Broken Needle: Best Practices to Prevent it Happening to You

broken needleA broken needle flying into the eye is a fear that seamstresses share all over the world.  Something like walking into a spider web and not knowing whether the spider is stuck on your hair or lurking on the floor ready to strike –but potentially much, much worse.  Those that have experienced the consequences of a broken needle often wear eye protection in the form of safety goggles or spectacles.  To avoid this unfortunate incident, here are the main reasons why this happens and some best practice tips to prevent it from happening to you.

Avoid pulling the fabric

This is a mistake made mostly by seasoned home sewers because they are experienced and get distracted by music, internet, or tv and cannot hear when the machine complains.  The sound of the machine always tells you when it is working too hard or something is misaligned.  Pulling the fabric will result in skipping stitches, a bent, or a broken needle.

broken needle

Below shows the correct positioning of your hands to avoid a broken needle.  The feeder underneath the fabric is helping the fabric pass at the correct speed for the machine. Use your hands only to keep the fabric feeding straight and flat under the needle NOT to pull it through at a pace faster than the machine can handle.

avoiding a broken needle correct position of hands

Clean your sewing machine

Experts recommend that you clean your machine once a month. In fact, it depends on how often you use it and the type of fabric you are using.  If you use the sewing machine a lot, you may have to clean it more often.  

Materials such as felt and fleece will drop short fibers and clog the area under the feeding plate.  For better enjoyment of your sewing experience and to prolong the life of your sewing machine clean it regularly.  If you have never done it before, please watch one of our videos below on how to clean a sewing machine where Deby explains in detail how to do it.

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If you want to take it one step further, here's how to really Pamper Your Sewing Machine.

Pamper Your Sewing Machine: a Cleaning Tutorial

Check the needle regularly

If you are familiar with the movie “The Usual Suspects“, then you may appreciate the comparison, at the end of the movie the small crooked man, the mastermind of all the mess, turns into the smart, self-confident shiny suit.  In this scenario, the needle is the unusual suspect.  Before we blame that blunt and bent little thing at the end of the shaft, we blame the tension, the timing, the fabric, and even the thread –when most of the time the problem can be rectified by changing to a good quality needle.

Change your needle often especially after sewing thick or sequined fabrics.  Use the appropriate needle and thread for the fabric you are working on.  

Here is what often happens just before a broken needle:

  • You have sewn over a pin or zipper
  • The thread looks frayed
  • You have skipped stitches
  • Your stitches give your project a puckered appearance.

A clean and well-oiled sewing machine and a good quality needle will decrease the chances of injuring your eye and prolong the life of your sewing machine.  It will also improve the creative satisfaction of your sewing while most importantly reducing the chances of injuring your eye.  

Use a high-quality sewing machine needle

One of the best overall sewing machine needles we've come across is from a company in Illinois called Schmetz Needles.   They have needles that fit any make and model of sewing machine including Brother, Singer, and Janome just to name a few.

What are your experiences with a broken needle?

Let me know in the comments section below.

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73 Responses to Broken Needle: Best Practices to Prevent it Happening to You

  1. Plenty Mangoes says:

    I just had a needle break into 3 pieces…for the first time in my life. In the past, they had always broken into two pieces with both pieces remaining in the area, one in the machine and one attached to the top thread. This time breaking, one piece stayed stuck in the fabric, one piece stayed in the machine and a third middle section of the needle flew out toward me hitting me in the upper lip. My husband gave me a pair of protective glasses used for shooting to wear when sewing now. I feel so much better knowing my eyes are protected.

  2. Marcia says:

    Wear glasses, even if they are just clear lenses! One can buy non-prescription clear lens glasses at many drugstores. Also prescription clear lens glasses in many different prescriptions. I wear glasses every day, but not ones I can sew with. So I have a range of drugstore “prescription” glasses that I can sew with. They are especially good for getting the sewing machine needle situated just right when starting a seam. And protecting your eyes!!

  3. jenou89 says:

    Great article. I always protect my eyes and keep my machine well oiled with good quality needles. Accidents however still do happen. Three weeks ago my finger got too close. The needle penetrated my finger, broke off in my finger and I had a hard time removing my finger from the machine. Once I managed to do so I was left with a small amount of needle that I had to remove myself. Fortunately I keep a pair of nose players handy and always make sure I have my tetnus shot up to date. I am still not sure how I managed to do that…..keep fingers clear, more important protect your eyes.

