Sewing Machine Needles: An Overview
Learn to recognize the many types of standard, decorative, and special-purpose machine needles. Discover what each is best for, and how to troubleshoot problems.
The configuration of these needles is based on the particular fabric to be sewn.
Uses: Safest needle choice for most fabrics.
Configuration: Has slightly rounded point and elongated scarf to enable almost foolproof meeting of needle and bobbin hook.
Troubleshooting: When fabric is not medium-weight woven, consider needle specifically suited to fabric. For example, size 18 universal needle works on heavy denim, but size 18 jeans needle works better.
Ballpoint and stretch needles
Uses: Ballpoint needle for heavier, looser sweater knits; stretch needle for highly elastic fabrics, like
Spandex, or Lycra.
Configuration: Both have rounded points that penetrate between fabric threads rather than pierce them. (Stretch-needle point is slightly less rounded than ballpoint.)
Troubleshooting: Test-stitch knits with ballpoint, stretch, and universal needles to see which doesn’t cut yarn and yields best results. If ballpoint skips stitches, try stretch needle.
Microtex and sharp needles
Uses: Sewing microfiber, silk, synthetic leather; precisely stitching edges; and heirloom sewing.
Configuration: Has an acute point.
Troubleshooting: Essentially trouble-free, but fabric may require a Teflon, roller, or even/dual-feed presser foot.
Uses: Excellent for sewing natural leather.
Configuration: Has slight cutting point (almost like an arrowhead).
Troubleshooting: On synthetic leather, unless it’s very heavy synthetic, cuts rather than pierces stitch hole and can tear leather. Most synthetic leathers require Microtex or sharp needle.
Denim (jeans) needle
Uses: For heavyweight denim, duck, canvas, upholstery fabrics, artificial leather, and vinyl.
Configuration: Has deeper scarf, acute point, and modified shaft to sew without pushing fabric down into needle-plate hole. Goes through fabric and meets bobbin hook better on dense woven fabrics.
Troubleshooting: If stitches skip when sewing very heavy fabrics, try larger needle and sew more slowly or walk needle through fabric (by turning hand crank).
Uses: Enables easier threading for sewers with vision problems.
Configuration: Universal needle with slip-in threading slot at the eye.
Troubleshooting: Always pull sewn piece back away from needle before cutting thread so needle doesn’t unthread. Needle works well on woven fabrics, but may occasionally snag knits, so test-sew to check for fabric and needle compatibility.
The configuration is designed to wed thread to fabric for surface embellishment.
Configuration: Has extra-acute point, extra-large eye, and large groove for heavy thread.
Troubleshooting: Use smallest size needle that accommodates your thread to avoid punching large holes in fabric.
Uses: Machine embroidering or embellishing with decorative thread.
Configuration: Has light point (neither sharp nor ballpoint) and enlarged eye to keep decorative threads from shredding or breaking, and prevent skipped stitches.
Troubleshooting: If thread still shreds on dense or heavily stitched design, use larger size needle or Metallica needle.
Metallic (Metafil and Metallica) needle
Uses: Sewing with decorative metallic threads.
Configuration: Has universal or standard point; large, elongated eye; and large groove to allow fragile metallic and synthetic filament threads to flow smoothly.
Troubleshooting: Metallic threads are very sensitive to problems in machine: Tiniest burr on thread path or needle can cause problems.
Quilting (stippling) needle
Uses: Piecing, quilting, and stippling.
Configuration: Has special tapered shaft to prevent damaging fabrics when stitching multiple layers.
Troubleshooting: Move fabric smoothly without pulling on needle when free-motion stitching to prevent breaking needle.
These needles are used only with front-to-back threading machines with zigzag features. Make sure your throat-plate needle hole is wide enough to accommodate needle’s width, and zigzag width function is set at zero to prevent sideways movement.
Hemstitch (wing) needle
Uses: Hemstitching or heirloom embroidery on linen and batiste.
Configuration: Has fins on sides of shank to create holes as you sew.
Troubleshooting: Stitch is more effective when needle returns to same needle hole more than once. If needle pushes fabric into needle hole, put stabilizer under fabric.
Twin (double) needle
Uses: Topstitching, pin tucking, and decorative stitching.
Configuration: Two needles on single shaft produce two rows of stitches. Measurement between needles ranges from 1.6mm to 6mm, and needles come with universal, stretch, embroidery, denim, and Metallica points.
Troubleshooting: Be sure throat plate allows for distance between needles.
Uses: Same uses as for double needle.
Configuration: Cross bar on single shaft connects three needles to sew three stitching rows. Comes with universal point in 2.5mm and 3mm widths.
Troubleshooting: Same as for double needle.
Uses: Free-motion stitching with dropped feed dogs.
Configuration: Has wire spring above point to prevent fabrics from riding up onto needle, eliminating need for presser foot.
Troubleshooting: Before using, practice free-motion stitching with heavy regular needle, paper, and dropped feed dogs. Don’t pull paper/fabric; instead gently guide it through stitching. Wear safety glasses for free-motion work, since needles often break.
Photos: Sloan Howard; drawings: Karen Meyer
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