I say it often but when I started sewing I never gave any thought to the needles that I was using. I used whatever needle was in the machine at the time I started sewing. If my projects were a success and I didn’t break the needle that I was using, it stayed right there in the machine for months until I did break it.
You can get away with that for a while but at some point you’ll likely run into a picky project that requires a certain type of needle and learn that using the right type and size of needle really does make a difference.
There are a few things that you should know about needles. I’ll cover the essentials in this post– you can go a lot more in depth with this but this will give you a good primer to begin.
In the photo below I have a few packs of needles. These are all the same TYPE of needle (universal), but they vary in size. You can see that the needles in the pack on the far left are much thicker. They are a larger needle size (size 20) than the needles on the far right (size 12).
From left to right by size: 125/20 100/16 90/14 80/12
Size is important when it comes to the fabric type and thickness that you’ll be sewing. It is easy to see now why you wouldn’t want to use a size 20 needle (above) on a delicate fabric like crepe. Likewise, if you had to choose a needle for a heavier sewing project, a larger size (perhaps 16 or 18 for a home machine) would be a wise choice.
A good middle-of-the-road size and type is a UNIVERSAL 90/14. This needle will work well on most projects for the average home sewist.
The following graphic is from the Schmetz website and it dissects the components of a needle.
Each needle type has a slightly different look. That’s because the components of the needle change with the type of needle to suit the application.
For example, a ball point needle is used to sew with knit fabrics. The point of a ball point needle is rounded rather than pointy in order to separate fibers as it penetrates the fabric, as opposed to cutting them like a leather needle would.
This is a great graphic from Wawak that shows the differences in needle types [they are also a great source for sewing supplies like needles and thread]
For carriers I recommend using a 100/18 jeans/denim needle made for domestic machines. Don’t try to use a needle larger than size 18 or “heavy duty” thread on a home machine. The needle eye on a size 18 needle isn’t large enough to accomodate thicker threads so you’ll end up with a mess.
The are the needle types that I always have on hand:
Ball Point Needles (for sewing knits)
Universal Needles (for general sewing)
Stretch Needles (these are great for cloth diapers)
Denim Needles (for carriers and my thicker projects)
INSPECT YOUR NEEDLE!
Finally, one of the best things you can do is inspect your needle after every hour of sewing. If it looks damaged (broken tip, bent, or dull) swap it out for a new needle. If at any time during sewing you feel like the needle is hitting something– stop immediately and change it.
If you’re looking to learn more about needles, check out this pdf from Schmetz’s website!