Everything You Need to Know About Sewing Machine Needles

  • 01 of 09

    The Parts of a Sewing Machine Needle

    Labeled parts of a sewing machine needle
    Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to About.com

    Sewing machine needles are the most changeable part of your sewing machine and they can change how your machine forms stitches. Understanding how the parts of a sewing machine needlework will help you choose the correct size for the fabric and thread you are sewing with. Understanding the sizing information on the needle packages will help you purchase the correct size.

    All sewing machine needles have the same basic parts. The variation in needles is caused by the shape of the parts and the length of the parts.


    • The upper thick part of a sewing machine needle is called the shank. This part of the needle is inserted into the machine. Home sewing machine needles are composed of a flat and a round side to assist in always having the needle in the correct position.
    • Always refer to your sewing machine manual for the correct way to insert the needle in your machine.
    • Industrial machine needles have a completely round shaft, and the groove is used to know which direction to put a new needle in the machine.


    • The shaft of a sewing machine needle is the area from the bottom of the shank to the point. The shaft contains the groove, scarf, eye, and point of the needle.


    • A groove is along the side of the needle leading to the eye, and act as a place for the thread to lay into the needle.
    • Use your fingernail and feel the groove of the needle on various sizes to understand why a different size thread would be needed for a heavier thread.


    • The scarf is a groove out of one side of the needle. The scarf allows the bobbin case hook to intersect with the upper thread and form stitches.


    • The eye of the needle carries the thread so the machine can keep forming stitches.
    • The size of the eye can vary and works in conjunction with the groove of the needle.
    • Using a needle with an eye that is too small or too large can cause your thread to shred and break.


    • The point of the needle is the first contact with the fabric and responsible for how the needle pierces the fabric.
    • The most common types of point are sharps, ballpoint s, and universal.
      • Sharp needles are for all woven fabric. The sharp point is especially helpful when sewing straight lines and tasks such as tops stitching.
      • Ballpoint needles are designed for knit fabric so that the point glides between the loops of a knit fabric without disturbing the fibers that make up the fabric. Ballpoint needles do not form as straight stitching as sharp needles. The non-straight stitching is more apt to stretch with the fabric.
      • Universal needles can be used with woven or knit fabric. The point of a universal needle is sharp yet very slightly rounded, giving it the characteristics of a sharp and a ballpoint needle. If you are not happy with the stitches your machine is forming, try switching the needle to either a ballpoint or sharp.
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  • 02 of 09

    Sewing Machine Needle Sizes

    Sewing Machine Needle Size Chart
    Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to About.com

    Understanding the numbers associated with sewing machine Needles will help you make the correct choice and possibly solve machine problems.

    All the numbers associated with sewing machine needles can stop you in your tracks. It's a simple labeling system; the confusion comes in because they are using a European and American labeling system.

    • The American system uses 8 to 19, 8 being a fine needle and 19 being a thick heavy needle.
    • European sizes range from 60 to 120, 60 being a fine needle and 120 being a thick heavy needle.

    Now let's look at fabric associated with needle size:

    • Think of a fine sheer window curtain. You will need a fine needle such as an 8/60 needle. Using a 19/120 would leave holes in the fabric.​
    • Now let's look at heavy upholstery fabric. If you were to try and sew through upholstery fabric with an 8/60 needle, it would bend or break. Using a 19/120 provides a needle strong enough to penetrate the fabric and carry a thread strong enough for this type of fabric.
    • Now let's look at a combination; you have a lightweight fabric but you want to do a heavy top-stitching detail with heavy thread. Normally the heavy thread would call for you to use a heavy needle such as a 120/19, but that would leave holes in your fabric. Now you would experiment with a needle that falls somewhere in the middle such as an 80/12.

    Always test your thread and fabric combination on scraps of fabric rather than the item you are working on. Consider the needle as dangerous as a pair of scissors going into your fabric.

    You may find a needle size listed as 90/14 or 14/90. The order of the numbers does not affect the size.

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  • 03 of 09

    Handicap or Self-Threading Needles

    Photo of a self-threading sewing machine needle with a close up of the eye area of the needle.
    Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to About.com

    The perfect solution for someone who has difficulty threading a needle.

    Handicap or Self-Threading Needles are needles that have an ever-so-slight slit in the side of the needle at the eye of the needle. Sliding the thread against the side of the needle allows the thread to slide into the eye of the needle.

    Self-threading needles are not available in all types of points and are only available in sizes 80/12 and 90/14.

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  • 04 of 09

    Twin and Triple Sewing Machine Needles

    Photo of an assortment of twin and triple or drilling sewing machine needles.
    Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to About.com

    Twin and triple needles open a new world for decorative sewing.

    Twin and triple needles are attached to a single shank by way of a crossbar. These needles are perfect for evenly spaced rows of stitching.

    To use these needles your machine should have zigzag capability and a throat plate that has a hole wide enough for the needle. You cannot zigzag with the multiple needles in the machine. More than one thread spool holder is required so that each needle has its own thread source. The threads usually follow the original threading pattern, as one thread and then are threaded into each needle. Your sewing machine manual is the best resource for operating your sewing machine with multiple sewing machine needles.

    The numbers on the packages for these needles is slightly different than regular sewing machine needles. The first number is the space or distance between the needles. The second number is the needle size.

    Triple needles are labeled Drilling Needles.

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  • 05 of 09

    Stretch Needles

    A photo of stretch sewing machine needles.
    Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to About.com

    Skipped stitches on knits can be solved with this needle.

    A stretch needle is a last-resort needle when ballpoint needles still leave skipped stitches. Many people will not attempt sewing Lycra and swimwear without a stretch needle.

    Sizes Available: 11/75 and 90/14

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  • 06 of 09

    Wing Sewing Machine Needles

    A photo of a wing Needle.
    Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to About.com

    When you're ready to try your hand at heirloom details, this needle is a must have.

    A wing needle is used for heirloom sewing. The sides of the wing needle shank are flared and create openwork stitching on woven fabrics.

    Sizes Available: 16/100 and 19/120

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  • 07 of 09

    Leather Sewing Machine Needles

    A photo of a leather sewing machine needle.
    Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to About.com

    Sewing leather is not challenging when you have a machine and needle that can handle the job.

    The point of a leather needle is wedge-shaped so that it penetrates leather and other heavy non-woven fabrics.

    Sizes Available: 11/75 and 14/90

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  • 08 of 09

    Denim/Jeans Sewing Machine Needle

    A photo of a Denim/Jeans sewing machine needle.
    Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to About.com

    Denim needles aren't only for sewing denim.

    These needles have an extra sharp point and stiff shank, making it a strong needle for sewing tough fabrics and many layers of fabric.

    Sizes Available: 10/70 through 18/110

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  • 09 of 09

    Embroidery Sewing Machine Needle

    A photo of a machine embroidery sewing machine needle.
    Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to About.com

    This needle is designed to handle dense machine embroidery stitching.

    Machine Embroidery needles are specifically designed to sew dense embroidery designs without shredding machine embroidery thread, such as rayon and polyester thread.

    Sizes Available: 11/75 and 14/90