Recently, I have seen quite a few people who just bought their first sewing machine. They are excited to get started and come in looking for advice to get them started. One of the items that I try to take some time to go over with them is sewing machine needles. There are a variety of types and gauges to meet whatever your sewing needs might be.
First of all, no matter what type of needle, they all have a particular gauge.
The gauge refers to the girth of the needle; how thin or thick the needle is.
You will see numbers like:
70’s (10’s) are fine, 110’s (16’s) are thick. When choosing a gauge think of it being relative to the weight of the fabric.
Sewing chiffon? Use a fine needle. Sewing many layers of denim or canvas? Use a heavy needle.
For most sewing a 12 gauge will do the trick.
Needle tips vary depending on what they are designed to do. There are three main varieties:
- and leather.
Sharp tips are used for woven fabrics. It’s best to avoid these if you are sewing knits. Think of pantyhose; they are knitted. If something damages one of the threads (imagine a sharp needle cutting a thread as it sews) you get a run in the fabric. How do you know whether needles are sharp? You can be sure that packages labeled either Universal or Jeans will have standard sharp tips.
Jean needles are sharp needles with a heavy gauge. These usually range from a 14 gauge to an 18 gauge. On my industrial machine, I use a 16 gauge for this type of work. If I were using a household machine, I’d probably go with an 18. Jean needles are rugged, because it takes a rugged needle to sew through heavy jean seams.
Quilting needles are sharp and have a particular taper to them that minimizes skipped stitches when either piecing or quilting. These can range in gauge from 10 to 14. In my store, I carry a multi-pack of quilting needles that has the entire range of gauges. In a dedicated quilt shop, you would find full packs of each gauge. Many quilters have a specific gauge that they like to use. Some prefer on gauge for their piecing and a heavier gauge for machine quilting.
Topstitch needles are designed to be used with heavier topstitching thread. They are a heavy gauge needle, usually 16 or 18. What sets these apart from jean needles is that they have a large eye to accommodate topstitching thread. Assume that these will be sharp needles.
Ballpoint tips are used for knit fabrics. These are pretty cool. They look and feel sharp when you touch them. But the tips have a very fine ball point that allows the needle to gracefully move between the threads that makes up the fabric, rather than piercing through, like a sharp does. Because most people use their serger for knits, needle packs that are specifically labeled for a serger are safe to use for knits. Ballpoint needles are usually labeled as “stretch needles”.
Twin Needles are a form of topstitch needle. This needle has a single shank that allows you to install it as you would any other needle. Then it has a bar into which two needles have been embedded. Your machine must be able to accommodate two spools of thread to use this type of needle. It only needs one bobbin for both. Many machines have a hole on the top of the machine, and a secondary thread holder to fit into it. You would find that in the accessory kit that came with your machine. If it was lost, you can order one specific to the make and model of the machine. Twin needles come in both sharp and ballpoint. The packages will indicate whether they are intended for stretch sewing, for jeans or are simply a universal needle. They come with different distances between the needles as well. If you are using these for the first time, definitely take the time to practice before sewing your garment. These will have a decent sized eye, depending on the gauge of the needle.
Leather needles mean business! The ends of these needles have three sides that come down to a point. Each of the three sides cuts through the leather. There are no “take backs” when you sew leather. Once you make a hole, you’ve made a hole. It is there forever. You really don’t want to use these for any fabric that isn’t leather. Don’t even use them on vinyl. (If you are sewing vinyl, use a universal needle in a gauge relative to how heavy your vinyl is.)
Although for most things you can get away with using a mid-gauge universal needle, the many specialized varieties of needles allow you to have confidence in a consistently successful result.