Sewing Machine Needle Sizes & Types Guide (FREE Chart!)
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When I first started sewing, I used the same type and size of needle for MONTHS.
The pack of needles came with my machine, so I thought they worked for every project.
I only changed my needle when it broke or bent, and I sure didn’t consider my fabric or thread type before I started sewing.
Fast forward many years, and I now know that picking the right needle for your purpose makes a HUGE difference in your success–choosing the wrong needle can damage the machine, the needle, and the fabric.
So, let’s discuss sewing machine needle sizes, sewing machine needle types, and how to pick the right needle for your projects.
I’ve even put together a free printable sewing machine needle chart and guide that you can print out at the end of this post to keep next to your machine for future reference!
(And, if all this information seems overwhelming, I’ll give you a rundown at the end of which needles I think are best to keep in your sewing box.)
Hand Sewing Needle vs. Sewing Machine Needle
This post focuses on the different types of sewing machine needles, which are not interchangeable with hand sewing needles.
A sewing machine needle is solid at the top of the needle, and the needle’s eye is located near its point.
In contrast, a needle used for hand sewing has an eye at the very top of the needle and is not compatible with a sewing machine.
Parts of a Sewing Machine Needle
To understand how different types of sewing machine needles differ, it’s first essential to know the parts of a needle.
The thick top part of a home sewing machine needle is called the shank and is rounded at the front and flat in the back.
This difference between the two sides helps you know which direction to insert the needle when setting up your machine.
All you need to remember is that the flat part faces the back of the needle clamp.
Below the top of the needle is the shaft, which is the round part with a groove in it.
Sewing thread travels down the shaft before going through the eye of the needle, which is the hole.
The needle ultimately ends in a point or tip.
Above the eye of the needle is a short groove called a scarf, which allows the hook of the sewing machine to pick up the needle thread to form the stitch.
Changing the size or shape of the eye, shank, scarf, groove, or tip changes the function of a needle, as you’ll shortly see.
Sewing Machine Needle Sizes Explained: What The Numbers Mean
Needles come in different sizes (or shaft thicknesses) and are described by American and European sizes.
The smaller the needle number, the finer the needle, and the finer the thread it can accommodate.
The larger the needle number, the thicker the needle, and the thicker the thread it can accommodate.
|European||American||How It’s Written|
The size is written with the European number first, then a backslash, and finally the American number.
For example, 90/14 is a common needle size for sewing where 90 is the European needle size, and 14 is the American size.
The easy-to-remember correlation between the European number and the needle diameter is this: A 100 needle is 1 mm in diameter.
Thus, a size 90 needle is 0.9 mm in diameter, a size 110 needle is 1.1 mm in diameter, etc.
How to Choose a Sewing Machine Needle
In most cases, you will pick your sewing machine needle size and type based on fabric and thread characteristics.
Now, let’s get a little more into what that actually means.
1. Consider Fabric Weight When Selecting a Needle Size
Fabric weight is determined by the thickness, density, and even fiber composition of the threads in the fabric.
Choose your sewing machine needle size based on the weight of the fabric you plan to sew.
This means a thicker, or heavier, fabric requires a thicker needle to penetrate it when stitching.
In contrast, a lighter, delicate fabric will be damaged by a thick needle and thus demands a finer needle.
Here are a few examples of which needle to use for which fabric below.
|Fabric Weight||Examples||Needle Size|
|Lightweight||Gauze, crepe, chiffon, tulle, organza, silk, voile, tricot, net, lace||65/9 – 75/11|
|Medium-weight||Taffeta, quilting cotton, jersey, satin, poplin, seersucker, broadcloth, rayon, linen, knit, elastic, thin denim, velvet, gingham||75/11-90/14|
|Heavy-weight||Upholstery, heavier denim, vinyl, corduroy, gabardine, tweed, canvas, velour, wool, leather, oilcloth||100/16|
|Very heavy-weight||Extra heavy denim, leather, or upholstery||110/18|
As you can see, while an 80/12 or 90/14 needle is perfect for most medium-weight fabrics like linen, elastic, satin, quilting cotton, or poplin, you need to size up and use a 100/16, 110/18, or higher needle for very thick fabrics like leather or upholstery.
And, for those thin fabrics like gauze, chiffon, or organza, those small 65/9 or 70/10 needles will poke smaller holes and cause less damage.
However, since each type of fabric comes in multiple weights, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of which needle to use for each type of fabric.
