Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sewing machine needles

When I got my first sewing machine in 1954 there was only one kind of needles, sharps. By the 1970's when polyester doubleknit was the fabric of choice for clothing, the ball point needle was invented. A sharp needle on the doubleknits just bounced and couldn't penetrate the fibers so you got skipped stitches. The ball point needle actually went between the fibers and produced a perfect stitch.

Then they invented the universal needle. It is halfway between a sharp and a ballpoint. It is called universal because it works on most fabrics. It has a slightly rounded point. This solved the problem for people that didn't know what type of needle they needed. However when you get into tough fabrics like denim, you need a sharp needle but not necessarily a bigger needle.

I worked off and on at a sewing machine store for over 30 years. The majority of the people who came in didn't have a clue what type of needle they needed, they just wanted a larger one. Then they were getting a lot of puckering with the larger needles because they punch bigger holes in the fabric. In most cases with heavier fabrics, you need a sharp needle but could still use a sz. 80. So then denim needles were introduced. Rather than telling you it is a sharp needle, they named a type of fabric that it could be used successfully on.



Then the needle companies decided an even broader range was necessary. Now you have to know both the type of needle and the size of the needle when you go to a store to purchase them. Not all sales people are created equal. I have met employees of fabric stores that have never changed a needle and can't help you with your choice. I was one of the other kind. I probably gave the customer too much information about the needles.
One needle that seems to be a problem solver for a lot of people is the topstitching needle. It is a sharp and has a larger eye so the stitch connects better through thick fabrics. Topstitiching needles are also needed when you use heavy weight thread. Now there are quilting needles which also make the stitch connect better in thickness.

Microtex needles are sharps and are the most tapered. They were made for microfibers like your silky shirts. They are also great for piecing on quilting weight fabrics. I use size 70 for piecing regardless of which style needle I am using. This creates less puckering of seams.

So now on to sizes, 60 is very fine, 70 lightweight, 80 midweight, 90 and larger, heavy duty. For piecing 70-80 is sufficient, for quilting 80-90. For sewing heavy canvas you might like a sz. 100 but make sure that is a sharp, not a universal. Remember sharper, not larger works in most cases.

If you have a Singer machine with a drop in bobbin, Singer brand needles might be your only choices. Other needles may cause skipped stitches. You should never use Singer brand needles in any other machine because it could damage the hook area of your machine. Unfortunately Singer does not make as large a variety of needles to choose from.


Is that more than you ever wanted to know about needles?

21 comments:

Bernie* said...

You have the best posts.
So informative and so interesting.
I admire your knowledge.
You inspire me

StitchinByTheLake said...

I am printing this out! As we speak it is coming out of the printer. :) I am one of those people who knows I'm supposed to change needles but never know exactly what kind or what size I should be using. This is so helpful - thank you, thank you. Blessings, marlene

Anonymous said...

Microtex was the only one I didn't know existed. I will just buy some next trip to town. I love sewing notions as they make any project so much easier. I make a swoop through notions about once a month to see if there is anything new, that I can not live without. But I have not paid that much attention to the needles lately. Thanks...

J~MT

Kristin L said...

That's everything I wanted to know about needles. (Actually, it reinforces what I already know). I really like microtex needles for quilting -- somehow teh sharpness lets everything glide through the layers. I match the size to my thread: tiny needle for thin silk thread, medium needle for most machine quilting cottons, and a larger needle for decorative threads. I tend to use the microtex for piecing too if they are already in the machine, otherwise I use up my universal or quilting needles which seem less useful now. With metallic threads I have had teh best results with a topstitch needle; oddly better than with a metallic needle (which i hear are designed for machine embroidery and therefor are not equipped to handle the layers like the equally large eyed, but sharper topstitch.

LC said...

I had one clerk tell me that all needles were the same. Yikes. Sometimes I've had a huge problem with stitches and all I had to do was change to the proper needle. Thank you for such a clear description of the differences, and for good advice for anyone who is perplexed by all those choices!

Leonna said...

what a great tutorial. I am one of those who will use a denim needle on jeans and an 11 or 12 for most everything else. Now I will have to become more aware of what my project needs in the way of needles. Thanks for a very informative blog.

zizzybob said...

Thanks, that was very helpful information.

Pattie said...

This is really useful information for those of us that are just starting out. I get SO confused about when to use what needle. I may print your post and save it!

Many thanks.

Sequana said...

You totally reminded me to change to my Microtex now that I'm sewing on the silk quilt.....*S*

I KNEW that, but had forgotten.

I think I'll just print this out and put it in my accessories box.

I too have better luck with a topstitch for metallic threads.

quiltteacher said...

Excellent description of needles & sizes. So many people when they come in to buy needles for their projects don't know what they need for the project they are doing. Also the cheapest thing you can do for better sewing results is to change the needle with every project (about every 4 hours of use) A needle with the slightest nick can mess up the best of sewing project!

Purple Pam said...

Great info on needles. There are so many types, it is difficult to know which is best. I have tried various ones with various results. Maybe some did not work well because I was using the wrong needle on the wrong fabric, or with the wrong thread. All three things need to work together.

Catherine said...

Thank you!! As little as I use my sewing machine (and it is very little), I am overwhelmed by confusion when I hit the store to buy new needles. I'm printing out your post so I have it with me next time!!

KarenC. said...

Thank you for all of the information on machine needles. I appreciate that you share your knowledge with us all. I have one question. Why can't they find a better way to identify the needles? I honestly have to hold it under a magnifier and a very bright light to read the numbers on the end. Am I the only one with problems with this. I am nearly convinced I am going blind!

Sharon said...

Thanks for the great info! Now, if only the stores carried all the needles I need for my various projects! When I got my Bernina a few years ago, the needle information became much more important than previously. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with the rest of us!

AbbyKat said...

Thank you so much for the information about machine needles. I have printed it out to keep near my machine. I have been using the 130N for everything non stretch and MicroTex for stretchy fabrics. I have got other needles but they just sit there looking pretty as I don't know what I am supposed to use them for!

dee said...

Great information. I am self-taught so I usually discover these things quite by happy accident. Thanks for saving me time and agravation. I would have gone with a thicker heavier needle when I really need thinner. Great info!

Leland said...

I really really needed this information. Thank you so much! I use my grandmother's Singer featherweight--will the needles you talk about fit this machine? I am quite ignorant, I know. And what needle would be best for duopioni silk--any ideas?
Many thanks! I love your blog--switched to it when Melody started painting! The first posting I read was about the double 4 patch you finished, and I started my own the very next day. Very inspiring.

FabricMom said...

Wow thanks for sharing this. I hand no idea how detailed needles were. I better go change to a new one. LOL.

Anonymous said...

Great needle lesson I was just trying to explain needles to my cousin who never changed her needle. I show her now to change it and now will have her read this great explaintion of needles.
Again thanks for all your teachering.
Roberta A

Michael5000 said...

Actually, that was EXACTLY how much I wanted to know about needles. I'm bookmarking this post separately.

Eileen said...

Wow, this is GREAT! Thanks so much for taking the time to post this information for those of us who are new to this!!