by Lydia Morgan
from Threads #94, pp. 59-61
Lay out an assortment of sewing-machine needles in various types and sizes on a table, and most of us can't tell the difference among them. But put the wrong needle in your machine, or use the wrong needle for your fabric and/or thread, and all heck breaks loose. You can damage your bobbin hook, throw off the machine's timing, get puckered seams, break or shred thread, punch holes in your fabric, and, at the very least, produce an inferior stitch. Whatever your machine, even the latest computerized model, needle selection can make or break your stitch.
At one time, only one type of machine needle was available to home sewers, and the sole choice involved was size. But today, home sewers can choose from a wide variety of needle types in their quest for trouble-free sewing.
Several things can determine the type of needle to pick: the fabric you're using; the thread you've chosen (for example, metallic or embroidery); or the type of stitch you plan (for instance, topstitching or hemstitching). When you're doing regular, not decorative, sewing, the type of fabric determines the shape of the needle's point, and the fabric's weight determines the needles' size.
But before deciding on a needle, you first need to know the needle system your machine uses. Unlike commercial machines, which use a variety of needle systems, almost all home-sewing machines use a 130/705H needle system -- designated on the needle case between the needle's name and size (other letters indicate needle type, such as M for Microtex or Q for quilting). Your machine's needle system never changes, regardless of the size or type of needle you use.
Tension control, stitch length, foot pressure, and other invisible settings on automatic machines are set for medium-weight fabrics, threads, and needles. If you're a middle-of-the-road sewer, using midweight, woven fabrics, you could be happy using a size 12 universal needle for the rest of your life. But when you want improved stitch quality, learn which specific needles to use for various jobs. See the box below to understand the build of this tiny, but important tool.
|Anatomy of a needle
|The key features of a standard machine needle are called out below. Their configuration varies from needle type to type.
Top of needle that inserts into machine; most often has round front and flat back, which seats needle in right position.
Body of needle below shank. Shaft thickness determines needle size.
Slit above needle eye, should be large enough to "cradle" thread for smooth stitches.
Needle tip that penetrates fabric to pass thread to bobbin-hook and form stitch. Shape of point varies among needle types.
Indentation at back of needle. A long scarf helps eliminate skipped stitches by allowing bobbin hook to loop thread more easily. A shorter scarf requires a more perfectly timed machine.
Hole in end of needle through which thread passes. Needle size and type determine size and shape of eye.
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