Saturday, 7 July 2012

Sewing machine needles

I have been aware that my sewing machine is in need of a new needle since yesterday, but as I sat down to start a new sewing project this afternoon, I had not done a thing to remedy the problem!  I took out my box of various machine needles, and realized that I REALLY should educate myself on machine needles as I ALWAYS have to look at the guide or ask a shop assistant which needle I should use, which is really ridiculous after all these years of sewing!  

So I took some time out from my sewing machine & found a wealth of information online.  I now feel 100% competent to choose my own needles & understand why I need each one.  I KNOW I have used incorrect ones in the past & now that I am more aware of just how technical machine needles are, I can understand that using the right needle can severely increase the perfection of your project!

First up, let's look at the anatomy of a needle.  

This picture comes from the (very informative) Schmetz website  
This will be important when we look at what makes each needle unique.

Machine needles come in nine different sizes, and these are written either in US sizes (8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 16, 18, 19) or in EU sizes (60, 65, 70, 75, 80, 90, 100, 110, 120) which is (I read on one of the many sites I visited) the diameter in fractions of a millimeter.  The lower the number, the thinner the thread & the finer the fabric it is intended for.  The higher numbers can be used with thicker threads and are meant for thicker fabrics.  

Here is a useful chart from

You should change your needle every 8-10 hours of sewing as the tip gets blunt and the blade can get slightly bent from hitting pins, thick seams, etc.

Two rules to bear in mind:

    The eye of the needle should be 40% larger than the diameter of the thread
    When going to a larger size of thread, a larger needle should be used

 This number system works across the range of needles, so whether you are using a universal needle or a stretch needle, you still stick to this guide.

So what makes each type of needle different?  Well, it turns out, each type of needle is adapted to its task!  For example: a metallic needle has an elongated eye; a microtex needle has a very slim point; a denim needle has a modified medium ball point as well as a reinforced blade.

There are many specialized needles available, as well as one I only discovered today, which will really help people with trouble threading the needle.  This amazing needle is called a quick threading/ handicap / self-threading / Öhrschlitz Needle.  It has a small slit on one side of the eye, where the thread may be passed through instead of threading the thread through the eye!   It cannot be used for all projects & only comes in size 80/12 and 90/14, but will help you where it can.  

**NB:  Read this to find out which projects you can use it on.

If you cannot use this needle on your project, and your machine does not have a built in threader, I would recommend this handy little gadget:

It is made by Elna and I bought it on US EBay here

I brought back 10 of the cheaper Bernina ones from S.A. for my sewing ladies, but have found them to be less than useless!  The little metal bit inside bends to one side at the least provocation, and is only righted by careful coaxing back into place with tiny pliers (time consuming).  So, learn from my mistake!  Do not buy the cheap ones, they will not make you cheerful!
Above is a picture of the Bernina needle threader that you should AVOID!

I also discovered today that some needles are better than others for sewing a perfectly straight line.  Not always the user fault after all!  You can now blame the tools ;)  Or rather just grab the correct needle & improve your lines.

Read this from the Schmetz guide:

Size: 80/12, 90/14, 100/16 
Color Code: None 
Feature: Extra long eye. 
Fabric Use: Topstitch, heavy, multiple or poor quality threads. Achieve  perfectly straight stitch lines and even stitches when using a straight stitch plate. 

Great news!  I can try use the cheap embroidery thread I was about to chuck... you never know, it may just work!  Worth a try.

And then there is this needle, also new to me, and quite exciting as I am soon to be trying my hand at free hand machine embroidery.

Double Eye
Size: 80/12
Color Code: None
Feature: Universal needle with two eyes.
Fabric Uses: Numerous - woven and knits. Use two different threads for shading and texturing effects for embroidery and top stitching.

For the free hand machine embroidery, I bought this little item on EBay USA, and it arrived yesterday, so will give it a whirl soon.  I was so amazed at the great service from the supplier!  She even emailed me a PDF on how to use the little spring.  My parcel arrived in record time, and was thankfully not held up at customs.

Would you like to learn even more about machine needles?  Pop along to the Schmetz learning center here, where you can find absolutely everything there is to know!  

When I started sewing many moons ago, my Mother instructed me to only ever buy Schmetz needles, and seeing as she had years of experience, it is one of the few times I did exactly what I was told!  

To be honest, I had thought it didn't make too much difference which needle one used - boy was I wrong!!


  1. Do you still have the Bernina needle threaders? It fits on my model and I am lost without it!

    1. I have a couple floating around my workroom, but I am in the UK :)