Take denim, for instance. There are thin, lightweight denim fabrics, and then there are very heavy denim fabrics, which require a much bigger needle.
So, take this as a general guide to help you learn rather than the set-in-stone rule!
2. Consider Thread Weight and Type
Also, take into account the weight and type of thread you are using.
A larger needle can accommodate a heavier, thicker thread.
Why does this matter?
If you use a small, thin thread with a large needle, the needle’s point leaves large holes in the fabric that are not fully filled by the fine thread–this can mimic a tension problem and is not aesthetically pleasing.
On the other hand, if you use a thick, heavy thread with a fine needle, you risk skipped stitches, broken threads, and what may also look like a tension problem when the thread has difficulty running through the needle’s eye.
Types of Sewing Machine Needles
There are three “main” types of general-purpose sewing machine needles, and the best type of sewing machine needle for your project depends on the fabric type: woven or knit.
As a reminder, woven fabrics are formed by weaving two or more sets of yarns together to form a stable, non-stretchy fabric like quilting cotton.
In contrast, knit fabrics are formed by one or more yarns that are knitted together to form a stretchy fabric like a t-shirt knit.
1. Universal Needles
Universal point needles are general-purpose needles with a slightly rounded point.
They are “jack of all trades, but master of none.”
As such, they work for most woven or knit fabrics.
When in doubt about which needle to pick for my project, I always start with an 80/12 or 90/14 universal needle.
2. Ballpoint Needles
Ballpoint, or jersey needles, have rounded points and slip between the loops of knit fabrics rather than piercing the fabric, which leads to fabric damage or skipped stitches.
Because these are made specifically for sewing on knits, choose a ballpoint needle when you know your fabric is a knit.
3. Sharp Needles
Sharp point needles, or Microtex needles, have a sharp point and are especially good for cleanly piercing high-density woven fabric with minimal resistance.
Choose this type of needle for tightly woven natural fabrics like silk or for very heavyweight wovens.
These are also great for topstitching, which may require sewing through several layers of fabric and interfacing.
Types of Specialty Sewing Needles
While the above three general-purpose sewing needles cover many projects, there are also specialty needles that accomplish certain tasks even better.
Most sewing tasks will be served well using the correct needle from the all-purpose needles above, but it’s important to know other options when it comes to troubleshooting sewing issues.
This is not an exhaustive list, but I’ll provide some examples.
1. Topstitch Needle
Topstitch needles have a very large eye, a very sharp point, and an enlarged groove to accommodate the thick, decorative threads necessary for topstitching through multiple layers.
2. Stretch Needle
Stretch needles are a “specialty” version of a ballpoint needle and thus also do not damage stretch fabrics when sewing.
Stretch needles are slightly less rounded at the tip than ballpoint needles and are useful for preventing skipped stitches on elastic materials such as rib knit, Lycra, or spandex.
They have a modified scarf and eye, allowing for better pickup of the top thread by the hook.
3. Denim/Jeans Needle
These very strong needles have a long, sharp point and work well on tightly woven heavyweight fabrics such as denim and canvas.
4. Metallic Needle
Metallic needles have elongated eyes, allowing metallic and other specialty threads to pass through with minimal friction, thus decreasing thread breakage.
5. Machine Embroidery Needle
These needles are used for machine embroidery with rayon, polyester, and even cotton machine embroidery threads.
The point is medium-sharp (between a ballpoint and a sharp needle), and the needle has an oversized eye and groove.
These features protect delicate threads against extra friction while embroidering.
I almost always use a 75/11 machine embroidery needle when embroidering.
6. Leather Needle
When sewing with leather, choose a leather needle, a wedge-shaped needle that resembles an arrowhead.
The needle pierces the leather without tearing or damaging it or causing skipped stitches, which are formed if the leather grabs the needle and doesn’t let go as the stitch is formed.
Do not use leather needles on knits or woven fabrics!
7. Quilting Needle
Quilting needles have a special taper to their sharp point, making them perfect for piecing quilt blocks and adding quilting stitches to finished quilt sandwiches.
Their tapered design penetrates multiple layers of fabric and even areas with intersecting seams easily.
These are one of the best sewing needles to use for quilting cotton projects if you don’t want to use different needle types for piecing and quilting.
8. Twin Needle (Double Needle)
In the case of a double needle, two needles are located on a single shaft and produce two rows of parallel stitches. (There are also triple needles if you need a line of three parallel stitches!)
