How to Choose the Right Sewing Machine Needle

I received an email the other day from someone confused about which sewing machine needles to buy. “She thought she only needed one type–the right one for her machine.” Can’t say I blame her for being confused, there are a lot of different numbers and types of sewing machine needles, so let’s go through them one at a time.

Guide to choosing the needle for machine sewing…

Shape and size of the machine needle

Sewing machine needles have 2 characteristics to take into consideration when choosing: the gauge (i.e. the thickness) and the shape of the point.


The gauge is the thickness of the needle and is identified with a number ranging from 60 to 120. The higher the number, the thicker the needle. For heavy fabrics and jeans, thick needles are used, while for light fabrics such as organza and silk, fine, low-numbered needles are mounted on the machine.

Tip shape

Usually machine needles are available with a point that can have 3 shapes:

  • sharp (needle for sewing tightly woven fabrics – generally ranging from number 70 to 110 and the most used);
  • chisel (needle for sewing leather and plastic – ranges from number 100 to 110 ) e
  • rounded (needle for sewing knit fabrics – ranges from number 70 to 110 ).

Double and triple needles

There are also double and triple machine needles, which are mainly used in decorative stitching. In this case the machine will have to be equipped with more spool pins, because you will need 2 spools for the twin needle and 3 spools for the triple needle. So check in the instruction booklet if your sewing machine is equipped with one.

Usually all machines have 2 spool holders, while for the triple needle a spool mounted under a spool is used as the third thread feeder. The needle engagement, on the other hand, remains the same for all the types of needle fitted.

Twin needles and triple needle

Conformation of the machine needle

The machine needle consists of:

  • stem (on which you will find the caliber number and sometimes also the brand engraved);
  • from the blade
  • from the tip with the eye through which the stitching thread passes.

The machine sewing needle does not have a regular shape, but there is a front and a back part, very different from each other:

  • Front side of the needle: the shank is rounded and the blade has a long groove;
  • Back side of the needle: The shank is flat and the blade has a short groove.
Knowing the shape of the needle for machine sewing will help you when you have to change it and insert a new one or one of a different thickness. Usually, at the time of purchase of the sewing machine, you will find a medium-sized needle with a sharp point already assembled, suitable for sewing most fabrics.

Choose the right needle type

The first thing you need to decide is whether to use ballpoints or sharps. If you’re sewing a stretchy fabric, you want ballpoints. If you’re sewing a woven fabric, you want sharps. Simple enough. Sometimes the packages will say “stretch” or “woven” instead, but they mean the same thing.

A universal needle will work on both stretch and woven fabrics. But sometimes it’s not the best choice. I keep a big box of universal needles on hand for most of my sewing and a few packages of common-sized balls and sharps for when I need them.

Choose the right needle size

Once you know what type of needle you need, it’s time to pick a size. The reason the sizes are confusing is that packages use both an American and European sizing system with a / between them. So, sometimes you’ll see a size 14, sometimes a 90, and sometimes a 14/90–all for the identical needle. Oh, and depending on the manufacturer, you might also see 90/14. Talk about confusing.

American needle sizes from lightest to heaviest are: 8,9,10,11,12,14,16,18,19

European sizes from lightest to heaviest are: 60,65,70,75,80,90,100,110,120

Why in the world we can’t have consecutive numbers in size, I’ll never know.

Now, be aware you can get larger numbers, but those are for industrial sewing machines. Right now, we’re just discussing home sewing machines. You want the lightest weight needles for the lightest weight fabrics, curtain sheers, chiffon, and fine silk. You want the heaviest needles for denim, canvas, and upholstery fabrics. All the other fabrics fall somewhere in between.

It’s a good idea to have a variety of sewing machine needle sizes, but you don’t have to have them all. And there is no law that says you can use a size 12 for a size 10 project. It comes down to getting the best stitching. A needle that’s too large for the fabric will leave holes. A needle that’s too small will have a hard time stitching the seam at all. So, experiment with different sizes on a scrap of fabric before you start your project.

Specialty needles

There are lots of specialty sewing machine needles for different projects. You can get easy threading needles (they have a slot in the side of the eye) and wing needles (which make intentional holes in your fabric to look like drawn-thread embroidery.) You can also get specialty embroidery needles and ones made for metallic threads. Double needles, spring needles, felting needles–all sorts of needles for specialized uses. It’s fun to browse different types of needles and see what’s out there. You never know when you’ll find a specialty needle that makes your life easier.

Don’t be too concerned with the brand names of the needles or what machines they say they’ll fit. Despite the confusing labels, sewing machine needles are pretty standardized and will fit almost any machine. Finally, remember that any time you have a machine malfunction or seam problem you should start by rethreading the machine and changing the needle. Those two things will fix 90% of machine problems without touching the tension dials or other settings.

Where to buy machine needles online and what are the most popular brands

When you decide to buy the machine needles you need, don’t skimp on quality. If they are of dubious manufacture or the package does not contain technical information, forget it, because you risk breaking them the first time you start sewing and hurting yourself.

The most common and well-known brands of machine needles on the market are:

  • Singer,
  • prim,
  • Schmetz,
  • organ needles

There are also other brands that are sold only on the English or American or Japanese market, all equally valid.

Even in various online shops it is possible to buy them at affordable prices, having a wide choice.

Here you can find a wide variety of machine needles , both regular needles and twin needles.

How to attach a needle to a sewing machine

Inserting or removing a needle from the sewing machine is not at all difficult, but it is still an operation to be carried out carefully because the needle could risk breaking during sewing if it is not fixed well.

To insert the needle simply unscrew the needle clamp screw counterclockwise, insert the needle with the flat side at the back and push up as far as it will go, then tighten the screw while holding the needle in place.

