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How do you choose the best machine embroidery needle for your project?
By considering the fabric weave and density, stabilizer type, and even thread selection, you can choose a needle that will help you stitch gorgeous embroidery designs.
So, why is the right needle important?
Because it’s just as important as choosing the right embroidery supplies and hooping your project correctly! All of these small factors play a part in producing professional-appearing finished products that you’ll actually want to display or gift.
Want to learn more about the types of embroidery needles? Learn how to pick the best machine embroidery needle with this in-depth guide.
Parts of an Embroidery Needle
While this is my sewing machine needle in the image above, the parts are the same on an embroidery needle.
- The fat, top part of the needle is called the shank and is inserted into your machine with the flat portion facing the back.
- Then comes the shaft, which is the round part with a groove through which the thread travels.
- Then comes the eye of the needle, which is the small hole near the point, or tip, of the needle where the thread passes through.
Not pictured is the short groove called the scarf, which allows the machine hook to pick up the thread to form a stitch.
Sewing vs. Embroidery Machine Needle
While you can use sewing machine needles for machine embroidery, embroidery needles are specifically designed for optimal success with embroidery projects.
What’s the difference between a sewing machine needle and an embroidery needle?
Embroidery needles have an elongated eye, widened groove, and a special scarf to accommodate embroidery thread. The larger eye decreases friction from the thread, which decreases thread breakage and shredding.
Sometimes, simply switching to an embroidery needle can fix embroidery issues! And, in other cases, selecting a sewing needle will do the same. (If you want to learn more about sewing needles, check out my guide to sizes and types of sewing machine needles.)
Embroidery Machine Needle Sizes Explained
While you can find embroidery needles in a large range of sizes if you look hard enough (around 65/9 to 110/18), the most common are 75/11, 80/12, and 90/14.
What do embroidery needle sizes mean?
The first number is the European size followed by a second number, the American size.
The larger the numbers, the thicker the shaft of the needle, the thicker threads it can accommodate, and the thicker, denser fabric it can penetrate. The reverse applies to smaller needle numbers.
Here’s a quick size chart.
|European||American||How It’s Written|
Unless I know my project will require a thick needle, I start with a 75/11 embroidery needle. Thicker needles leave larger holes in the fabric when embroidering, so start small and increase size only if needed.
Needle Tip Shapes
There are three different types of point shapes on machine embroidery needles: universal, sharp, and ballpoint.
Sharp embroidery needles have the sharpest point and penetrate through dense, woven fabrics. Sometimes projects with water-soluble topping also need a sharp needle to pierce well.
Ballpoint embroidery needles, on the other hand, have a rounded point that pushes aside fibers of knit fabrics rather than piercing and damaging them. Sometimes sharp and ballpoint embroidery needles are difficult to find, so you might be better off using a sewing needle.
The most common type, universal embroidery needles have a slightly rounded point that falls between the other two types. As such, universal needles work well on woven fabrics and stretchy, knit fabrics.
Unless the embroidery needle package designates otherwise, most generic machine embroidery needles are universal.
And, unless your project obviously requires otherwise (for instance, metallic thread), start with a universal embroidery needle.
Coatings and Finishes
Some embroidery machine needles have a gold or titanium coating on the point and shaft.
Coated needles penetrate dense fabrics better and last up to 5 times longer than their counterparts. This is because they maintain their point shape over longer periods of use and heat up less from the friction from high-speed stitching.
You can use them with any fabric type, but they are more expensive than uncoated needles.
Titanium or gold-coated needles are also great for adhesive stabilizers, which can be more difficult for universal needles to penetrate without getting a gummy build-up.
Brands of Embroidery Machine Needles
Schmetz makes universal embroidery needles in sizes 75/11 and 90/14 and with an optional gold/titanium coating. These are easy to find online and in your local craft store.
Organ embroidery needles, on the other hand, include a larger range of sizes and point types. They also make titanium-coated embroidery needles. However, their needles are more difficult to find in big-box craft stores but are available online or in sewing shops.
How to Choose the Best Machine Embroidery Needle
As mentioned, selecting the best embroidery needle involves choosing the point type, needle size, and needle material. Let’s go through the process of choosing a needle to help you learn how to do it yourself!
1. Choose a Needle Size.
First, consider the material you are going to embroider.
- Thick and dense like wool or canvas? Start with 90/14.
- Light or mediumweight like quilting cotton? Try 75/11.
- Very lightweight and delicate like voile, chiffon, or crepe? Maybe even a 70/10 or 65/9.
- Have no idea? 75/11 is a great starting place.
Second, check if your thread choice will work with that needle size. If it won’t adjust sizes.
- Thicker thread (smaller wt number) needs a thicker needle with a bigger eye. For 30 wt thread, I like to size up to 80/12.
- Thinner thread (larger wt) works better with a thinner needle and smaller eye. Using 60 wt thread? You might have better luck with that 70/10 needle.
Lastly, make sure your needle size will work with your embroidery design. If stitching a very intricate, detailed design, consider a smaller, sharper needle that will make smaller needle holes more precisely.
2. Choose a Needle Point Type.
First, think about the fabric you will embroider.
- Most stretchy, knit fabrics work well with a ballpoint or universal needle point.
- Most woven fabrics work well with a universal or sharp needle.
- Very dense, very thick fabrics (denim, canvas, vinyl) may need that sharp needle to penetrate. (Using a small, ballpoint needle on these fabrics is one of many reasons an embroidery machine needle keeps breaking.)
In doubt? Try a universal embroidery needle first.
If an embroidery needle won’t work with your project, choose a sewing machine needle with a compatible point.
For instance, metallic threads and glow-in-the-dark threads need a topstitch or metallic needle. (Learn more about how to embroider with metallic threads and how to use glow-in-the-dark embroidery threads!)
In general, when using a sewing needle in lieu of an embroidery needle, start with a larger-sized sewing needle to make sure the needle eye is large enough to accommodate your embroidery thread without friction.
Next, consider your stabilizer selection. If your universal needle isn’t puncturing, you might need a sharp needle.
3. Decide On a Coating.
While there’s no downside (except price) to using specially coated needles all the time, some instances call for titanium- or gold-coated needles. I like specially coated needles when I’m embroidering on super thick, dense fabrics like denim or canvas, especially if I’m using a sticky, self-adhesive stabilizer.
Other Needle Troubleshooting Advice
If you are looking for an aid for selecting the best machine embroidery needle, I highly recommend Deborah Jones’ Embroiderer’s Compass (below).
It’s a two-sided resource that suggests the best embroidery stabilizer and correct needle choice for a variety of fabrics. It’s small and a great resource for beginner embroiderers.
That being said, here are a few other needle troubleshooting tips for your embroidery machine:
- Read your user manual to determine if the shank of a needle will fit with your machine before purchasing. Most home-use embroidery machines work with the typical flat shank, but some commercial machines use round-shank needles. Also, some home embroidery machines recommend not embroidering with larger than a 90/14 needle.
- Change the needle frequently for accurate stitching. Thread breakage or poor penetration could be due to a bent, dull, or nicked needle. Everyone’s idea of the proper time to change a needle differs, but I change mine at least every 10 hours of active stitching.
- Store your needle back in its original case or an appropriate needle storage area if you need to temporarily switch it out. This way you can remember what size and type of needle it was and you don’t have to worry about dulling the point from storing it loosely in a box with others.
I hope you learned more about machine embroidery needles and how to choose the type and size that will produce the best results for your project.
If you’re new to embroidery and feel overwhelmed, be patient and practice, and you’ll soon find yourself embroidering like a pro! (That, and read my article on how to use an embroidery machine.)