damaged, switch it. So if the tip breaks off or, or something along that nature, switch it, I feel like that’s common sense, but I’m just going to leave that there for you. And again, all of this is going to be in, the show notes for this episode. So don’t worry. I know I’m throwing kind of a lot of information at you.

So, Oh, this is also a good one, especially for some of you who are a little bit newer to sewing machine, uh, for the most part, all sewing machine needles work in all sewing machines.

There are a few brands out there that may, that need specific needles, but for most of you, your big, your big machines, your Pfaff, your Bernina, your Babylock, your Janome, Brother, Singer, Husqvarna. They’re going to use the same type of needles. And I say that in their general sewing machine lines, some of their super fancy machines or some of your sergers or overlocks are not going to use standard needles. Um, but for your general sewing machine general purpose, sewing machine, they’re all gonna use the same, like a general type of sewing machine needle. So it’s not, um, you’re not going to be like hunting around too much for a very specific type.

So now last but not least, I want to go over just three safety tips. I want you to never thread your needle while the machine is on. Please, please, please, please, please, please.

So I know if you go to like some old school, uh, websites out there, they’re going to say unplug your machine. Like that seems a little extra to me personally. So you don’t have to unplug your machine, especially if that means crawling underneath the table to do so. Like don’t do it. Um, but please turn off your machine. And if it’s something where like, I will say, I have one machine that is computerized and I usually like set a bunch of different, uh, settings, a very specific way when I start a project. And if I turn it off, those settings will get lost. I’m sure there’s a way on some of your machines to save those settings. But on mine, mine is like right when they first started doing the computerization. So some of those options aren’t available to me, but what I tend to do then is just make sure my pedal is really far away and I lock my needle so that it can’t move on me.

So that is another way to go about it or just turn your machine off, but please make sure there’s no possibility of your needle running while your fingers are in there. Like, please, please, please.

Um, next, I don’t want you to sew across your pins. You’re going to use pins to hold your fabric together, to make sure that your seams get placed just right. And I want to make sure that you guys are removing your pins before they run under your needle. This is one of those things where you’re like, I’ve done that a million times. There’s no, no issue. 95% of the time, there won’t be an issue. But what will happen is during those 5% of the time, your needle will hit the pin directly. And the needle, if not both the needle and the pin, will shatter and you will have needle shrapnel.

And unfortunately the part of the needle that flies is the part that’s not attached to the machine, AKA the point. And if you’ve ever gotten hit in the face with the point of a needle, it is one of those things where you’re like, Oh, thank God it hit me in the face, but Holy cow, it could have hit me in the eye. So please, please, please do not sew across your pins, I’ve actually seen some people instruct that you should wear eye pro while you’re using your sewing machine. I don’t agree with that. I think it’s super annoying and causes glare and a bunch of other things, but that being said, if you’re not going to use eye pro you better follow some basic sewing machine safety.

And then lastly, I want you to make sure that you are using the right needle for the fabric you’re sewing through.

So the reason why I say that is not because of the different types of needles, but more importantly for the different sizes of needles. If you are sewing denim or you are sewing leather, and you use a size nine needle, that needle is going to break. As soon as it slams into that fabric, it is too delicate of a needle. The size is too small and it will break and you will have sewing machine needle shrapnel, which is not good. I don’t want you guys to get hurt. So please, please, please make sure that we are using the right sized needle for the right fabric.

So there you have it guys. I know that was a lot of information. Again, I will have all of this stuff, broken down for you in the show notes

Um, and I am so happy that you took the time to spend with me today. So you have just finished another episode of the stop scrolling start sewing podcast. Thanks for hanging out with me and make sure you never miss an episode by hitting subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts.

Quilt Love

Noelani T.

I worked with Nicole in a one on one environment on a large quilt. I have limited sewing experience and...

Noelani T.

The Modern Quilters Circle

Noelani T.

I worked with Nicole in a one on one environment on a large quilt. I have limited sewing experience and Nicole’s expertise was invaluable for this large project. Nicole is very patient and explained the different steps and their purposes clearly. She improved my original idea to better accomplish my overall goal. I highly recommend Nicole as an instructor and would personally have another session in a heartbeat!

Michelle L.

I seriously didn’t even know the names of parts of my sewing machine before I worked with Nicole. She walked...

Michelle L.

The Modern Quilters Circle

Michelle L.

I seriously didn’t even know the names of parts of my sewing machine before I worked with Nicole. She walked me through everything step by step. And it was amazing. She taught me the ins and outs of my machine and how to add each basic concept together. It was invaluable, because now I can figure things out and get creative without fearing the dreaded unravel!
The Modern Quilters Circle