Which Sewing Machine Needle Should I Use?

An easy to follow guide to help you decide which sewing machine needle to use (downloadable for quick reference!)  Even when you have been sewing for quite a while, there is a temptation to just get the machine out and crack on with your latest lovely project without giving too much thought to what needle you are using.  But a little care and attention here can make a big difference to the result you get.

But the topic of needles can be a bit overwhelming, there seem to be loads to chose from!

So here follows a basic guide…

Essentially, you need to consider two things when choosing which needle to use; needle size, and needle type.   Generally speaking, the finer or lighter the fabric, the smaller the needle size you need.  So sheer and lightweight fabrics would require a size 70/10, where as thick upholstery fabric would require a size 110/18.  And don’t let the double numbers confuse you, this is just referring to both European and American terms (European sizes range from 60-110, American sizes from 8-18).

Different types of needle are designed in slightly different ways, for example Ballpoint needles have a rounded end, Top-stitch  needles have a slightly larger eye.  These qualities enable them to cope better with certain fabric-types.  If you want to understand the science behind this, read on for further details towards the end of this post.  If not, just take my word for it and use the following chart to chose accordingly.

And remember, no guide can tell you exactly what needle you need for your particular fabric/project/machine.  But they can give you a good indication of what to use, and if you experience problems like puckering or missed stitches, you can go on to try a slightly different needle size or type.

The following guide gives you an over-view to work from, and you can download it here for quick reference when in front of your sewing machine.


If you love to sew, why not sign up to my Creative Sewing Challenge?  You’ll receive a new prompt each month to inspire your sewing.  Sign up below, or find out more here.

And if you’ve kept reading to this part, it means you’d like a bit more information to understand the rationale behind all of things needle-related, no problem!

Sharps are, as you might suspect, particularly sharp and pointy at the end, so can penetrate closely woven fibres nice and easily.  Ballpoint (or Jersey) needles have a rounded end, this means they can slip between fibres, moving them apart rather than cutting through.

Now its gets a little more complicated, because Stretch needles do a very similar job to ballpoint needles, and are designed to serve a very similar purpose.  The difference here is that, in addition to the rounded end, they have a coating (called a scarf) which enables them to slip between tricky fibres and separate them, avoiding any nasty pulling.

Ballpoint and Stretch needles are easy to mix up, and you’ll come across advice about when to use them that can get a bit confusing.  My approach is to remember Stretch needles tend to be best for fabric designed specifically to do exactly that – stretch!  So think aerobics and swimwear ie. lycras and body stocking type fabrics.  However, there are no hard and fast rules, really its just about trying out which one works best for your particular project.

Leather needles have a spear-like shape to them, enabling them to cut the fabric as the stitch is being made.  Denim needles are shaped so that they enter the fabric at a slight angle, which reduces the tension when working with layers of particularly dense fabric (and avoids those horrid broken needles we all encounter from time to time).

If you’ve ever tried sewing with metalic thread you will know just how tricky this can be.  It’s beautiful but very tricky.  Metafil needles have a larger eye, which enables you to work with slightly thicker threads such as these, making the whole thing much easier.  Topstitch needles are designed in a similar way, along with a sharper point, making them ideal for working with layers fabrics for a topstitched finish.

Quilting needles are sharp, strong and slightly shorter than other needles, making them ideal for working with layers of cotton and wadding.  Twin and Triple needles are for decorative stitching such as pin tucks – not all sewing machines have the facility for this though so they may not be a needle you’ll be using right now.

And I’ve not even mentioned that old favourite, the Universal needle, designed to cope with most situations.  And the Microtex needle is very similar.  Kind of makes you wonder why we need the rest!  Well, the truth is there are no hard and fast rules, just some very good principles from which to make an informed decision about what will be best for your next sewing project.  I tend to use all this information as an initial guide, and take it from there.  With a bit of a practice on some scraps of your chosen material before you start you’ll be able to find the best needle for your particular project.

So there you have it!  If you made it to the end, thanks for hanging in there, and if you found this useful please do share my pin on Pinterest.