Hello! This post is here to accompany my new printable, a Sewing Machine Needle Guide, which I’ve made to help you figure out which needle will work best with whatever project you’re working on at the moment. The printable includes two pages not featured in this blog post – things to consider when choosing a needle, and what all of the different needle sizes mean. You can click on the image below to be taken to the product and have a good read of what it includes, but for now, let’s delve into all of the different kinds of machine needles out there.
Universal machine needles (also known as standard machine needles – they mean exactly the same thing) are for general stitching. Their points are sharp enough to pierce through woven fabric, but are ever-so-slightly – making them able to push aside the yarns of knits instead of hammering on through and creating ladders. These needles are ideal for most woven fabrics and synthetics. They can be used and work perfectly well on knits, but in a lot of cases, you’d be better off with a ballpoint or stretch needle for those (you can find out about that further down in the post!).
These needles, as the name may suggest, have a sharp point to pierce woven fabrics. They’re perfect for silks, microfibre fabrics and densely woven fabrics, with their sharp point designed to create perfectly straight stitching. Their sharp points make them perfect for sewing very fine and delicate fabrics, and are often used for buttonholes. A lot of people like using microfibre needles on real and faux leather rather than specialised leather needles, as they are known to occasionally tear finer skins.
Embroidery needles, as you may guess from the name, are perfect for machine embroidery! They’re ideal for decorative sewing on lots of different fabrics, and have a larger eye to accommodate for thicker machine embroidery thread, which can be made from: rayon, polyester, cotton or acrylic.
Ballpoint needles are designed for the majority of knitted fabrics, such as cotton knits, interlock, rib knits, fleece, double knit and a whole load more. The rounded end of the needle pushes between the yarns of the fabric rather than splitting them – which, I know, makes them sound very similar to the universal needle. The difference between the two is how rounded the points are – ballpoint needles have much more of a curve, and so significantly decrease the possibility of laddering your lovely fabrics. These needles are for knits with a looser weave, but a lot of people do prefer to use stretch needles on all knit fabrics – it’s up to you!
Stretch needles work in a very similar way to jersey needles, but have a deeper scarf (indentation at the back) and are usually a bit longer than ballpoints. The combination of the scarf depth and the length of the needle means that the loop of thread from the bobbin is more likely to be caught, and therefore less likely for stitches to be skipped. These needles are meant to be used with fabrics that have a high spandex (Lycra) content, which makes them super duper stretchy and slightly denser – but a great deal of sewists like to opt for stretch needles for all of their knitted makes because of the promise of fewer skipped stitches. This is all down to personal preference, but it’s worth noting that stretch stitches are a bit more expensive and can be harder to come by.
These are strong with a sharp point to penetrate heavy, tightly woven fabrics like denim, canvas or upholstery cloth. They’re also excellent for topstitching fabrics with a dense weave or textured surface, and are perfect for sewing through several layers of fabric.
Here’s another needle with a pretty self-explanatory job! Topstitching needles have an extra large eye so that you can fit two strands of normal thread, or one strand of topstitching, buttonhole or machine embroidery thread. They also have a very sharp point to allow them to penetrate easily through medium to heavy fabrics, which makes them perfect for use on any fabric you fancy. They can be used for topstitching, sashiko embroidery and blanket stitching.
Leather – Sharp point that cuts into the leather or suede as it sews. Ideal for genuine leather. The chisel point will penetrate difficult to sew projects. This needle’s wedge-shaped cutting point is used to work strong seams on non-woven fabrics like leather, suede and vinyl.
Twin & Triple
Two or three needles on a bar and on one shank, which allows for two or three parallel rows of equidistant stitching. These can be used for: decorative topstitching, securing pintucks, and hems.
You can see why they’re called wing needles, can’t you?! They have two broad ‘wings’ on either side of the shaft of the needle, and they push the threads of the fabric apart and create an open hole as the needle penetrates the fabric, which create the effect seen in heirloom or antique sewing.
These needles have a long, sharp point so that they can sew through several layers of cotton and batting without ending up making wonky stitches. These needles are perfect for patchwork and machine quilting.
I hope that this post has shed a little bit of light on all of the different kinds of machine needles that are out there, and hopefully you’re feeling a bit more knowledgeable about them all! If you’d like a printable version of this post, as well as lots of other information about what to consider when you’re starting on a new project and what all of the different needle sizes mean, check out the Sewing Machine Needle Guide I made for you!