Which Needle for What Fabric

Soft stretch velvet needs to be sewn with a ball point needle (Vogue Pattern 1520)
Soft stretch velvet needs to be sewn with a ball point needle (Vogue Pattern 1520)

Ensure your outfits are perfectly stitched every time – use the right sort of needle! Problems with stitching are rarely caused by the wrong tension and more often caused by blunt or the wrong type of needle. Having the right sewing machine needle helps stitch evenly, prevents snags, unwanted gathering or visible needle holes etc.  And blunt needles can snag fabric or cause skipped or uneven stitches. So here is my guide on which needle goes with which type of fabric.

NEEDLE imageNeedle choices
There are lots of different types of needles to suit all types of fabric, from Universal needles for general purpose sewing of woven fabrics to specialist needles for fine fabrics, leather, jeans, stretchy fabrics and embroidery. They also come in different sizes (strength/thickness) to suit the weight of the fabric – ranging from 60-120 (or American sizing 9-20). The lower the number, the finer the needle. Most needle packs will have both the European and the American sizing listed.

It is important that the needle is changed regularly as blunt needles will cause stitch problems. If your machine is starting to sound a bit clunky – change the needle and clean out the bobbin race. This should be done every 8 hours of sewing or with every new project anyway.

WOVEN FABRICS

Use a Universal needle with woven fabrics such as challis, cotton, gaberdine etc (Butterick 5893)
Use a Universal needle with woven fabrics such as challis, cotton, gaberdine etc (Butterick 5893)

Wools, gabardine, cotton, polyester, challis, brocades, satins etc
Use a general purpose universal needle, the size to suit the fabric weight. So for a lightweight blouse or skirt, use a 70/9 or for  a twill fabric use a 90/14.

A fine floaty fabric is best sewn with a Sharps needle (Butterick 5892)
A fine floaty fabric is best sewn with a Sharps needle (Butterick 5892)

Fine silks, voiles, chiffons
Try a Sharps –also known as microfiber needles, these have sharp tips and are ideal for sewing silks, microfiber fabrics and densely woven fabrics. They are also great for top-stitching and sewing buttonholes.

Sew denim and other heavyweight fabrics with a Jeans needle (Butterick 5682)
Sew denim and other heavyweight fabrics with a Jeans needle (Butterick 5682)

Denim, Canvas and heavy duty fabrics
Use a Jeans needle  – these are robust, thicker shafted needles suitable for any type of heavy, dense fabric such as canvas, upholstery fabric and of course denim. Great when sewing thick layers too and as with other needles, they come in different sizes for the different weights of these heavier fabrics.

 

One of my favourite dresses this year - use a ball point needle (Vogue Pattern 1520)
One of my favourite dresses this year – use a ball point needle (Vogue Pattern 1520)

STRETCH FABRICS 

Single Knit, Double Knit and Jersey fabrics
It’s important to use a Ball point needle with stretch fabrics.  These have rounded tips designed for sewing, stretch knits, velvets and fleece. The needle tip parts the fibres, rather than pierces them. Using a universal needle on stretchy fabric can result in skipped or broken stitching.

Two or four way stretch with lots of Lycra or Spandex need a Stretch needle for successful sewing (Kwik Sew 4163)
Two or four way stretch with lots of Lycra or Spandex need a Stretch needle for successful sewing (Kwik Sew 4163)

Two-way or four-way stretch fabrics
If you are sewing with stretchy fabrics that have a high content of Lycra or Spandex, such as lingerie or swimwear fabric, you will need a Stretch needle. These have a specially designed ‘scarf’ to help stitch two-way stretch fabrics evenly and neatly. Again if you use a universal or even a ball point needle you can get skipped or tiny bunched stitches.

When sewing with leather or suede use a Leather needle (Vogue Pattern 9074)
When sewing with leather or suede use a Leather needle (Vogue Pattern 9074)

LEATHER AND SUEDE

A leather needle has a chisel point to help penetrate real leather and suede and other non-woven materials. Take care though as the point can leave definite holes, so unpicking is not advised!

TOP TIPS

  • Use a new needle with every new project, or change it every 8 hours of sewing.
  • Make sure you insert the needle as far as possible, with flat part of shank towards back of sewing machine, and then tighten it with the screwdriver tool provided (which will prevent it working loose as you stitch).
  • Use a needle size appropriate for the fabric or number of layers. Generally small size (lower number) needles are for lightweight fabrics and larger size for heavyweight or multi-layers.
  • Keep a pack of mixed size universal needles in the workbox so you are ready to start whatever project you are working on. Universal needles are suitable for most woven fabrics, synthetics and knits.

    Other specialist needles include:
    Quilting
    – these generally have a longer sharper point, to pierce layers of fabric and wadding easily whilst maintaining a straight stitch. Use a quilting needle if making a padded quilted jacket or coat and of course, when quilting.

    Embroidery
    – the larger eye, sometimes with special coating makes these suitable for machine embroidery – which is generally a highly concentrated amount of stitching.

    Metallic
    – these have a specially coated eye to cope with the metallic threads that can otherwise shred as you sew and bore a notch into the needle eye of a universal needle.

    Top Stitch needles
    – again these have a larger eye, so are useful for sewing thicker threads and top stitching as the name suggests.

Twin – one shank, two needles, which will stitch two parallel rows of stitching in one pass. Great for decorative heirloom, stitching or topstitching and creating tiny pin tucks, the gap between the needles can vary from approximately 1.6 – 6mm. Twin needles are also available as ball point, universal, stretch and embroidery needles.

Wing – these have wide wings on the shaft that are meant to leave little needle holes in the fabric as they stitch. They are best used on lightweight fabrics for heirloom stitching.

TROUBLE SHOOTING

  • If the machine sounds a bit clunky, change the needle – it might be because it is blunt.
  • If the needle breaks without apparent justification, try a larger size as it may not be robust enough for thick or multi-layers of fabric.
  • If the seam pulls up and gathers or leaves little holes as you sew, the needle may be too large, try a smaller size.
  • If Stitches skip, change the needle, it is probably blunt.

 

So now you are needle wise, get cracking on your next sewing project with confidence!

Author: Wendy

I love sewing and being Brand Ambassador for The McCall Pattern Company is a dream job for me. I've sewn all my life, edited sewing magazines, written 17 sewing books and written and starred in 10 DVDs - all on sewing! My aim is to promote sewing using the fabulous pattern ranges from Vogue, Butterick, Kwik Sew and of course McCalls - to show that is a fun and relaxing hobby which can result in stunning results.

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