Ok, so you’ve taken up sewing but you’re still learning the ropes, as they say. When talking about sewing machine needles, people in your sewing circle keep spouting off numbers like 90/14 and 75/11, which makes little to no sense to you…the problem is, you’re just a tad too shy to ask. Well, that’s why we’re here: so you can arrive at that next sew-along date spouting off some useful info of your own, maybe teach the old experts some stuff that even they didn’t know (we won’t tell them, if you won’t).
Before we get to those blasted numbers though…what about needle types, why the different shapes and when are they appropriate? When it comes to sewing machine needles you’ll have a few needle types from which to choose, namely quilting, topstitch, embroidery, denim, metallic and universal. Your rounded tips are always going to work better on knits, whereas you should opt for sharp needles when using woven fabric with a high thread count. The finer the weave, the finer the needle, remember that.
Topstitch needles are super sharp but have a long eye: this allows you to glide through heavier fabrics with a relatively thick thread…without leaving gaping holes in the fabric.
Your Quilting needle features a special taper, designed to glide through many layers of fabric, including crossed seams.
The Embroidery needle, with its more rounded tip and very large eye is ideal when it comes to using special decorative threads to beautify and embroider focal points on your project.
If you’re looking for a standard needle to use on all your standard projects, opt for Universal, although I strongly recommend changing out if you’re dealing with quilting, or especially if it’s a fine weave and a very thick thread. The Universal needle is a jack of all fabrics, with a slightly rounded tip and you can use it on just about any standard project but like I said, better to change out on fine weaves.
The Jeans / Denim Needle is both strong and sharp and suitable for work on heavy fibre’s and tight weaves.
Ball Point Needles often called Jersey Needles, are made especially for sewing knits. The special point of the needles does not damage or break knitted fibers. They typically comes in sizes 10/70 through 16/100 and in an assortment pack. You should choose the size that will handle the thread being used when sewing on knits.
The Microtex Sharp Needle is ideal for piecing as it’s extremely slim and sharp…meaning straight stitches, small holes and little to no puckering. Great for micro fibres and silks. Remember, this is a very thin needle so watch out for breaking by changing this needle regularly!
Double Eye Needles are used for embroidery and topstitching with decorative threads to produce decorative seams. Having two eyes, one right on top of the other, two different threads can be used for texturing or shading effects.
The Metallic Needle has the same point as a universal needle, only the eye is polished and reinforced to make it easier to thread just about any fabric…a special groove down the front also protects thicker threads from splitting. I would say that if you want an all purpose for your projects, this is your best bet.
Now when it comes to color coding…packaging is color coded for those of us who are unable to read the tiny number printed on the needle packet. It’s a brilliant idea and one you can make use of when organizing your sewing supplies: why not sew yourself a color coded pincushion to ensure you don’t get your needles mixed up in future? Such a mix up could spell disaster if you’re working on a sensitive fabric.
What do the two numbers mean?
So, the two numbers you see on your packaging indicate the size of the shaft of the needle in both measurement systems, European and American. The larger number indicates the metric or European measure and the smaller one indicates the universal or American measure. The larger the numbers, the thicker the needle, go figure. Start with a 70/12 or 80/14 for your general sewing job and then adjust from there…adjusting both in size and type, turning to topstitch for your thicker thread and so on.
The sizes will be found printed on the front of the packaging, right at the bottom. The metric measurement, the 70 or 80 etc…is multiplied by 100 simply to do away with the decimal so that an 80 equals o.8mm shaft diameter and so on, pretty straight forward.
Remember that if you’re working on a finely woven fabric but using a needle that’s not fine enough, you’re going to end up with holes through your fabric and a product that doesn’t say…quality. When it comes to matching thread to needle eye size: you shouldn’t struggle to pass that thread through, it should just pass through with minimum fuss. If you struggle, it’s likely that thread will end up splitting.