As a beginner to sewing, it is important to know that selecting the right needle for each new project is indeed just as important as selecting the fabric and thread to keep things sewing smoothly. I would recommend purchasing a variety pack of sewing machine needles to go in your starter kits, being that there are different sizes and types of sewing machine needles for different types of fabric. Hopefully this sewing machine needle breakdown will be a good starting point and guide for you.

The American sizing system is numbered from 8 to 18, with the lower the number being a finer needle and moving up with the higher the number the larger the needle. To help you determine which sewing machine needles are best for your project, it is helpful to know that  the lighter the fabric the smaller the needle size and, or course, the heavier the fabric the larger the needle size will need to be. You can also refer to the chart below as a guide one which needles to use for which fabrics.

NOTE:

The thread you will be using for your sewing project will also determine the type of needle you choose. If you have a thin and delicate thread you will want to use a smaller needle size to accommodate. 

Sewing Machine Needle Breakdown
Universal Needles
  • Universal / Regular Point needles are recommended for sewing woven fabrics and are the most common needle used.  As a beginner, chances are you can get by with this needle while you master the craft of sewing your easier to work with fabrics. These needles are also typically used for embroidery. It is a stronger needle and longer lasting making it able to tolerate the high stitching speed of embroidery machines.
  • Ball Point/ Stretch needles are used for sewing on knits; the rounded tip allows the needle to pass between the fabric threads by separating them. (Using a regular point needle on knit fabric will result in skipped stitches and fabric damage, causing it to curl.)
  • Denim/Jeans as stated in the name of the needle type, these are specifically for the thicker fabric denim, and can be used on the thicker canvas fabric as well.
  • Leather needles are used for leather and vinyl fabrics.
Twin Needle
  • Twin Needle  is used for stitching two closely spaced parallel rows at a time – for decorative stitching. Although parallel stitching is not a hard technique to learn, but most beginners will not need this right out of the gate.
  • Hemstitch or Wing-Needle creates a small hole in the fabric as is sews and is used in heirloom sewing.
Questions & Answers about Needles

How often should I replace my needle?

It is recommended that for best sewing results, needles should be replaced every 8-10 hours of stitching time. However, many who sew for a hobby will tell you they stretch this out a bit further.  You will be able to tell if you needle is getting dull if it is leaving visual puncture marks in your fabric.

Why does my needle keep breaking?

A few things can cause this.  First check to see if your needle is too thin for the fabric you are using.  Are you pushing or pulling the fabric thru as you sew? This can cause the needle to bend or break as well. And finally, are you putting your needle in correctly?  Make sure it is all the way “up” where it belongs and that it is secured in properly.

Why are my stitches are skipping?

This can occur if you are using the wrong needle. Look at what type of fabric you are using and which needle is best suited for sewing that fabric specifically. It can also occur if the needle is either bent or dull, or you are using the wrong style of needle.

Why is my machine making a “popping” sound while I sew?

Stop! And replace your needle before it breaks. If you are hearing this sound, chances are that your needle is damaged and bent.

Why does my thread keep fraying or shedding?

Check to see if your needle is too small for your thread. Chances are either you are using the wrong thread, or the wrong needle.  Look up your fabric type and adjust accordingly. Thread can also be old or damaged from improper storage over time.

Why does it look like I have holes where my thread is going in?

Time to change your needle.  Either it is dull from overuse, or you are using a needle that is too large for a lighter weight fabric.

Which Needles to Use with Which Fabrics:
Fabric Fabrics below can be of any fiber, cotton, linen, silk, wool, synthetic, rayon, blends. They are listed as examples of weight.Machine Needle TypeMachine Needle Size
Sheer to lightweight: Batiste, Chiffon, Georgette, Organza, Voile and all microfiber or microdenier fabrics.Regular Point9/70 or 11/80
Lightweight: Challis, Chambray, Charmeuse, Crepe de Chine, Gauze, Handkerchief Linen, Silk, Taffeta, Tissue Faille.Regular Point11/80
Medium-weight: Broadcloth, Brocade, Chino, Chintz, Corduroy, Flannel, Linen, Poplin, Satin, Synthetic Suedes, Taffeta, Terry, VelvetRegular Point14/90
Medium to Heavy-weight: Coating, Damask, Drapery Fabric, Fake Fur, Gabardine, Ticking, WoolensRegular Point16/100 or 18/110
Denim and CanvasDenim/Jeans16/100
Sheer to Lightweight Knits: Jersey, Single Knit, Spandex, TricotBall Point10/70 or 12/80
Medium to Heavy-weight Knits: Double Knit, Sweatshirt, Sweater KnitBall Point14/90
Specialty Fabrics: Leather, Suede, BuckskinWedge Point14/90 or 16/100
Chart courtesy of Singer

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Joan Mantini

About Joan Mantini

After several years of being the Facebook page owner at Beginner Sewing, I noticed there was a desperate need to have a single go-to spot for members to be able to find answers to their common questions, get some useful tips & tricks, as well as find reputable places to purchase sewing products online. Taking my role as a trade publication editor by day, and combining it with my knowledge of frequently requested beginner sewing advice, I created www.beginner-sewing.com. An outlet that gives new sewists a free digital magazine geared for entry level sewing as an extra bonus!

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