Choosing the correct sewing needle

Judy Hall reviews the huge variety of sewing machine needles available today.

“I’m such a good sewer that I still have the original needle in my machine from the day I bought it and I use it for every type of sewing”!! Sadly, this was a genuine comment told to me when a customer was trading in her sewing machine in my days of being a Sewing Machine Dealer. Apart from this dear lady being ‘such a good sewer’, the truth is that at one time there was only one type of sewing machine needle available for purchase because most sewing was done on a fairly firm woven fabric and one only had to decide upon which size needle to select for that fabric. Haven’t times changed? Now we sew on leather, balsa wood, plastic, mesh, canvas, knits, microfiber, nylon, vinyl, lycra, jeans, paper, metal, oilcloth, fur, through stabilizers and batting – plus more! We pace our sewing machines through aspects the manufacturer never dreamed of and shuddered to think of. SCHMETZ who have been making needles since 1851, make a variety of needles created especially to do particular sewing projects and they have written: ‘What many sewers don’t know is how to choose the correct type and size of needle for the work that they are doing. It is crucial to choose the correct needle to complement your thread choice and the kind of sewing work that you are doing.’ It is best to choose your needle size with due consideration to the weight of the fabric and the type and weight of thread you intend using. However, this is then where confusion enters. I would believe that many reading this would always ask for a Universal Needle when they need to purchase new needles maybe because their last one just broke! Many would also be more experienced with the choice of needles and are aware of the options available today, but isn’t it confusing!! I mentioned Universal Needles, but did you know that they are slightly rounded at the point enabling a general sewer to not only sew woven fabrics but be able to sew many knits? Grandma sewed with Sharp Needles because she sewed on cotton fabric or other firm fabrics so she had beautiful straight stitching. If you want to achieve a perfect line of stitching you should be sewing with a Microtex Needle (Grandma’s Sharp Needle). If your sewing is fairly general and with a variety, then a Universal Needle is appropriate. Now that I have your attention that just “the same old needle I’ve always used” could be given more thought, there’s so many to consider that you may need some extra guidance. We have Universal, Microtex, Quilting, Embroidery, Gold Embroidery, Ball Point, Jeans, Metallic, Hemstitch, Double Hemstitch, Leather, Twin, Twin Stretch, Triple, Spring Embroidery, Double-Eye, Stretch, Topstitch, Titanium Coated and Self-Threading. Most domestic sewing machines today take the same system of needle having a round front and flat back which allows the needle to be inserted in the right position, also making sure it is pushed all the way up. If you have trouble inserting needles, there are tools to assist such as the Perfect Sew Needle Threader and the Two Needle Inserter (which may be used for a single needle too). I mentioned that thread helps determine which size needle; the thread should pass easily through the eye of the needle as well as lay completely in the front groove of the needle, really snuggling in. If the thread doesn’t, then it is the thread which is going to suffer as it penetrates up and down in the needle as you sew, causing it to become weak with friction and the abrasion may cause the thread to shred or break. Understand the anatomy of a needle – the shank, the shaft, the front groove, the point, the scarf, the eye and know how a stitch is formed to be able to give adequate consideration as to which needle type and which needle size to choose. If you are using the best thread in the world but the wrong needle for that thread, then you will experience problems with stitching. It is so important to choose correctly. Judy’s tips:

  • Machine Embroidery: You are sewing at such a fast speed and with such density of stitching that you should use an Embroidery Needle which gives problem-free embroidery since it has a large eye for those thicker threads and an ever so small a ballpoint tip which doesn’t damage already sewn areas. The larger eye is not only easier for threading but together with the larger groove, allows a gentle thread passage preventing thread breakage. The special construction of the optimised scarf reduces the risk of skipped stitches. The Gold Embroidery Needles have a Titanium coating to resist adhesives and actually improves needle wear lasting five times longer than a normal needle.
  • Quilting: I am not referring to the piecing technique, I mean the actual quilting. Because you are quilting through thick layers of fabric and batting, the slim, acute point, is also slightly rounded to allow easier penetration through the quilt sandwich. Many use Quilting Needles for seaming too as many designs have numerous seams crossing each other thus avoiding damage to patchwork fabric.
  • Precise Straight Stitching: I won’t use anything other than Microtex Needles for patchwork piecing as the very slim, acute point allows easier fabric piercing giving a smaller stitch hole and pucker-free seams. I have witnessed in the classroom how these needles give such improved accuracy required for patchwork.
  • Ball Point Needle versus Stretch Needle?Yes, there is a difference. Both have a medium Ball Point for sewing Knits but the Stretch Needle has a special eye and scarf which will prevent skipped stitches.

  • Metallic versus Topstitch: Metallic Threads possibly give more problems to a sewer than any other thread, so special attention must be given. Of course, only use a quality Metallic Thread and you’re far more than halfway there! Heavier threads require that extra deep groove to allow the thread to lie completely within the needle and the elongated eye allows thread passage so much easier. Some Metallic Needles have a Teflon-Coated eye for easier thread passage. Yes, contrary to popular belief, there is a difference between the two types of needles.The Topstitch Needle has an extra-acute point and an extra-large eye in comparison. Topstitch Needles have allowance to use two regular threads through the eye for a heavier stitching often desired for saddle-stitching, jeans, or to give a variegated effect by using two shades of the same colour thread.
  • Self-Threading Needles: A general purpose needle with a slip-in threading slot designed for people who have difficulty threading a needle. Caution: It shouldn’t be used for sensitive fabrics such as silk or microfibre as the slot may cause some pulled fibre threads and don’t use it for quilting as the slot may pull the fibres of the batting through the fabric.

  • Titanium-Coated Needles: Available now from Superior Threads and Klassé,these are strong, durable needles that work well for machine embroidery through adhesive stabilizers, quilting through batting with ease as well as sewing nylon, vinyl, plastic, heavy denim and rubber backed curtain fabric.
  • Needles don’t last forever. Remember to change your needle often. Don’t wait for it to break before you change it! Damaged or worn needles will give you thread breakage or shredding, skipped or uneven stitches, puckered seams and will damage your fabric.
  • How do you know when it is blunt or damaged? Your machine will make a popping sound when the needle tries to penetrate the fabric – listen to your machine!

You can find a detailed Chart of Domestic Sewing Machine Needles, when to use them and sizes available on the Punch with Judy website by clicking here. With the kind permission of Schmetz Needles we can also offer a guide to assist you when selecting your needles in the shop. Click here for A Sewing Needle Troubleshooting Guide by Schmetz. Products mentioned are available from good haberdashery retail outlets or from Punch with Judy, a regular exhibitor at Craft & Quilt Fairs.  

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