An Ultimate Guide to Sewing Machine Needles

In this article, you will learn that choosing the wrong sewing machine needle can cause a sewing machine to act the total ar$e; the anatomy of a sewing machine needle; the many flavors of needles; how to read a sewing machine needle packet; how to store used needles for future use; and how to discard a used up needles safely.

If you dream of sewing insanely pretty dresses, you gonna need to know how to select the RIGHT sewing machine needle for the job.

In other words, you can’t put any old sewing machine needle into your machine and forgetaboutit.

Having the RIGHT needle can literally be the difference between sewing ecstatically and having a successful project.

Or losing your sanity and throwing your hands up in the air right before you chuck your “fricking” sewing machine out the nearest window.

By the end of this post, you will know the anatomy of a sewing machine needle. And how to choose the RIGHT one for the thread and fabric you are sewing…

First, A True Story

Once upon a time, I was trying to sew a knit dress on my Janome 415 sewing machine. Since it was ITY knit, I put a brand new Schmetz ballpoint/jersey needle in my machine. I laid out my fabric, pinned my pattern to it, cut it out carefully, and then sat down at my machine to sew.

Ultimate Guide to Sewing Needles

It was a happy moment… until the stitching line kept puckering and skipping stitches.

I adjusted my tension. And still, it puckered and skipped stitches.

I cleaned my machine and dropped a few drops of sewing machine oil in all the hidden places my Janome 415 likes to be lubricated. Still, it puckered and skipped stitches.

I cursed. And still, it puckered and skipped stitches some more.

It beat me down. So I gave up!

And I concluded that something just had to be wrong with my sewing machine.

After all, Schmetz makes quality sewing machine needles. Check.

It was a brand new needle. Check.

My machine was clean. Check.

What else could it be?!

So I decided I’d schlepped my heavy ar$e sewing machine out to my car, placed her in the backseat, and take her in for a checkup at the nearest Janome dealership to me — 26 miles away.

Now, I wasn’t happy.

Finally, we arrived. And I lugged my machine into to shop. And took out a sample of the fabric I was attempting to sew.

Lady shop owner took one look at the needle in my machine and walked over to her notions wall, walked back, and replaced my needle with a Janome size 11 blue-tipped sewing machine needle.

Then, she sat down at my machine and sewed a sample with the fabric I had brought. And voila!

The damn machine sewed beautifully.

Lady shop owner got up and handed me a packet of those needles on the house…

But I still wasn’t happy.

I wanted an answer to this burning question:

Why didn’t my new brand Schmetz ballpoint needle perform properly? After all, I’d sewn successfully on this very machine with that very brand of needle before!

Lady shop owner didn’t blink. She didn’t answer me. She just walked away.

So being a quick study, I packed up my sewing machine and my complimentary Janome size 11 blue-tipped sewing machine needle. And schlepped my heavy ar$e sewing machine back to my car.

As I drove back the 26 miles, I pondered these three takeaways:

  1. When you reach a certain age, you don’t waste your time explaining the obvious. The lady shop owner (probably in her 70’s) had no time for my nonsense.
  2. And just like we like custom made dresses, some sewing machines will only behave consistently when you use sewing machine needles custom made for them.
  3. And don’t fight with your machine — listen to your machine.

Sew easy tip: If you are in the market for a new sewing machine and you don’t want a diva, make sure you find out if the sewing machine you are considering will play nice with Schmetz needles. Because they are most readily available.

Sewing Machine Needles | The Rules

Rule #1: Choose the right needle type and the needle size for the fabric.

Rule #2: New project, new needle. Some sources recommend you change your needle after every eight hours of sewing. I’m sorry, but how the heck do you actually track that. And in any case, do you really need one more thing to track?! No, you don’t.

Rule #3: NEVER sew over pins! When a sewing machine needle hits a pin, bad things can happen. It can damage the needle, your sewing machine or throat plate, or even end up in your eye. All this potential drama is not worth the few seconds you might save by sewing over a pin.

Rule #4: If a needle is leaving visible holes in your fabric or skipping stitches, stop sewing! You should change your needle to the correct size and type for the fabric and thread you are sewing with.

Rule #5: When in doubt, change the needle. Listen carefully: A dull needle will make a THUNK, THUNK, THUNK sound each time it pierces the fabric!

Anatomy of a Sewing Machine Needle

  • Butt ~ The is the very top of the needle, opposite of the tip.
  • Shank ~ With household needles, one side of the shank is flat.
  • Shoulder ~ This is the sloping transition area between where the shank ends and the blade/shaft begins.
  • Shaft (aka Blade) ~ The diameter of this area determines needle size.
  • Groove ~ This is on the backside of the needle and it cradles and guides the thread into the eye. The length and size of the groove will vary based on needle type.
  • Scarf ~ This is an indentation right above the eye. It allows the bobbin hook to grab the thread under the throat plate to create a stitch.
  • Eye ~ This is the hole that the needle thread passes through. The size and shape of the eye will vary based on the needle type.
  • Point ~ This is the area right above the tip. Its length, size, and shape will vary based on needle type.
  • Tip ~ This is the opposite of the butt. Its shape will vary based on needle type.
Ultimate Guide to Sewing Needles
The underside of a needle

Did you know that a home sewing machine needle pierces fabric anywhere from 600 to 1,000 times per minute?!

