Monday, March 10, 2014

Know to sew - sewing needles

Today's Know to Sew topic is sewing needles! Needles are one of the most important things to consider when you are sewing. Did you know that when your stitches or tension are not looking pretty, it can mean it is time to change your needle? I don't remember learning that until just recently and I have been sewing since 1978! It is true, however, and I am going to teach you why, plus give you some other info about sewing needles.

First of all, let's talk about the parts of a needle.

The butt is where you insert the needle into the machine and the shank is the part your hand holds while you do so. In home sewing needles, the shank will be flat. In industrial needles, however, the shank could be rounded or notched. Shanks allow for perfect positioning.  The blade has a different diameter depending on size and, of course, size depends on sewing purpose. The groove cradles the thread and guides it to the eye. The scarf is the indentation above the eye that allows the bobbin to hook smoothly and create a stitch. The scarf size and shape vary by needle size. The eye is the hole through which the needle passes. The point is where the needle narrows to the tip.  The point and tip size, shape, and length will vary by needle size.

So, what does all of this mean? It means that you need to choose your needle size and type wisely, depending on what you are sewing. And, it means you need to change your needle often, about every four hours of sewing.  Yes, you read that correctly. Change your needle about every 4 hours of sewing time. Why? Because needl tips get bent, damaged, or broken very easily. And, they get burs very easily. This means that the needle will literally get a small change in shape, causing stitches to skip and/or tension issues. Here is a closeup, care of Schmetz, of a dull needle with a bur.  With each magnification, you can see more and more of the problems!  That microscopic bur can cause a lot of sewing issues including skipped or uneven stitches, puckering of fabric, damage to fabric, and popping sounds as you sew.

So, now which needle do you choose? There are many brands of needles. My favorites are Superior and Schmetz. Many sewing machine companies also make their own brand of needles. It does not matter which brand you use as long as it is the right type for your sewing.  However, some brands are better than others and worth the money. For example, Superior brand Titanium topstitching needles do not need to be changed every 4 hours as they are stronger than the average needle. They are, therefore, worth the extra cost as they last you longer. No name brand needles might not even last four hours.  So, definitely play around with brand to find the one you like the best.

Schmetz has a lot of wonderful guides on their website to help you choose which type of needle is best for which project.  Even if you don't use their brand, it will help you understand needle types.  The home needle guide will help you understand all the needle basics while the ABC Pocket guide to needles will help you shop. They even have a smartphone app in the itunes store!   Read these two thoroughly to learn everything you need to know about which needle to choose.  But, in a nutshell, you need to choose the type of needle to fit the type of fabric you will be using.  Here's a quickie guide:

The type of needle for our fabric depends on your project.  The numbers indicate the size of the needle.  75 equals a blade diameter of 75 mm.   The ABC pocket guide lists dozens of fabric types and gives needle recommendations.  You can use an universal needle BUT remember that your sewing will look better if you use a specific needle to match your exact project.  For knit fabrics, for example, sewing with a jersey, stretch, or ball point needle will definitely make a huge difference in how your stitches appear because regular needles have a sharp point that can cause runs in the fabric. The smaller numbers (needle diameter) are best for lighter fabrics while the larger numbers are best for heavier fabrics. The home needle guide will give you specific information about WHY each type of needle is made for that specific fabric.

So, remember change your needle about every four hours of sewing and choose the right needle for your project.  If your tension starts to get off for no apparent reason, it is probably time to change your needle!

PS Here's a shopping tip: if you sew a lot, try buying your needles in bulk! You will save money that way. Look at WAWAK's website, ebay, or google to find prices.


  1. This is a great post full of info -- I'm going over to check out Wawak right now!

  2. Love all the info in your post! I never even thought to buy needles in bulk :)

  3. I never thought about buying in bulk either, what a great idea! Love all your info in here, I'm always forgetting the "need-to-knows" about my needles.

  4. My favorite needles are Organ. I love Wawak! I just hate that sometimes I buy something on there one day and then it goes on sale the day after.

  5. Great post, and those magnified pictures are scary!!! I use Schmetz a lot and recently bought them in bulk at a sale price - that's an excellent suggestion.

  6. A bad needle can really ruin your day, especially in a serger. I myriad of issues can be solved with fresh needles.