I use my twin needle most when I am sewing hems on garments, essentially creating a faux cover stitch.
However, this type of sewing machine needle is also used for pintucks, decorative topstitching, and heirloom sewing.
When purchasing a twin needle, the first number of the package is the distance between the needles, and the second number is the size of the needle.
These double needles also come with many different types of points such as denim, stretch, universal, and more.
Select the right size and point type just as you would a single needle, as described above.
And, a note: use the handwheel first to advance the needle when starting to sew to ensure neither of the points will hit the presser foot before you speed up.
9. Hemstitch Needle (Wing Needle)
Hemstitch needles have a wide blade, or wing, on each side of the needle.
This cuts a decorative groove in the fabric each time the needle is passed through.
Other Types of Needles
There are also double-eye needles, which are universal needles with two eyes for two different threads.
And, there are quick-threading needles or self-threading needles, which have a slot on the slide to slip the thread into the eye and are one of many visual aids for sewists with poor vision.
Are sewing machine needles universal and interchangeable?
As you can see, all sewing machine needles are not universal and interchangeable.
Yes, there is a universal type of sewing needle that works great for many projects, but selecting the best needle for your project may mean choosing a sharp or ballpoint needle instead for better results.
One sewing needle may work perfectly for one project but may cause major issues for another.
A leather needle will not work well on knits, and a ballpoint needle won’t work well on thick woven fabrics.
Taking care to pick the appropriate needle for your sewing is worth the time!
What Sewing Machine Needles to Keep In Your Sewing Box
Choosing a sewing needle may seem very complicated with all the options, but just know in many cases, there are several right answers for needles that will work.
If you’re unsure what you need when you first purchase your sewing machine, I recommend purchasing universal needles, sharp needles, ballpoint or stretch needles, and topstitch needles, each in a few different sizes.
If you want to sew leather or have other specific needs such as twin needle stitching, add those specialty needles to your collection as well.
When is it time to change needles?
Always change the needle if you significantly change the thread weight or type of fabric (for instance, from knit to woven fabric or from 60wt thread to 30wt).
Some sewists recommend changing needles after every project or a certain number of stitches or amount of time, but that’s not always necessary.
A dull needle or bent needle, though, can wreak havoc on your sewing project.
Here are some indications that it may be time to change your needle:
- Threads breaking
- Popping sound when puncturing the fabric (suggests the needle tip is dull or damaged)
- Skipped or uneven stitches
- Large punctures in the fabric
If you’ve never changed needles, check out my tutorial for how to change a sewing machine needle.
How To Check A Needle Before Sewing
Sewing with a bent needle is a bad idea since the needle could break while sewing and injure something or someone!
To check if the needle is bent, remove it from the machine and lay the flat side of the shank on a flat surface.
If the distance between the shaft of the needle and the flat surface is even, you’re good to go. If not, discard the needle and try another.
Sewing Machine Needle Chart – Download Below
Now that you’ve learned more about choosing the proper sewing machine needle size and type, download my handy sewing machine needle chart pdf file here.
Please respect the time I put into making this and do not redistribute or resell it. Rather, send other sewists to my website to download their own copy.
Wow, this was fantastic information on needles. I have been sewing almost all my life, started when I was 10, and this is the best explanation I have every see. Thank you for the print out also.
Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it!
This is awesome Aly. I’ve been sewing more than 40 years and always thought more clarity would be very helpful. Your pdf guide is awesome. Thank you sew very much for making this effort to help so many!💗
Thank you so much for the article. I stumbled on the article by accident and found it the most clear and informative article I have read yet. It gave me a better understanding of the different types of needles and examples of matching materials.
Thanks! Glad it was helpful!
Thank you so much for this info & the pdf about needle sizes. I have been a sewist for 56 years & have never figured out what the numbers meant & how to chose machine needles. I appreciate the work you put 8nto this guide.👍🏽❤️
Thanks so much for this guide! I knew I needed to change the needle, but I didn’t know anything about the different sizes I had on hand. This was so helpful!
Thank you so much for your printable chart. Everything makes sense now!!
Love the information.
Loved it. Great information on needles. Thank you.
I am planning a special project using sail cloth or parachute fabric and was trying to verify if I should use a 120/19 size as I will also be sewing through elastic. What a wonderful resource of information you have compiled. Thank you so much for your help.
