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Choosing the Best Embroidery Machine Needle – Tutorial

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Today’s beginner machine embroidery tutorial will show you how to choose the best machine embroidery needle for your project.  Why is this important? Because choosing a compatible embroidery needle is up there with picking the right embroidery stabilizer, hooping fabric correctly, and choosing the best machine embroidery thread!  All of these aspects play a part in producing a professional-appearing finished product that you’ll actually want to display in your home or gift to friends.  And, sometimes troubleshooting a failed embroidery project may be as easy as re-evaluating your needle choice.

Several factors play a part in choosing the best machine embroidery needle, such as fabric weave and density, stabilizer type, and even thread selection.  While there are no hard and fast rules and you’ll go through some trial and error, this general guide will help lead you through the selection process.

And as a note, I’ll be focusing on machine embroidery needles rather than sewing machine needles.  If you are looking to learn more about sewing machine needle types, check out my guide to sizes and types of sewing machine needles.  It comes with an awesome printable chart, too!

Parts of an Embroidery Needle

Parts of a Sewing Machine 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.

Not pictured is the short groove called the scarf, which allows a sewing machine hook to pick up the needle thread and form a stitch.

Sewing Machine Needle vs Embroidery Machine Needle

Thread sewing machine needle from front to back through eye

While you can use sewing machine needles for machine embroidery, embroidery needles are specifically designed for optimal success with most embroidery projects.  

So 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 switching simply from a sewing needle to an embroidery needle can decrease thread shredding and get rid of other issues you may be experiencing!

Machine Embroidery Needle Sizes Explained

While you can find embroidery needles in a large range of sizes if you look hard enough (around 70/10 to 110/18), the most common are 75/11, 80/12, and 90/14.  So 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.

EuropeanAmericanHow It’s Written
701070/10
751175/11
801280/12
901490/14
10016100/16
11018110/18

Unless I know my project will require a thicker needle, I almost always start with a 75/11 embroidery needle.  Thicker needles leave larger holes in the fabric when embroidering, so I like to start small and increase size only if needed.

Embroidery Needle Point Shapes

machine embroidery tip types

There are three main types of point shapes you’ll find on embroidery needles: universal, sharp, and ballpoint.  Sharp embroidery needles have the sharpest point and penetrate through dense, woven fabrics.  Ballpoint embroidery needles, on the other hand, have a rounded point that pushes aside fibers of knit fabrics rather than piercing and damaging them.  Universal embroidery needles have a point that’s slightly rounded and falls in between the other two types.  As such, universal needles work well on woven fabrics and stretchy, knit fabrics.

Unless your project obviously requires otherwise (for instance, metallic thread), consider starting with a universal embroidery needle.  This is by far the most common type of embroidery machine needle.

If you need a sharp or ballpoint embroidery needle and can’t find one, you can always switch to a sharp or ballpoint sewing machine needle.  In general, you’ll want to start with a larger sized sewing machine (compared to an embroidery needle) to make sure the needle eye is large enough to accommodate your embroidery thread without too much friction.

Sometimes projects with a water-soluble topping or very dense woven fabrics will need a sharp needle to pierce well; so, if you’re having problems, it might be worth searching out a sharp embroidery needle or even a sharp sewing machine needle if a universal needle isn’t performing well.

Machine Embroidery Needle Coatings and Finishes

Schmetz Gold Titanium Embroidery Needles Size 75/11, 5 CountSome specialized embroidery machine needles have a gold or titanium coating on the point and shaft.  These needles penetrate dense fabrics better and generally last up to 5 times longer than their counterparts.  They hold their point shape better over longer periods of use and also heat up less from the friction that comes from high-speed stitching.  You can use them with any fabric types, but they are more expensive than other embroidery needles.

They’re also great for adhesive stabilizers, which can be a bit more difficult to penetrate and can result in a gummy build-up on your regular needle.

Brands of Embroidery Machine Needles

Brother SAEMB 20-Piece 75/11 and 90/14 Machine Embroidery Needles 15x1STMy two favorite brands of machine embroidery needles are Schmetz and Organ.  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, on the other hand, makes a larger range of sizes and point types and also has titanium-coated embroidery needles.  However, their needles are more difficult to find in big-box craft stores.  You’ll have to shop in sewing shops or purchase online.

I highly recommend both brands!

How to Choose the Best Machine Embroidery Needle – Tutorial

best machine embroidery needles

As I’ve mentioned along the way, selecting the proper embroidery needle involves choosing the right point type, needle size, and needle material.  So let’s go through the process of choosing a needle to help you learn how to do it.

1. Choose a Needle Size

First, think of the material you are going to be embroidering.  Thick and very 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.  In doubt?  75/11 is a great starting place.

Second, consider the thread you will be using. Thicker thread (smaller wt number) needs a thicker needle that has a bigger eye.  Thinner thread (larger wt) works better with a thinner needle and smaller eye.  In general, embroidery threads are thicker than sewing threads, so that’s why the eyes of embroidery machine needles are more elongated than sewing needles.  Make sure your thread is going to slide through the eye of the needle size that you just picked based on your fabric density.  If it won’t adjust sizes.

Lastly, make sure your needle size will work with your design.  If you’re doing 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’re going to be embroidering.  Most stretchy, knit fabrics work well with a ballpoint or universal.  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.  In doubt?  Try a universal embroidery needle first.  If you don’t think any type of embroidery needle will work with your project, you can choose a sewing machine needle with a compatible point as well.  (Metallic threads and glow-in-the-dark threads will need a topstitch needle or metallic needle, for instance.)

Next, consider your stabilizer selection.  If you’re using water-soluble topping, you might need to switch to a sharp needle to get the best penetration.

3. Specialized Needle Coating

While there’s not much downside to using specially coated needles all time except price, there are some instances where you may be best served with that titanium- or gold-coated needle.  Consider a specially coated needle if you’re embroidering thick, dense fabrics like denim or canvas or if you’re using a sticky, self-adhesive stabilizer.

machine embroidery needles sizes and types

A Few More Suggestions

  1. Make sure you read your user manual to determine if the shank of a needle will fit with your machine before purchasing.  Most home-use embroidery machines will work with the typical flat shank, but some commercial machines use round shanked needles.
  2. Check your user manual to also determine the sizes of embroidery needles that aren’t compatible.  Some manufacturers recommend not embroidering with larger than a 90/14 needle.
  3. Make sure to change the needle frequently to ensure 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 aim to change at least every 10 hours of active stitching.
  4. Store your needle back in its original case if you need to switch it out and it’s not too old.  This way you can remember what size and type of needle it was and you don’t have to worry about dulling the point if you store it loosely in a box with others.

Choosing the Best Machine Embroidery Needle – Conclusion

I hope you learned more about machine embroidery needles and how to choose the type and size that will produce the best results with your project.  If you’re new to embroidery and feel overwhelmed, be patient, practice, and you’ll soon find yourself embroidering like a pro!

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