Sewing machine needles are identified by two numbers and a letter, such as 90/14 H. The first number is the European number, and the second is the American number. The higher the number, the thicker the fabric needs to be. The letter will tell you what kind of point it has. Typically H is a very sharp point that will work for any type of woven fabric. Here are some examples of what works best with certain kinds of fabric.

Chiffon, Silk, or Georgette 65/9 H These types of fabric also require embroidery thread that is 100% cotton. When sewing with these fabrics, pull the fabric taut while going through the machine. Your stitch length should also be very small. Try it at a two.
Denim 100/16 HJ The HJ means that the needle has a very sharp point
Fake Fur 80/12 H
Knit 75/11 HS The HS means that the needle has a rounded point so it won't tear or run the knit fabric.
Lightweight Cotton 70/10 H
Linen 80/12 H
Lycra 80/12 H SUK This needle is the only needle that will effectively work with Lycra.
Microfiber 70/10 HM Patterns should never be placed on the grain of microfiber. You are guaranteed to have puckered seams. Instead, shift the pattern slightly on the fabric (SEWN3).
Polar Fleece 75/11 HS
Upholstery Fabric 90/14 H
Velvet 80/12 H
Topstitching 90/14 N These are usually twin needles and are color-coded. A blue needle can be used with knits, and a red needle should be used for woven fabrics.
Elastic 74/11 HS Use a knit needle to topstitch a waistband. This will prolong the elastic.
Rayon Thread Embroidery - large hole For shiny rayon thread, use an embroidery needle.
Embroidery needles have a large eye and can be used with the delicate metallic thread.
Hand Sewing Sharps or Betweens Use sharps or betweens when hand-sewing; you don't want a big hole in the fabric!
Heirloom Wing Needle A wing needle is very fat and will go in and out of the same hole. It's perfect for the hem stitch or for heirloom sewing. Use a small thread such as a 60 to 70 weight or a thin rayon fabric.

Run a needle across a pair of old nylons to test it's sharpness. If the needle tears the nylons, then it's time to get a new needle.

Nina Kay Milenius (Donovan)
Sewing Expert, Viking Sewing Machines
Inc. / Husqvarna, Viking and White
3100 Viking Parkway
Westlake, OH 44145
Toll-Free: 800-446-2333
Fax: 440-847-0001
Web site:
sewing machine - Viking
Sew Perfect Episode SEW-620

From the Nursing Mothers' Sewing List

Subject: [NMSL] needle primer (was Re: Lots of q's)

Universal needles are a compromise between sharps and ball points. They are alleged to sew on both wovens and knits, but I have found that they don't sew either very well. They are ok in a pinch, but you will get much better and more reliable results by using the correct needle rather than a hybrid. So far I've never found a double needle in a ball point, so you have to compromise if you want to do the faux coverstitch.

Now on to the primer:

In general, you use a bigger needle for heavier fabric and a smaller needle for finer fabric. So for example:

70/9 for things like very sheer fabrics--these would be any fabrics you would choose finer threads for, microfibers come to mind 80/11 for lightweight things like taffeta, lawn, voile, chiffon, some silks, etc

90/14 for medium weight fabrics such as linen, poplin, some terrys, quilting cottons, velvet, heavier silks, etc.

100/16 for heavyweights such as denim, duck, drapery, suitings, some corduroys, etc.

110/18 for really heavy denims, duck, etc--topstitching--multiple layers

You use a regular point for wovens--these needles pierce the fibers--and a ball point for knits (because you don't want to piece the yarns)--the ball point slides between the fibers. does it make a difference? yes--as an example, with a ball point needle you can sew hosiery without making runs.

There are also special needles for things like leather--embroidery--metallic threads--quilting. Until you use the proper needle for your project, you won't realize what a difference it can make. For example, a leather/denim needle is triangle shaped at the point, which makes a bigger hole with a better shape to prevent the threads from being rubbed ragged and breaking.

Metafil or metallic needles have a long scarf groove and a much bigger eye, making it possible for the threads to pass thru with the least friction (with friction, the metallic threads heat up and eventually snap).

Then there are things like wing needles, which are designed to leave really big holes that make designs in the fabric, these are used a lot in heirloom sewing--double and triple needles for decorative work--the list goes on.

As for how often to change needles, some people say to start with a new needle for each project. i'm not sure that's really necessary, it depends on how much sewing you do and what fabrics you're working with. In general, I think I change needles about every 4-6 hours of sewing (not the total time spent on the project, for our purposes you count only the time the needle is actually moving! After all, when you're cutting or pinning or pressing, the needle isn't getting used).

Do yourself a treat, the next time Jo-Ann's (or your local shop) has a half-price sale, stock up on needles so you can have the right one on hand when you need it. Then go the remnant bin, pick out a piece of each type of fabric, and practice sewing on it with your new needles, you'll see for yourself what they do and then you can decide how often you change and what type of needle will work best for your projects.

"rowena___. in music city USA
RoStitchery Custom Sewing and Quilting

[e-mail:Jen] Jennifer
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This page was last modified Monday, 01-Mar-2004 16:38:02 PST