This is the most common needle attachment procedure, but to see if your sewing machine has any quirks, consult your instruction booklet.

To remove the needle, proceed in the reverse order to the one described.

Sewing problems due to needle choice and solutions

Many sewing problems are due to the type of needle used. Below is a list of the most common problems you may run into while machine sewing and we suggest ways to solve them:

1. Missed or missed stitches

This problem can occur if the needle is not fully inserted into the clamp or if the groove is not in the right position. If this happens, reinsert the needle correctly, keeping the flat part of the shaft at the back.

2. Irregular stitches

The thread breaks, the fabric is damaged during sewing: these problems can occur when using a needle of a different size than required by the thickness of the fabric.

If the needle is too fine for the fabric, the thread may break. If, on the other hand, it is too thick, it can damage the fabric being worked on. In both cases the stitches will be uneven. In this case, by consulting the attached table, check which needle size is best suited to your fabric and change it.

3. Skipped stitches

Skipped stitches, damaged fabric, thumping noise when the needle enters the fabric, the thread breaks or frays: these problems can occur when there is a burr at the needle point, eye or groove. If the point is chipped, the needle can make a clicking noise when you work, it can snag on the fibers of the fabric and tear them, or it can skip stitches.

4. Needle not straight

A needle that is not perfectly straight can skip stitches, can pull fabric to one side or hit a plate and break. Make sure and replace it immediately.

5. Dirty needle

A dirty needle can skip stitches making the seam imperfect. Again, the needle should be replaced as soon as possible.

Table for combining needle, thread and stitch length together

The size of the needle and thread is directly proportional to the weight of the fabric, as is the length of the stitch used: the heavier the fabric, the thicker both the needle and the thread must be, while the stitch must be long:

Type of cloth

Thread type

Needle measurements

Stitch length

Light (soft) Woven –  chiffon, organza, challis, crepe de Chine – Openwork : fine lace, tulle – Mesh : linen, velvety clothMercerized Cotton No. 50 – extra fine (any fiber)70 or 80 sharp point for fabrics and laces – 70 or 80 rounded point for knits1 – 1.5mm
Light (dry) Woven – batiste, striped cotton fabric, voile, organdis, Sangallo – Openwork : some tulle, coarse mesh fabrics – Mesh : cirèSilk, nylon, mercerized cotton no. 50 – extra fine (any fiber)80 sharp point for fabrics and laces – 70 or 80 rounded point for knits1 – 1.5mm
Medium weight (soft) – Woven : velvet, velveteen, striped gingham, cambric, crepe, corduroy – Knit : jersey, stretch terry, some double or chunky knitsPolyester, synthetic, mercerized cotton no. 5080 or 90 sharp point for fabrics – 80 or 90 rounded point for knits1.5 – 2mm
Midweight (dry) – Woven : brocade, shantung, faille, taffeta, eggskin, chintz, pique, gingham, poplin, linen, some twists and turns, some tweeds – Knit: some double knitsMercerized Cotton No. 50 – synthetic80 or 90 sharp point for fabrics – 80 or 90 rounded point for knits1.5 – 2mm
Heavy (soft) – Woven : velour, heavy corduroy, sponge, some upholstery fabrics, some types of faux fur, denim, jeans – Knit : stretch velour, some types of faux fur, some chunky knitsMercerized Cotton No. 40 or 50 – cotton no. 40-60 – synthetic90 or 100 sharp point for fabrics – 90 or 100 rounded point for knits2 – 2.5mm
Heavy (Dry) – Woven : heavy garment fabrics, burlap, mattress covers, hemp, upholstery fabrics, double-face wool, sailcloth, some heavyweight twisted fabrics, some gabardines, upholstery, some tweeds – Knit: some jacquard, some double knitsMercerized Cotton No. 36-50 – cotton no. 36-50 – synthetic100 or 110 sharp point for fabrics – 90 or 100 rounded point for knits2.5 – 3mm
Leather and Vinyl Materials – Light : kid leather, patent leather, snakeskin, suede, imitation leather, imitation suedeMercerized Cotton No. 50 – synthetic80 or 90 chisel tip2.5 – 3mm
Leather and Vinyl Materials – Midweight : Corrugated Patent Leather, Printed Vinyl Material, Snakeskin Imitation, Suede Imitation, Some Genuine SuedesMercerized Cotton No. 40 or 50 – synthetic90 chisel tip2.5 – 4mm
Leather and Vinyl Materials – Heavy : Goatskin, Vinyl Upholstery Material, Some SuedesMercerized Cotton No. 36-50 – synthetic90 or 100 chisel point (a sharp point needle of the same size can also be used if the fabric is double layered)3-4mm

How to choose the machine needle for topstitching

Topstitching is a machine stitching done on the right side of the work for functional or simply decorative reasons, or for both purposes.

It usually consists of a longer than normal straight stitch, but can also be replaced by a zig-zag stitch. The topstitch can be done with regular sewing thread or a heavier weight thread, which can be the same color as the base stitching used to make the garment or project, or a contrasting color to create a decorative effect.

Fabrics and type of stitching

Thread type

Needle size

Stitch length

Straight Stitch Stitching – Woven and knit, leather and vinyl materials of all weightsCotton or synthetic for machine eyelets100 or 110 sharp tip for fabrics – 100 rounded tip for knits 100 chisel tip for leather3-4mm
Zigzag Stitching – Fabrics and knits of all weightsMercerized Cotton No. 40-50 – cotton or synthetic for machine eyelets90 or 100 sharp point for fabrics 90 – 100 rounded point for knits2.5 – 3mm
Stitching performed with multiple needles – Medium weight or light weight fabricsMercerized Cotton No. 50 – synthetic90 double or triple1.5 – 3mm