How to Change A Sewing Machine Needle Step-By-Step

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There are so many occasions when you will need to change your sewing machine needle!  I change my needle daily when I switch between fabric types and at least weekly when I’m working on new projects.

If you’re a beginner, knowing how to change a sewing machine needle is one of the first skills you need to master after you learn how to set up your sewing machine.  I’ll walk you through the steps in this beginner sewing tutorial.  I also recently discovered a nifty tool called a clearance plate to make the task easier if you have a hard time getting the needle oriented correctly.

Since I own several Brother and Singer sewing machines, I have pictures of how to change the needle on a Singer sewing machine and how to change the needle on a Brother sewing machine.  Even if you don’t have one of these two brands of machines, the process is very, very similar for most modern sewing machines!

how to change a sewing machine needle

When to Change A Sewing Machine Needle

There are several indications for when to replace the needle on a sewing machine.  Obviously, if your needle is broken, bent, or dull, it’s time to change your needle.  Also, if you’re significantly changing the weight of thread or type of fabric (for instance, from a knit to a woven fabric), you may want to change your sewing machine needle.

Some sewers recommend changing needles after every project, but I change mine a little less frequently.  An old needle, though, can wreak havoc on your stitching!

If you’re having problems troubleshooting sewing machine issues, it might be time to switch to a new needle.  Here are a few issues you may have that are worth a new sewing machine needle when troubleshooting.

  • Threads breaking while sewing
  • Large punctures in the fabric
  • Popping sound when puncturing the fabric (caused by a dull or damaged tip)
  • Skipped or uneven stitches

I also recently wrote a post on the different types and sizes of sewing machine needles that gives a bit more information about choosing needles.

How to Change A Sewing Machine Needle

Removing the Old Sewing Machine Needle

First, turn off your sewing machine (for your safety).  I have my sewing machines on in the pictures so I can have better lighting and get better images.

To remove the sewing machine needle, you will first need to loosen the needle clamp screw.  The needle clamp is what holds the needle itself in place.  There should be a small screw to the right of this needle clamp.

Depending on your sewing machine, loosening the screw may happen in a few ways.  On my Singer heavy-duty sewing machine, the needle clamp screw can easily be twisted by hand.  Unscrew towards you, or counterclockwise, to loosen the screw.  Keep a hold of the needle with your other hand in case it falls out.

twist the screw towards you counterclockwise on singer heavy duty sewing machine

On my Brother sewing machine, the needle clamp screw is not as easily unscrewed by hand if it is tightly tightened.  Here, I use my flat-head screwdriver to turn the screw counterclockwise towards me to loosen the needle.

changing needle on brother sewing machine (2)

There’s no need to loosen the needle clamp screw considerably.  Do just enough to loosen the needle.

Grab the needle with your thumb and pointer finger and remove it at an angle.  Sometimes, it may be easier for you to remove the presser foot while you are removing the needle to give you more space for your fingers and pivoting the needle out.

removing the presser foot to change the sewing machine needle

Note whether the flat side of the needle shank (top part of the needle) is facing the front or back.  All the sewing machines I have ever used have the flat part of the needle facing towards the back of the machine.  Here’s a quick diagram showing the round and flat sides.

round front and flat back of needle

Inserting the New Sewing Machine Needle

There are three ways to insert a new needle that I’ll walk you through.

Inserting The Needle Using Your Fingers

The first way for replacing the needle is to use your fingers to angle the needle up and into the screw clamp.  Make sure you’ve pushed it up as far as it will go and the flat part of the needle is facing the back.  Then, tighten the screw back clockwise.  Make sure it is as tight as you can get it.  A wobbly needle will cause all sorts of problems!

remove the needle using your fingers

Inserting Using a Clearance Plate

The second way is to use what is called a clearance plate to insert the needle.  This is a nifty contraption that came with my Singer 4452 sewing machine.

First, orient the needle in the clearance plate.  You will be able to clearly tell which side is for the flat side and which is for the round side when looking at the plate.  It should fit nice and snugly in the plate.

With the needle (and thus clearance plate) facing the correct direction, move the plate into the sewing space and insert the top of the needle into the needle clamp.  The picture below shows how you’ll go about doing that.

how to use the clearance plate to insert the sewing needle

Once you have the needle in the clamp, push it all the way up.  You won’t see much of the top of the needle sticking out when it’s properly inserted.

With the needle pushed all the way into the clamp, tighten the needle clamp screw clockwise.

tighten the screw back on the brother sewing machine

Inserting With a Dritz Needle Inserter and Threader

Dritz 253 Machine Needle Inserter & Threader for SewingInstead of using the clearance plate, you could opt for a needle inserter and threader from Dritz (or an inserter only from Singer) to help you insert the needle.  My mom used the Dritz one for a while, and the needle threader part just stunk.  So, I recommend it for needle inserting, not threading!

These work similarly to the clearance plate in that you insert the needle into the inserter and then use that to push the needle into the needle clamp.

Setting Up to Sew After a Needle Change

If you removed the presser foot, replace it.

Then, rethread your sewing machine needle making sure to place the thread from front to back through the eye of the needle.  Pull the thread underneath the presser foot and towards the back.  If your sewing machine has an automatic needle threader, make sure your needle is aligned in the correct position for the needle threader to pass through the eye of the needle.  If not, just thread your sewing machine needle by hand.

rethread the needle using your fingers or the needle threader

And that’s it!  You just learned how to change a sewing machine needle.  Once you’ve done it a few times, it will become muscle memory!

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