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How To Choose The Right Sewing Machine Needle

I often share sewing tutorials here on Torie Jayne and my second book 'Torie Jayne's Stylish Home Sewing' is packed full of over 35 sewing projects for the home. So this year I thought it time to share lots of sewing tips and advice.

Maybe you're new to sewing or a bit rusty around the edges? Well I hope over the next few months to help you learn new techniques like how to make your own binding and get down to some basics like 'how to choose the right sewing machine needle'.


The correct size and type of sewing machine needle is essential to produce a good quality stitch, they can literally make or break your stitching. When the wrong needle is used you may get stitching that puckers, skips or the thread and needle may break.

Needle Size

Your first question is probably 'what are those numbers I see on my needle or on all those packets and packets of needles in the shop?' Basically you will see two sets of numbers one over the other ie 70/10, 80/12 . These numbers refer to the size of the needle and you really only need to pay attention to one of them.

The larger of the two numbers is the needle size according to the European numbering system. European sizes range from 60 to 120; 60 is a very fine, thin needle and 120 is a very thick, heavy needle. Some companies list American first, some list European first.

The smaller number is the needle size according to the American numbering system. The American system uses 8 to 19. So 8 is a very fine, thin needle and 19 is a very thick, heavy needle.

Depending on your location you may only see one number.

The different size needles have been designed for optimal sewing on different weights of fabric.

Needle Style

As well as the size of your needle you will want to consider what type. Consider fabric weight, thickness, weave type (woven or knit), weave density (close weave or loose weave) and composition (natural fibre or synthetic). If your sewing project involves general sewing or overlocking, base your needle choice on the characteristics of the fabric you are sewing with. For example use a leather needle for leather, stretch needle for lycra or elasticated fabrics and a universal needle for most other woven fabrics.

If your project or thread is specialised, choose your needle based on that rather than fabric type e.g. embroidery, quilting and twin needle work have a specific needle.

Breaking Needles

Machine needles are designed to break for the protection of the sewing machine hook mechanism. If a needle bends - do not sew with it. When a machine needle breaks, it is a warning to check the following:
Is the needle type and size correct for the fabric?
Is the thread too thick or unsuitable for the needle size and application?
Is the upper thread feeding freely?
Are the thread tensions set too tight?
Does the machine need cleaning?
Is the correct presser foot fitted?
Is the correct sewing technique being used?
Is the fabric being pulled, pushed or dragged during sewing?

How-to step by step

  • Sewing machine needle Anatomy-01

    Step 1

    Shank: The upper end of the needle, which is inserted into the machine. Shaft: The body of the needle below the shank. This will vary in thickness depending on the size of the needle. Front Groove: This groove, located on the front of the shaft, acts as the last thread guide before the thread goes through the eye of the needle. Scarf: The short indentation above the eye of the needle. It allows the hook on your bobbin case to get close to the eye of the needle so it can catch the thread loop and form the stitch. Eye: The hole at the end of the needle through which the thread passes. Tip: The shank on a domestic needle is rounded at the front and flat at the back - remember this when you insert the needle into the machine.

  • Needle style

    Step 2

    See the above illustration to see how the sewing machine needle styles differ

  • Needle style - Universal & Sharps

    Step 3

    Universal - Ideal for most woven fabrics, most knits and synthetics. Available in sizes 60/8, 70/10, 75/11, 80/12, 90/14, 100/16, 110/8 120/20 and assorted fine heavy and medium mixes. Sharps/Microfibre - Ideal for silk, microfibre fabrics and densely woven fabrics. The sharp point is designed for perfect straight stitching in top-stitching and button-holes. Available in sizes: 60/8, 70/10, 80/12, 90/14 and assorted mix.


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