Hi there! While that may work for very heavyweight sailcloth, large needles pierce large holes in your fabric (and your elastic), so it might be worth trying a slightly smaller needle size first. I’d recommend trying to sew a scrap of your fabric + elastic with a smaller needle and then compare that to sewing the same scrap with the larger needle before you get to sewing your actual project.
Thank you for this!! I’m an intermediate sewer and still trying to figure out all the ins and outs for this type of stuff. I have a question about the popping sound when puncturing the fabric. I’m making a project a 100% cotton bed sheet and a brand new 80/12 needle. It’s making that popping sound and I’m wondering if that sound can happen if the needle size is too big/small? Should I be using an 80/12 quilting needle?
I have a 6 row sequin elastic to see into chiffon as a waist band. Which size and type of needle would you recommend please?
I too have sewn for many years and like you at first just used a needle in my machine until it broke and never changed for type of fabric or thread. Granted I think there were the selection of specialty threads available in the 60’s and 70’s that are out there now. Heck, I recall when double knits first became available for home sewers. Anyhow, thank you for this wonderful info and the printable cheat sheet. I have the Schmetz needle guide book and it doesn’t do as good a job explaining this info as you do! Thanks again sew much!
Wow, you are full of important knowledge. I just got a Janome Skyline S9 for Christmas. And I am having so much fun,( still need help with files on a usb and transferring to the machine wifi. But baby steps. The files come zipped and omg. But I’m still learning. Thank you for all you info.
WOW!! Thank You Very Much!! I have been sewing for most of my life also. I knew that there were differences but never knew exactly what needle with which thread and which fabric. Thank you for the printable chart too. This was exactly what I was looking for. I am making quilts out of flannel.(I haven’t made a quilt in quite some time and never machine quilting) I am having top tension problems(eye lashing). I now discover that my needle is wrong for the thread I am using!! Thank You! Thank You! I have 4 more quilts planned!! Yiks!!
Sounds like you’ll be busy! Best wishes on your quilts!!
but what about the different types of needles 2020 versus HAx11? I am having trouble figuring out how to by the latter
Awesome information! Thanks a million! I’m working on Fleece. Is that considered a “knit”? At a minimum, I’ll change my needle and see if my ‘skipping’ problem corrects. Thanks again!
Yes, see if using a ballpoint or even a stretch needle makes a difference if you’ve been using a regular universal needle. Hope that fixes some of your skipped stitches!
I’ve been seeing for about 51 years and never thought about needle or thread size. I am getting ready to make myself a Levi jacket out of old levis. I thought is there different size needles? And maybe thread to go with it.
I’ll be going to Hobby lobby to pick up my needles, thread and yarn.
Thank you so much for all your info. See you can teach and old dog new tricks. Lol.
The yarn is for 2 baby blankets and a throw.
thank you so much for the needle chart. I have been sewing for 59 years. So many different kinds of fabrics have come out over the years.
Thank you for all the info. I am in the process of buying needles for my singer 9960. This will help me so much.
Thank you, thank you, thank you!! I’ve been sewing for 70+ years – made my wedding gown, and all our children’s clothes when they were small, and mother-of-the-groom dress, etc, and I finally have learned the difference in needles size, and what to use when. And finally I now know that the flat side of the needle goes in the back!! Yay!
Thanks! Glad this post was helpful 🙂
Thankyou for putting in the time to explain how needles and thread work! I had trouble trying to figure it all out until I found your very well put together post!
Thanks! Glad it was helpful 🙂
I have been sewing some very heavy polyester material using Universal Needles. Lots of problems. Perhaps an Embroidery needle will help,.
Thanks for this information, Aly!! One question I have is can you use any brand needle? I have a Singer machine. Thanks!
Yes, you should be able to use any brand of needle as long as it’s a compatible type with your machine.
Thank You for this Sewing Needle Chart…very helpful especially for those just learning to sew
I keep my Chart on “ Notes” on my I Pad ❤️🥰
This was a fantastic article, thank you very much! I have a question about the double needle. can that be used on single needle machines? If so how would you thread it, which side of the needle would you thread first?
If you have a presser foot with a large enough opening for the double needle and a way to hold the second spool of thread (even an auxiliary thread stand), I don’t see any reason why a double needle wouldn’t work on most single needle machines!
When I thread my single needle Brother sewing machines, I do the left needle first and then right. If you have a manual for your machine, it might have more specifics for your exact model, though.