That’s a lot of work.

When you consider that factoid, it is clear that a sewing machine needle is an amazing piece of engineering in a tiny, humble package!

So respect the needle.

Quality Brands of Sewing Needles

Schmetz Needles

Schmetz is the most common and readily available sewing machine needle brand.

Each packet comes labeled with the needle system, the needle type and the needle size(s).

And every Schmetz has the needle size engraved on the shank. But it is only visible with a magnifying glass, and even then it is difficult to read. Maybe it is just my old eyes, but really, what’s the point.

However, Schmetz also colour codes their sewing machine needles for our convenience. The top band of colour indicates the needle type and the bottom band of colour, the needle size. You can click HERE to see what I mean.

Ultimate Guide to Sewing Needles

Klasse Needles

Because Nancy Z of Nancy’s Notions said so! And if you can’t trust Nancy to give you the real dope on anything sewing-related, you can’t trust anyone.

These needles are the result of 125 years of German experience.

I know! Sounds impressive!

Each packet of Klasse needles come labeled with the needle type and needle size.

If you decide you would like to try these, you will probably need to order these online. I’ve never seen them locally.

Organ Needle Europe

These are titanium needles, which means they are coated with titanium. This titanium coating provides a smoother stitching experience by allowing the thread to glide smoothly through the eye of the needle as you stitch.

But wait! The best part is…

Titanium also extends the life of a sewing machine needle from a measly eight hours to a whopping 40 hours!

Which is crazy!

These needles are specialty needles that can be purchased online.

Sew easy tip: Before inserting a new needle in your sewing machine, at the very least, take your fingernail and run it over the tip and point of the needle. If you feel it roughness or if it is bent, discard!

RELATED: Click HERE to learn how to change your sewing machine needle and much more!

Choosing the Right Needle Type

Let’s break needle types into two categories:

  • General Purpose Needles: (1) Universal; (2) Ballpoint/Jersey; and (3) Sharp/Microtex
  • Specialty Needles: for example, Jeans, Metallic, Leather, Topstitch, Twin

Here’s the deal…

The point and the eye vary based on needle type.

So when it comes time to choose a sewing machine needle for your project, you must also decide which needle type is appropriate. And to do this, consider the following two things…

  1. Fabric fiber content and/or weight (the most important consideration)
  2. Thread weight + thickness

Keep in mind that when you sew it is the point and tip of the needle that makes the FIRST contact with the fabric.

And it will pierce your fabric anywhere from 600 to 1,000 freaking times a minute!

So I think you can see why it is so important to choose a needle with the right point and tip for the fabric you’re sewing.

Here are some of the most common needle types used in garment construction and their uses…

Ballpoint/Jersey Needle

Ultimate Guide to Sewing Needles

Ballpoint needles are ideal for knits that don’t contain high amounts of Lycra, such as jersey and ITY knits.

Because of their more rounded tips, ballpoint needles slide between the yarns of knits so that they don’t snag or make holes.

This needle can be had in sizes 70/10 to 100/16.

Leather Needle

A leather needle has a sharp, wedgey point that is ideal for sewing real suede and leather, heavy faux suede and leather, vinyl, and other thick nonwovens without damaging them.

The design of this needle’s point cleanly pierces leather and suede like a sharp knife cuts through soft butter!

Sew easy tip: When sewing leather or suede, make sure that you lengthen your stitch length so that needle holes are not too close together!

Microtex Needle

Ultimate Guide to Sewing Needles

Microtex (aka Sharp) needles are a slim needle with a very sharp point and are designed for sewing densely woven fabrics, such as polyester, faux suede and leather, microfibres, vinyl or laminates, silks, and high thread count fabrics (like Batiks).

Because Microtex needles pierce fabric cleanly, they produce a very straight stitch. This also makes them ideal for topstitching and edge stitching; buttonholes; and heirloom sewing.

This needle comes in the following sizes: It comes in sizes 60/8, 70/10, 80/12, and 90/14.

Psst! Can I tell you a secret?!

I have a dream. And it involves me flaunting a drop waist, fit-n-flare suede dress in a red so crimson it makes me blush. I can’t wait till I’m such a master that suede doesn’t scare me!

Stretch Needle

Stretch needles are the choice when sewing lightweight synthetic suedes; lightweight fine knits; and knits with lots of Lycra (Spandex).

