So hands up, who knows their needles?

Well if you’re like me as long as it’s not broken or too bent it’s working….right? Well perhaps not. If you want the best stitching for you project you need great tools and your needles be they hand or machine are an integral part of your sewing kit.

First for sewing needles. The following information is thanks to and you can click through to find out more on their site.


It helps to understand the different parts of a home sewing machine needle.

  • The shank is the part of the needle that fits into your sewing machine, with the flat side to the back.
  • The blade is what determines the needle size. (For example, a size 75 needle has a blade that is .75 mm in diameter.)
  • The shaft is the “body” of the needle, and the groove that runs the length of the shaft holds the needle thread. Did you know that the diameter of the thread you are using should take up no more than 40% of the groove?
  • The point and tip of the needle refer to the size, shape and length — all of which vary based on the type of needle.
  • The scarf of the needle is an indentation on the backside that allows the bobbin hook to smoothly grab the thread under the sewing machine throat plate to create a proper stitch.

Needle types

There are three main types of needles that are used for the majority of sewing, as well as many specialty needles.

  • Universal needles have a slightly rounded tip, and this general purpose needle should be used on wovens as well as some sturdy knits.
  • Jersey needles have a medium ballpoint tip designed especially for knit fabrics because it slips between the knit fibers and does not break or damage them while sewing.
    • Stretch needles, often confused with Jersey needles, are also a medium ballpoint tip, but these have a special eye and scarf that are designed for extremely stretchy fabrics and elastic. Swimwear is an ideal application for this type of needle

In addition to the three most widely used needle types, there are also specialty needles for sewing with denim and leather, sewing suede, topstitching, needlepoint and embroidery, along with specific needles for quilting. Remember to select the needle first based on fabric type or usage, and then determine the correct size based on the weight of the fabric and the size of the thread you will be using.

There are many, many more. Here’s a link to Schmetz for a guide to their needles and their purposes. Click Here.

Close Up on Sewing Needle in Machine

Needle sizing

There are two needle sizing systems: American and European. American needle sizes range from 8 to 19, and European sizes range from 60 to 120. The larger the number, the larger the blade of the needle. Often you will see both sizing numbers on the needle package, such as 60/8 and 70/10.

Home sewing machine needles are also classified as the 130/705 H system, which means they are for use in home sewing machines rather than industrial machines. That designation means the needles have a flat shank and a scarf.

Needle lifespan

Needles are one of the least expensive components in a sewing project, so feel free to change your needle with each new project. Sewing machine needles only have a lifespan of 6 to 8 hours of sewing time, but that can be even less if the fabric is particularly tough to sew. In short, change your needles often! Whatever you paid for your fabric, it was certainly more than the cost of a needle. It’s not worth the risk of damaging your project by using a dull needle.

Mmm, so I guess that means don’t just wait for the needle to break……lol. I used to always get confused as to what size needles I needed to use, not really understanding the needle sizing on the packaging such as

Hand stitching needles

I have my favourites that I use for just about everything and they don’t have to be the most expensive available, but you do want a good quality. Don’t go using a literal ‘crow bar’ that’s going to leave a large hole in your fabric. The needle you choose should be (for embroidery or hand stitching) sharp and the shaft should be think enough to pass through your fabric allowing enough space for the size of the thread you are using to pass through easily. The aim is to not drag your thread through, thus destroying the actual thread.

There is literally a needle for every job. I probably use embroidery needles the most with my work, also known as crewel needles. They have sharp points and slightly elongated eyes. I especially look for needles that have larger eyes, since the ageing process has started and my eyes don’t work as well. These types of needles are used widely throughout embroidery work where piercing your fabric is necessary.

For tapestry, drawn thread work and counted cross stitch you will need tapestry needles these have long eyes and are blunt as you don’t want to be splitting the fabric such a aida cloth when using. Don’t get these confused with Chenille needles, they look similar but chenille needles have a sharp point, these are used for crewel work and wool embroidery or basically any surface work where a longer eye (which holds a thicker thread) is desired.

Straw or Milliners needles these needles are made with the eye and the shaft made the same size so from one end of the needle to the other its equal in thickness, which is what is recommended for doing French and bullion knots. Mind you, I quite often cheat and use a normal embroidery and make a colonial knot in lieu of French knots. Naughty I know, but I was put on earth to break all the rules.

Now here’s where machine and hand stitching needles change. The sizing is opposite. Machine needles, the higher the number the larger the blade. Hand sewing, the higher the number the smaller the needle.

Threaded Embroidery NeedleThe thickness of your thread or yarn will determine the size of your needles.  For example, if using a wool embroidery yarn you will need a much larger needle for the thread to pass through your fabric, alternatively if using a fine sild thread you’ll need a much finer needle. Remember the needle needs to be large enough to carry your thread through your fabric without destroying your thread on the way through. The thread should just follow the needle, not have to be ‘dragged’ through.

Japanese hand-made needleAs you would imagine needles are made on machines. When the machine punches out the hole for the eye of the needle it is actually smaller on one side than the other. So here’s a tip, if you’re having trouble threading your needle from one side try the other.

I have already shared this tip on my Facebook page but did you know you aren’t supposed to lick your thread when you thread your needle?  The primary reason for this is that the wet thread can cause the inside of the eye to rust, which can quickly fray your embroidery threads while stitching. .

You can find further information for hand embroidery needles here on Needle ‘n Thread!

 So I hope this has given you a little insight into the business of needles. Their history is interesting and lets face it we just couldn’t live without them and there are so many different brands. As I said earlier you don’t have to be using the most expensive. Find needles of good quality for a reasonable price and you’re set.
Happy Stitching
Mallee Country Craft.







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