  4. Linda Willis says:

    It happened to me. I ended up with a corneal laceration. I was installing a hidden zipper and the needle hit that huge zipper head. I was in a hurry to finish house robes for my daughters.

  5. Tina says:

    Thank goodness I wear glasses, without them I would be blind today!

  6. SkitzoLeezra says:

    Yes Sarah, it happens. Sewed over a hidden pin, needle broke, flew into the air and bounced off my eyeglasses, thank goodness.
    Scared the bejeezus outta me.

  7. Susan says:

    Over decades of sewing I have broken many needles but the tip of the needle always remained attached to the sewing thread. Not this time! I was using a zipper foot to get close to the wire in the nose bridge of one of the masks I was making for a local hospital. I turned off my machine to take a break. When I turned my machine on again I failed to notice that my 20 year old Bernina reset the needle position to center. Of course the needle broke when it hit the center of the zipper foot. The broken tip stayed attached to the thread BUT a small shard on the side of the tip flew into my eye! I hoped it was my imagination that something hit the lower lid of my eye. It wasn’t painful but I could feel something was not right. I couldn’t see anything and running my finger along my lower lid I couldn’t feel anything. It was late Friday afternoon. With COVID-19, I did not want to go to a hospital. Again, I hoped it was my imagination. In the middle of the night I knew it was NOT my imagination. My eye did not feel right. I wondered what an ER doctor would do to find a broken piece of needle. Magnets!! I have magnetic closures for bracelets I make so I got one and pulled back my lower lid gently rubbing the magnet along my lower inner lid. A very small shard of broken needle flew onto my finger!! I couldn’t believe it!! I thank God every day and feel blessed that the magnet worked. Yes, a broken needle can be very very dangerous!! It happens when one least expects it. I highly recommend wearing glasses. Thank you for bringing this to the attention of sewists. I have never seen an article regarding broken needles.

    • Plenty Mangoes says:

      Wow, that’s a scary scenario. I’m glad you were able to retrieve the broken piece of the needle and not have permanent damage to your eye.

  8. Janel says:

    I’m new to sewing. I had my machine for about a week now and make a toddler skirt out of an old baby blanket and two face mask. I had two needles break while making the skirt. One broke in three places, and the other inside the fabric. My mom use to sew my clothes when I was little. And she told me to always use with my glasses(sometimes I wear contacts) on because when the needle breaks you will be scared. When the needle broke (both times) my machine made a metal scratching sound before breaking. It didn’t fly, but I was warned. Thanks for this very useful article

  9. Patty Cochran says:

    I have been sewing for about 75 years and still going strong. I’m 78 years old and I have broken a FEW needles in my life time of sewing. The one lesson my mother gave me is to make a small quilted bag to have by my machine to put broken needles in. In fact she would not let me touch the machine, a old treadle machine, until this was done. I always have a bag hanging on the wall by the machine. Don’t have to worry about someone stepping on it or where or what happened to it .
    Happy sewing ! Love your web sight.

  10. Patty Cochran says:

    I’m 78 years old and believe me I have broken a few needles in my life time of sewing. All of your lessons on how not to break them are so valuable. Good lessons to learn and practice.
    I wanted to tell you how I keep broken needles from becoming a hasard. My mother had me make a small quilted bag, that sits by my sewing machine. When I break a needle I always put it in the bag as soon as possible. No worrying where it is or where did it go. I have filled a few bags by now. Started sewing when I was about 5 years old so That about 75 years now and I’m still going strong.

  11. Melissa says:

    Aside from the safety aspect I also found this helpful in understanding what the symptoms are for a damaged needle. I always blamed exactly what you said….tension, etc. I rarely change my needle which I know is a bad thing. Thanks for sharing this.

  12. Linda Sapp says:

    Your eyes are very, very important to you in everything you do, no matter what it is. On the morning before we were to leave for a family vacation in California in February 1977, I accidentally hit my eye with my hot air roller when I suddenly dropped it and then as quickly I grabbed for it and that’s when it hit my eye; not my lid but my eye. Well, you can imagine trying to explain that to everyone who saw you, from your husband to your optometrist to your children, etc. So I ended up going to California with a patch on my eye. I think my children ended up leading me more than I led them. I even “scared” Frankenstein when I came across him at one of the Disney parks. Please be very careful when using any tool, no matter what it is. Your eyes are very important to you!

  13. Marty says:

    What are the BESTpins to sew over? My thread has always held the broken needle tip in place and it is usually broken by a pin

What do you think?