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Sewing machine needles are not all the same size, and using the wrong one when quilting can wreak havoc on your blocks and quilt tops.
While a room full of quilters probably won’t ever unanimously agree on needle selection due to strong opinions, general rules do exist for picking the best size sewing needle for cotton quilt fabrics.
Here’s what you need to know to make a selection and which needles sizes I recommend using for quilting cotton!
What size sewing machine needle for quilting cotton?
While the needle size depends on project thickness, the thread used, and piecing vs. quilting, a needle size between 70/10 to 90/14 is a good choice.
Needle Numbering Conventions
Before getting into additional details, here’s what needle sizes actually mean.
|European||American||How It’s Written|
Needles are described by a European number, which refers to the needle’s shaft diameter in mm, and an American size, which is entirely arbitrary.
A larger number correlates with a larger, thicker needle.
Choosing Needle Size for Quilting Cotton
Two things affect the needle size you need to choose: thread weight and project thickness–whether you’re piecing just two quilting cotton pieces together or adding stitching to a quilt sandwich with batting.
1. Thread Weight
Thicker threads require a larger needle with a larger eye.
Regarding thread weight, I refer to these rules as a starting point:
- 30wt thread: 90/14 needle
- 40wt thread: 80/12 needle
- 50wt thread: 75/11 needle
- 60wt thread: 70/10 needle
2. Project Thickness and Type
Thicker needles are more able to pierce thick fabrics without breaking.
Thus, it makes sense that you need a bigger needle when quilting a bulky top and a smaller needle when simply piecing a block.
Here’s the breakdown of which size needles I like using for each quilting task.
A. Needle for Piecing
Piecing quilt blocks involves sewing one or more pieces of fabric together with a straight, even line of stitches.
To create the smallest possible holes without excess space around the thread, use the smallest needle you can.
I prefer to piece with 50-weight cotton thread and use a 75/11 or 80/12 needle.
B. Applique Quilting Needle
I use a size 70/10, 75/11, or 80/12 needle for appliqueing cotton quilt fabric.
Small sharp or denim needles and monofilament thread make applique outlines the least visible, and I like the smaller 70/10 size for the fine monofilament thread.
If I plan to use a satin border stitch, I often use thicker thread, so a 75/11 or 80/12 embroidery needle is a better fit, as thread too thick for a needle’s eye can shred or break.
C. Needles for Adding Quilting Stitches
For adding quilting stitches to quilt sandwiches, use a larger 80/12 or 90/14 needle to penetrate all layers completely. (Opt for the bigger size if the batting is thick or if you’re using a thicker thread.)
Even though these are larger needles than those I use for piecing, I still use the smallest possible needle to reduce needle hole size and decrease the likelihood of bobbin thread peeking up to the top.
Needle Type is Also Important!
Now you have the correct needle size, but what about the type?
If you walk into a sewing store, you’ll be overwhelmed with all the needle types–sharp, universal, ballpoint, denim, topstitch, and more.
Thankfully, many of these will stitch fine on quilting cotton, although not all will.
For example, don’t use a ballpoint needle or leather needle. These are not intended for woven cotton fabric.
So what do you use?
Look at the fabric characteristics and your intended usage and find the type of needle that correlates.
Here are five popular needle types for stitching on quilting cotton.
1. Sharp (Microtex) Needles
My favorite type of needle for piecing is a Microtex or sharp needle.
It’s a thin needle with a super sharp point that will help you stitch even and straight lines in woven quilting cotton with a high thread count.
2. Jeans (Denim) Needles
My second favorite needles, jeans or denim needles, can also be used for piecing and even straight-line quilting, as they’re designed to penetrate dense fabrics cleanly.
The clean, precise, small holes they make help you create a perfectly straight line of stitches.
3. Quilting Needles
Quilting needles are specifically designed to sew through the multiple layers of a quilt sandwich but can also be used for piecing.
Use the smaller 75/11 needles for piecing, and choose the larger 90/14 size for quilting or if using heavier thread.
What makes quilting needles unique is they have a slightly more tapered point and are less likely to interfere with batting.
However, these are NOT easy to find locally in my area, so I don’t often use them.
4. Topstitch Needles
Topstitch needles work well if you plan to quilt with thick or decorative specialty threads (like metallics or variegated threads).
Topstitch needles are very sharp and have an elongated eye to better accommodate larger threads that would experience friction in other needle types. Most metallic thread manufacturers recommend using a topstitch needle 80/12 or larger.
You can also use a metallic needle for decorative threads, but I find topstitch needles perform just as well and are easier to source.
5. Univeral Needles
Many quilters use 80/12 or 90/14 universal needles simply because they’re easy to find and work for most projects–quilting or piecing–thanks to their slightly rounded point.
Now, they may not form the most precise stitch lines for piecing or perfectly puncture thick quilt sandwiches, but I’ve had pretty good luck with them adding binding, actually!
While many brands of needles exist, Schmetz and Organ are my preferred quilting needle brands.
You can check out Schmetz’s needle sizes and types in their helpful chart.
As you can see, the best sewing machine needle for quilting depends on your project and thread weight, but there are easy ways to pick the best!
Just remember always to use a new needle when starting to piece blocks or quilt a project to avoid later troubleshooting skipped stitches and other issues.