Tip: Needle Knowledge – How to Pick the Right Needle

In the past, needle choice was limited to different needle sizes, but the current market offers so many choices, making it overwhelming. Learn the basic needle options to narrow down the choices and make needle selection easier.

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The needle system is denoted on the package by a series of numbers/letters (A). There are many needle systems for commercial machines, but most home machines use the 130/705H system. Check your machine manual for the needle system that your machine uses. The needle system number is listed on all needle packages, regardless of the needle type or use. The needle system number may be followed by a dash and another letter. That letter refers to the needle type, such as 130/705H-J for Jeans or 130/705H-E
for Embroidery.

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(A) Examples of needle numbering.


  • The needle shaft size is denoted by a set of two numbers, such
    as 80/12, on the package. The first number is the European metric number, and the second number is its American equivalent. The larger the number, the larger the needle shaft. Needle sizes range from 60/8 to 120/19. The needle size is also stamped on the rounded side of the shank, along with the needle brand. Use a large magnifying glass to view the size.
  • Choose the needle size according to the project fabric. Heavier fabric requires a larger needle in order to penetrate the heavy fibers. Lightweight fabric requires a smaller needle to avoid leaving large holes in the fabric. The most commonly used sizes are 75/11 or 80/12 for general sewing.
  • Also consider the thread type and size when choosing a needle size. Smaller needles have smaller eyes and are suitable for lightweight thread. Similarly, larger needles have larger eyes and are suitable for heavier, thicker thread.
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Anatomy of a needle.

Needle Tip

There are a variety of needle tip options appropriate for different fabrics. The three most common types are sharp, ballpoint and universal.

  • Sharps have the sharpest point and are used when stitching fabric that’s difficult to penetrate.
  • Ballpoint needles have a slightly rounded tip. Use this needle type when stitching knits, as the point nestles between the fabric yarns instead of cutting them and causing a hole in the fabric.
  • Universal needles are a cross between the two. These all-purpose needles can be used on a variety of fabrics, including woven fabrics and some knits.


  • Different needle types are manufactured to accommodate different thread, fabric or for different applications. The groove and the eye are altered depending on the intended use. There are special needle types for
    many different kinds of sewing and thread.
  • The long needle groove cradles and protects the thread as it travels down to the needle eye. The groove must be large and deep enough to accommodate the chosen thread, or thread breakage may occur.
  • The needle eye must also be large enough to accommodate the thread. The shape may be elongated or enlarged depending on the specific use and thread it’s designed for. Reference your machine manual for specific needle suggestions.

Embroidery Needles

  • Always use a high-quality needle. This is especially important for machine embroidery because of the high speed of the machine.
  • Use needles designed specifically for machine embroidery. Embroidery needles have a slightly rounded point and a larger eye to accommodate the thread as it moves rapidly back and forth through the eye. This helps prevent thread shredding and breakage.
  • Embroidery needles are available in sizes ranging from 65/9 to 90/14. As with sewing, use a smaller needle for lightweight fabrics and a larger needle for heavier fabrics. The most commonly used sizes are 80/12 and 75/11.
  • Purchase ballpoint embroidery needles when embroidering knit fabrics. The rounded tip slides between the knit yarns instead of cutting them as a universal embroidery needle could. This is especially important when embroidering on a lower-quality knit fabric. You might not notice the difference during embroidery, but when the garment is washed and worn, small holes or runs may appear around the design perimeter.
  • Some embroidery needles, such as Organ Titanium Coated Embroidery Needles, have a special coating that helps keep the needle tips intact. They’re more expensive than a standard embroidery needle, but last considerably longer. These needles work well when embroidering with adhesive-backed stabilizers, as the coating prevents the adhesive from adhering to the needle. However, continue to check periodically (at least during each thread change) to see if a ball of adhesive has formed on the needle blade/shaft. Clean the adhesive from the needle using a cotton swab slightly moistened with alcohol or water.

Good To Know

  • Consider the following guidelines when deciding how often to change a needle.
  • In general, change the needle for every four to six hours of embroidery time. Change needles more often if embroidering heavyweight
  • Change the needle any time the threads in the design appear less than desirable.
  • Change the needle before embroidering on lightweight or sheer fabric. A burred needle could damage the delicate fabric.
  • If you experience thread breakage or fraying, first try rethreading the needle. If the thread breaks again, change the needle.
  • If thread loops appear on the fabric right side, change the needle.
  • Change the needle immediately if you hear any unusual or popping sounds.

Written by: Kay Hickman, Creative Machine Embroidery

Klassé carries sewing machine needles: klasse.com.
Organ Needle Co. carries sewing machine needles:
Schmetz provided the jeans, jersey, embroidery
& metallic needles: schmetz.com.

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