This is one of the best blog posts I’ve ever read! So much useful information! I appreciate the free printable summary too. Thanks for helping me as I learn to sew.
Thanks, glad it was helpful!!
I will use a chart for sewing machine needles from now on
Thank you Aly! For sharing all your knowledge selflessly. Wishing you the very best! ❤️🌸
I came to this site via the Singer 4423 review.
Great work. A very comprehensive guide. I learnt a lot.
This needle chart pdf is fantastic! Thank YOU! Everything that is needed to know in ONE place!
I appreciate your care and sharing of this info.
Thank you so much! What a wonderful resource to produce and share. SO HELPFUL. I’ve been sewing for years and found out a lot from reading this.
Great information, easily understood, chart is very useful. Made theatrical costumes for 40+years out of every fabric imaginable so used many kinds of needles.Thank you for educating new sewers in the importance of choosing the right needle.
Great information. New beginner to sewing. Trying to get all the information I can get. This is more than enough. Thanks for your hard work.
On page 30 of my SE1900 manual, it states that this machine can use needle sizes 65/9 – 100/16. Does this mean you can not use 60/8 and 110/18 on this machine at all. If not, do you why? Does it perhaps have to do with the needle threader because on page 25 it says needle threader can be used with needles
75/11-100/16. Before reading this needle tutorial, I purchased a bundle of needles which contains some 60/8 and 110/18 which I may not be able to use on SE1900 – right?
I bet you’re onto the reason being the needle threader incompatibility, but I honestly don’t know for sure!
What I do know is I’ve used 60/8 and 110/18 needles on my SE1900 and nothing bad’s happened, buuuuuuut I’m more of a try anything person and fix the damage rather than have caution upfront ha…
This was the best explanation I have read on sewing machine needles. Thank you so much for the time and effort you put into it. I used to rely on the needle pkg to recommend the correct size but the manufacturers no longer seem to be doing that . I even relearned the first set of numbers refer to European sizes .the chart is very helpful! Anna
Thanks. Glad this was helpful!
I accidentally got into your website while searching for a sewing machine to buy. Ever since I bookmarked it and my first place to go whenever I have doubts. I thoroughly enjoy all your content, which is crystal clear.
Thank you so much..
This explanatory lesson is so wonderful. I’ve been sewing for YEARS but you can ALWAYS learn something–or review something. I’m 70 now and bought my third sewing machine–and sewing is still my passion. Thanks so much for taking the time to write out all these little “facts of sewing.” You have blessed a number of sewing aficionados.
Thanks for your sweet comment!
Thanks for this fabulous explanation of needles. I’ve been sewing forever and have to look up needles and fabrics each time I switch projects. Your explanation was awesome and very much appreciated. I’m going to print out the chart right now. Thank you again. 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻
Thank you so much
I have not sewn since high school and that’s been over 50 yrs ago. Just had my old sewing machine serviced and looking forward to getting started sewing again. This information is so helpful thank you
Great information – I was getting a migraine looking over my motley collection of needles. Now I understand what all those numbers mean, my needles are all neatly classified (and notated!) and I’m going to print out that chart to have on hand. Thank you so much!
Sorry, but I couldn’t find how to download your sewing machine needle chart. I have a lot of needles, but have been having issues sewing on knitted and fleecy type fabric–stitches skip. I have a feeling I am using the wrong size and type of needle and was hoping your chart would help.
Scroll down the post until you see the “Sewing Machine Needle Chart – Download Below” heading, and click on the underlined here to download the chart.
I posted a message earlier about concern about Schmetz needles on my singer 4423 Heavy duty machine. I want to let everyone know I love my 4423 machine. I grew up on a Singer since I was about 7 years old. My started me sewing young. Her machine was amazing but I love my 4423.
Recently found out there are Teflon coated needles for prevent sticking of adhesives. My usual needle size used for most embroidery work is 75/11. Which would be best choice as size choices are 70/10, 80/12, 90/14, or 100/16. Please comment on this type of needle.
Thanks in advance.
I like the Organ ANTI-GLUE embroidery needles, which do come in 75/11. If you’re thinking of the Schmetz Nonstick Needles, though, I typically recommend sizing down to 70/10. However, the blank you decide to embroider on and the thread thickness will also affect the needle size choice. As such, a heavyweight blank or a thicker thread would benefit from an 80/12 needle size or bigger.