Sewing Machine Needle Sizes

a guide for choosing the right one

I don't have a mom or a grandma who sews. I picked up the craft because I liked it. When I was learning, I didn't have anyone to go for help. I mostly learned through trial and error.

This is why I used the same dull, worn out needle for six months.

I didn't realize that it had to be changed until I took my machine for maintenance. The repair guy explained about sewing machine needle sizes, shapes and points.

I would've kept the same old thing for another year if he hadn't told me about it.

The right needle will not only help your machine work better but it'll also ensure that your fabric doesn't get damaged.

Most sewing can be done with a regular 14/90 needle (I'll explain those numbers in a bit). If you want to achieve high quality stitches, you'll need to choose depending on the type of fabric or project you'll be making.

Choices are good, but many options can be overwhelming. I summed this size-shape issue to make your decision easier. Here are the things you'll need to look at:

  1. The point
  2. General purpose needles come in three different points.

    • Universal: This is the most common and can be used with the majority of fabrics.
    • Ball point: Use this one when you're going to sew knits and stretchy fabrics. The dull tip allows the needle to go between the threads instead of going through them. This preserves the fabric's original stretch.
    • Sharp or microtex: this one has a very sharp point. It's good for delicate fabrics like silk, microfiber and polyester. It can also be used for tight weaves. It will produce very straight stitches.

  3. The size
  4. Take a look at your needles. You'll see that they're marked with two numbers. One of them is for the American size and the other for the European.

    Sewing machine needle sizes range from 8 to 18 (American) and 16 to 110 (European). These numbers are equivalent. Your needles will say something like: 8/60 or 14/90.

    Small numbers indicate a thin needle and large numbers a thick one. Your fabric's weight will determine which of the sewing machine needle sizes you need. Thick fabrics require thick needles, thin fabrics need thin needles.

    Here's a chart with some examples:

    Sewing machine needle sizes

  5. Specialty needles
  6. Universal, sharp and microtex are general purpose needles and they'll work with most of your projects. If you want to achieve higher quality stitches, you'll need a specialty needle. These are designed with a specific purpose in mind.

    Choose the type depending on your project. The same rules as above apply for choosing your sewing machine needle sizes.

    • Denim: for sewing denim, canvas and thick layers of fabric.
    • Hemstitch: use it for tight fabrics like linen or batiste.
    • Leather: It will make small holes and strong seams. Ideal for leather, faux leather, suede and coated fabrics like oilcloth.
    • Embroidery: good for stitching dense designs with embroidery thread.
    • Metallica: This one is to be used with metallic threads. It will prevent shredding.
    • Quilting: It will easily sew through many layers of fabric.
    • Stretch: It prevents skipped stitches. Use it for swimwear, knits and fabrics that contain spandex.
    • Topstitch: it has an extra large eye ideal for thick topstitching thread.
    • Double and triple: for pintucking, hemming, decorative stitching and heirloom sewing.

  7. More tips!
    • The most usual sizes for general sewing are between 9/65 to 14/90.
    • Needles 16/100 or larger are very thick and they're to be used with very heavyweight fabrics.
    • Always check that your tip is nice and sharp. A dull needle will not sew as well. It can damage the fabric or even your machine.
    • If unsure of what type or size to use, check the package.
    • Change the needle regularly, preferably for each new project.
    • Never pull the fabric when the needle is down because this will bend it.
    • Needles are inexpensive. It's a good idea to buy several packages of different sizes so you always have a couple options to choose from.
    • If the needle is larger than needed, the fabric will get damaged.
    • If the needle is smaller, it can result in loose stitching, skipped stitches or it can break.

That was the theory on sewing machine needle sizes. Now it's time to practice! Download your needle guide by clicking the image below.

Sewing machine needle sizes
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