Ultimate Guide to Sewing Needles

This needle comes in only two sizes: 75/11 and 90/14.

If you are experiencing skipped stitches with a ballpoint needle, try this needle.

Topstitch Needle

At some point in your sewing career, you will be topstitching. And when you do, you want a beautiful, perfectly straight line with even stitches.

To accomplish this, you can use a topstitch needle.

Ultimate Guide to Sewing Needles

Topstitch needles have an extra large eye and a deeper groove to accommodate thicker topstitching thread or the use of two strands of all-purpose threads simultaneously.

And the extra sharp point makes for precise and accurate straight stitches.

Twin Needles Needle

Ultimate Guide to Sewing Needles

Twin needles consist of two needles that share a single shaft. They allow you to stitch two parallel lines simultaneously.

On the packet, the first number tells the distance between the two needles. And the second number is the needle size.

There are two flavors: one for knit fabrics (the Schmetz Stretch Twin with the blue band) and one for woven fabrics (the Schmetz Universal Twin with the red band).

Universal Needle

Ultimate Guide to Sewing Needles

Universal needles have a slightly rounded point that makes it versatile enough for sewing synthetics, natural woven fabrics, and some knits, such as Ponte (aka double) knits.

It comes in range of sizes from 60/8 up to 120/19.

You can get a pack that comes with just one size of universal needle, for example, 80/12. Or you can get a variety pack that contains universal needles of various sizes.

Choosing the Right Needle Size

Generally, it is a good idea to use the smallest needle size you can for the fabric you are sewing with.

Ultimate Guide to Sewing Needles

On a packet of Schmetz needles, it will tell you the needle system, the needle type, and the needle size. For example, in the image above:

  • 130/705 H ~ indicates that the needle has a flat shank and is intended for home sewing machines (the needle system)
  • Universal ~ indicates the needle type
  • 70/10, 80/12, and 90/14 ~ indicates the needle size(s) included in the packet

For Schmetz and Klasse needles, both the American and European needle size is listed on the packet. European sizes range from 60 to 120, while American sizes range from 8 to 19.

The European numbers indicate the actual diameter of the shaft (in hundredths of a millimeter), while the American numbers are arbitrarily assigned.

For example, if the size on a needle packet is 80/12, then 80 is the European measurement and 12 is the American assigned number.

And there’s more…

A Schmetz sewing machine needle types come in the following sizes, but not necessarily all: 60/8, 65/9, 70/10, 75/11, 80/12, 90/14, 100/16, 110/18, 120/19, 125/20, and 130/21. (I’ve never seen a 125/20 or 130/21 locally.)

And Klasse sewing machine needles types come in the size range from 60/8 to 120/20.

A 60/8 needle is the thinnest needle while a 120/19 or 120/20 needle is the thickest.

So the lower the number, the finer the needle and the smaller the hole it makes when it pierces your fabric. Conversely, the thicker the needle, the stronger it is to penetrate thick fabrics without bending or breaking and the larger the hole it makes when it pierces your fabric.

Generally, the following needle sizes would be appropriate for the fabric types listed below:

  • Lightweight fabrics, such as chiffon, silk, organza, 65/9 or 70/11
  • Medium weight, such as cotton, flannel, linen, synthetics, 80/12 or 90/14
  • Heavyweight, such as denim, twill, cotton canvas, 90/14 or 100/16

However, let’s keep it stupid simple to start.

For general sewing of medium-weight fabrics, you usually can’t go wrong with a size 80/12 universal needle.

Sew easy tip: Choosing the right needle type and size is critical. For example, if your fabric is lightweight and you choose a needle that is too thick, it will leave unsightly holes! Conversely, if your fabric is thick and you choose a needle that is too thin, it is likely to break and go flying god knows where!

How to Store Used Needles

Now, if for some legitimate reason you need to store a needle that you’ve already used, leave a short length of thread in it before returning it to its original storage case. This way, you’ll know which needle(s) have been previously used.

How to Discard Sewing Machine Needles


In the same way you dispose of straight pins. Just wrap the pointed ends with tape and toss.

Or, you could collect spent needles in an old prescription bottle. Once full, discard the bottle with pins.

Ultimate Guide to Sewing Straight Pins

Bonus: What about Hand Needles?

There will come a time when you will have to actually sew something by hand.

And when that time comes, you will need to have on hand:

Ultimate Guide to Sewing Needles
Packet of Sharps
Ultimate Guide to Sewing Needles
Packet of Ball Point

The End

Choosing the right sewing machine needle has a HUGE impact on stitch quality.

And it is one of the least expensive notions required for achieving a professional end result.

To make sure that you choose the right needle, choose your fabric, then your thread, and finally your needle. Because it is the fabric (and thread weight) that, ultimately, determine the right needle for the job.

Finally, the best advice is this: When in doubt, change your needle!

And remember…

Life is the ultimate red carpet event. Dress for it!