In yesterday’s post we talked about the Anatomy of a Sewing Machine Needle and how all those parts work together to create stitches. For the best sewing quality possible, you’ll want to use the right needle for the job. Let’s take a look at the types and sizes of needles available. There are hundreds of variations of sewing machine needles, so how do you choose from the myriad of options? Needles are selected according to the needle system required for the sewing machine, the type of needle for the fabric, and the needle size for the thread. Taking the selection process one step at a time is an easy way to determine which needle you need.
Step 1: Needle System
The needle system refers to which needles will fit in which sewing machines. This is determined by the shape of the needle shank. Check your owner’s manual to see which system your sewing machine needs. Home sewing machines use a flat shank, System 130 needle. Here is a chart of the needle systems required in our Sailrite sewing machines: If you own another machine, you might find your needle system in this PDF.
Step 2: Needle Type
The Needle Type refers to the point and tip of the needle. This is where the fabric you are sewing comes into consideration. There are many variations on these needle types and you can find a specific needle for almost any application, but here is a basic overview of some common needle types.
Ball Point: Ball points are a specialty needle designed for sewing knit fabrics and stretchy materials. The blunt point preserves the elasticity of the fabric, because it passes between the fabric’s fibers rather than cutting through them.
DI Leather: This is a specialty needle designed for working with dry, heavy, or hard leather. The diamond shaped blade of the DI Leather Needle cuts the tough fibers so the needle doesn’t have to separate them.
SD1: This is another specialty needle designed for sewing fine leather goods such a gloves or clothing. It also works well for heavy sailcloth assemblies. The SD1 needle is similar to the DI Leather Needle but it has a smaller cutting point that cuts and pushes the fabric out of the way.
Serv7: This needle has an optimized scarf shape that makes it perfect for sewing through heavy fabrics. The Serv7 needle features a reinforced blade to help avoid skipped stitches and reduce needle breakage. This needle is recommended for use with Tenara threads.
Step 3: Needle Size
The size of a needle is determined by the diameter of its blade and is calculated by taking the diameter of the blade in millimeters times 100. For example, a needle with a .80 mm diameter is size 80. Needles sizes are either listed by the diameter (ex. size 80), the numerical “size” equivalent (ex. #12) or both. For context, a #12 (80) needle is small and a #22 (140) is a very large needle. The size of the needle you want should correlate with the fabric you are sewing. A thicker, heavier fabric will require a larger needle than a lightweight sheer. For a general reference, you can use this chart:
|Fabric||Needle Size||Thread Size|
|Lightweight||10 – 12||Home Threads / V-30|
|Medium-weight||14 – 16||V-46 / V-69 / Upholstery Thread|
|Heavyweight||18 – 20||V-92 / PTFE Threads|
|Very Heavyweight||21 – 23||V-138 / Heavy PTFE Threads|
For more specific recommendations, you can use our Thread and Needle Recommendation Guide, which makes needle recommendations based on fabric choice, organized by brand. With your needles chosen, now all that’s left to do is notice when you need a new needle and install it in your sewing machine. Check back tomorrow for the third and final post in this series: How to Change a Sewing Machine Needle.
This post was updated May 21, 2014.