April 4 – Sewing Machine Needles

We often don’t think about our sewing machine needles, they seem to be working, they sew but perhaps you might not be getting the professional results you want. There are several brands to choose from and I am not recommending one brand over another. I certainly have a preference but it may not be yours. Singer, Dritz and Schmetz are the most readily available. When I first started sewing I didn’t change my needle until it broke and I was always plagued by skipped and non uniform stitches. Through the years I have bought all of the above brands listed and probably a few that are not. Then one day I began to think about these needles, what do the numbers 70/10, 80/12, etc really mean? Is there a different in needles and is the standard universal type needle really universal? Why is there a groove down the middle of the needle in the front and why are some needle openings larger than others.

Technically there are several components that make up a sewing machine needle. Working from bottom to top you have the point (not all points are the same), there is the eye and just above the eye there is what they call a scarf. The scarf is actually where the bobbin hook pulls the thread into the plate of your machine to create a stitch.The groove of the needle shaft guides the thread to the eye, the length and size of the groove varies with needle type.


The numbers are simply the thickness of the needle. The larger number is the European measurement (metric) while the smaller number is for the United States (Imperial). The needle thickness is actually the thickness of the blade. The eye of the needle also is different depending on the needle type.

Let’s now discuss the common types of the needle, and yes, there are differences. A universal needle can accommodate most fabrics, but sometimes working with special fabrics calls for a special point. For instance while sewing knit fabrics you want to choose a ball point tip. The ball point allows for the threads of most knits to push apart instead of breaking through it. There are some fabrics such as lycra that require a stretch needle, the eye of this needle is slightly elongated with a special designed scarf allowing for a little extra thread to gather in the fabric so there is no breakage of thread as the fabric stretches. Various weights of denim and canvas needs are a little different. They make a Denim needle that has a heavier shank plus a slight ball joint designed to penetrate heavy or multilayer of fabrics.

There are many specialty needles as well, embroidery needles, wing needles, metallic, top stitching, twin needles, and leather are just a few on the list.

Most needle manufacturers has adopted a color coded system that makes spotting the right type of needle easier in the store. Each manufacturer may use a different color to make your selection easier.

My favorite needle company is Schmetz. They are usually manufactured to fit all makes and models of sewing machines. They have devised a new color system that not only uses colors on the shaft for type of needle but also another band of color below for the size of the needle as well.

Desktop10You can see that the universals (#1 and #4) have only one stripe, #1 shows an orange stripe means 80/12 while #4 has a blue stripe which means 90/14. #2 is determined to be a Denim needle in a size 100/16 by looking at the blue and the purple strip. #3 is determined to be a Sharp needle in the size 70/10 by looking at the purple and green stripe. Seems redundant when they are in their storage cases but I like to store my needles in my pin cushion after I have used it and switch needle sizes, that way I know that the cases all have new needles. And I don’t have to pull out a magnifying glass to read what size needle I have stored on the pin cushion. Most manufacturers recommend a new needle with each garment sewn. While this may be a great idea I have to admit I don’t adhere to this policy. I have learned by using the proper needle and looking at the stitches you can tell when a new needle is in order.

Used Needles


Schmetz have a chart that you can download from their site that you can print and take with you or if you are smart phone savvy they have released an app that will aid you in picking the right needle for the fabric choice that you have made. These can be found on their website, along with other information about machine needles.

Please note that a lot of overlock/sergers use a different type of needle than your typical sewing machine. Unless your manufacturers states it can use a needle designed for a sewing machine do not use them. And as always check your owner’s manual for recommendations on type needed.

I have now made it through the fourth day of the Ultimate Blog Challenge. Not sure what tomorrow brings but I promise to be here with more useless facts that makes you want to scream and tear your hair out.





6 thoughts on “April 4 – Sewing Machine Needles

  1. Siri says:

    I love these posts! I am a slob, and change the needle only when it breaks…. In my own defence I DO recognize when the needle needs to be retired, but I should really be more specific in my choice when I use different fabrics. I tend to go universal with everything *sigh*. But then again, I have mostly been sewing with cheap cottons up until now. I am hereby upping my game, and getting different needles 🙂

  2. Annette says:

    Good information. I inherited a large stash of sewing machine needles. Some are color coded in some unique ways. I usually use the Schmitz too. Looking back, I think it was learning the various types of needles is when I became a better sewist. I remember in high school I sewed my poly knit cheerleading sweat pants with the wrong type of needle. The wrong needle cause the knit to run from the crotch seam. Real attractive. I use this as an example to help people understand why to use the correct needle.

  3. Aya in Couturgatory says:

    I recently figured out the different needles thing, myself. This, plus a feeder foot thingy, has made my alterations work go so much more smoothly. I just learned to sew by taking garments that didn’t fit properly (see: everything) and trying to customize them.

    I find your posts very informative and useful. Pity that app is just for Apple devices!

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