Choosing a Sewing Machine Needle

One of the most important parts of today's home machines and often the least appreciated, and most obscure is the humble sewing needle. A sewing machine needle is a slender strand of metal, shaped to precision, which delivers thread to the machine to create a stitch. We can spend literally thousands of pounds on the most advanced machines, using the best digitised designs, the worlds best threads and the most beautiful fabric, but when it comes down to it, the only part that matters is the part that joins machine, thread and fabric together and that's the needle.

The correct size and type of needle is essential to the production of quality embroidery. There is no such thing as a cheap needle, just needles of inferior quality. The needle is the first point of contact between the machine and your work, so never compromise on quality. It really is not worth it.  

Why would you use an old, worn, damaged needle or the wrong type of needle on the wrong fabric? .. you wouldn't.  Keep in mind that needles can be damaged by normal use. You don't have to hit a pin while sewing to damage your needle. They can become dull, bent, damaged or get misshapen eyes through normal sewing. 

The best advice I can give you is this:  New project.. New needle. It's the least expensive part of your project. A clean, well functioning needle will result in sharp, well-shaped stitches. Needles are inexpensive and easy to change. Keeping a good needle in your sewing machine is one of the easiest, least expensive ways to improve your embroidery and sewing projects.

Over the years we have had many embroiderers using many different needles, but always one name has been associated with quality and that is SCHMETZ of Germany. Schmetz Needles was established in 1851 and is still a family owned company. The Schmetz needles are manufactured to the highest possible standards to offer unrivalled performance in just about every application.

Recently we have also been promoting needles made by Organ in Japan.  Japanese steel is considered the world over to be the best quality steel.  Our needles by Organ are also Titanium coated, more about which will appear later in this 

All about Sewing Machine Needles

There are so many different types of needles that it can be quite daunting. We stock needles for both industrial and domestic machines. If you require industrial needles with a round shank, please contact us for further information and advice or Click Here to see our industrial range and Click Here to see our domestic needle range. Industrial needles will not fit domestic machines. Domestic machines require a needle with a flat back on the shank.

The Shank is the upper part of the needle, inserted into the needle bar & locked into place with a needle clamp screw. The needle should only fit in one way for perfect alignment with the flat side facing away from you. Moving down from the shank, the lower part of the needle is called the Shaft. The Groove is the hollowed out area on the front of the needle just above the Eye and the Point is the very tip of the needle that punches the hole in the fabric.

If your machine is a domestic or home machine it will use the flat backed needles, and these needles are a standard fit through all the machine models.  There are a couple of exceptions to this on older machines, but as a rule, if your current needle has a flat back, all the domestic needles will fit.

Needle Point Styles

Needles fall into four main categories - ball point, sharp, rounded-sharp and cutting. It is important to use the correct needle.

Sharps - Sharp needles are designed for woven fabrics. Because of the tightness of the weave, individual cut fibres will not pull away and make holes. For this exact reason it is important not to use ball point needles on wovens. The blunt force of a ball point will tear through the fibers and actually pull them in the process, resulting in uneven, irregular embroidery and damage to the fabric. Sharp needles can be used on all wovens as well as dense fabrics such as leather, vinyl, canvas, etc.a standard Needlepoint for most general sewing applications where needle damage is not a problem.

Rounded Sharp, used generally in fine and medium needle sizes to prevent needle damage and laddering in light and medium weight man-made and knitted fabrics.

Ball Point - Ball point needles are designed to avoid making holes in knit or loosely woven materials. The cross fibres which constitute the knit or loosely woven materials are relatively far apart compared to those in tightly woven materials. If a knitted strand of thread is cut with a sharp needle, it produces a hole that will enlarge when the loose fibres pull back from the cut. To prevent this, the ballpoint needle is designed to push aside the individual strands of the knit. This assumes that the ball point needle point is in good condition.used generally in medium size needles and medium weight knitted fabrics to prevent needle damage to the fibres (This includes polo shirts).

Cutting point used in the sewing of Leather, PVC, Plastics and similar materials. This cutting point needle makes a small incision when the needle penetrates the fabric making an area in which the thread can travel freely in the sewing cycle. Some points are angled to allow decorative stitching and topstitching of the work piece. 

Why does my Sewing Machine Needle Break?

Needle Technology has become so advanced now that both Schmetz and Organ produce specific needles for specific applications. One of the main problems and the cause of thread breakage is the use of an incorrect needle. The incorrect needle or a needle that is not regularly replaced can account for 45% of all machine frustrations. 

Needles break because they are too fine for the fabric or have the wrong point. If you are breaking needles, check it is the correct type of needle as breakage does tend to lead towards component damage and expensive repairs. Generally if you follow these simple guidelines you should reduce your instances of breakages.

There is no such thing as a cheap needle. Cheap is exactly what it means. The needle is one of the most important components in your machine, use a good one from a top quality manufacturer like Schmetz or Organ.

Always use the correct needle size and point style for the job in hand. 


Why does my Thread Break?

Some machine embroiderers find that even when using high quality threads they experience the thread snapping or shredding. The usual advice given is to 'change the needle' and usually it works. However, if you understand why you change the needle, the advice makes much more sense.

Whilst in use a machine thread runs through the eye of the needle very fast, creating a groove which is unique to that thread. As each type of thread has it's own unique weight and twist, when you change to a different type of thread the groove in the eye of the needle does not match the original groove, the grooves overlap and it is the sharp sides of the groove that cause the thread to break.  The longer you use the needle, the deeper the groove, the higher and sharper the sides, so a new type of thread will instantly break!

The best needles come in neat plastic boxes and if you stick a label across the box you can note which needle you used for which thread, keep a separate needle for each type (Not colour!) of thread that you use. Taking the extra few seconds to change to it's special needle will make life much easier!!

Thread tension is also a prime cause of thread breakage. (This I address in a future newsletter) Puckering is a sign of bad tension and you can help eliminate puckering, especially in fine fabrics, by using a fine sharp needle and a straight stitch throat plate. The fine sharp needle will punch through the fabric with less drag and the straight stitch throat plate will give more support to the fabric as the needle punches through it.

A straight stitch throat plate has a round hole for the needle as opposed to the wide hole designed for zigzag sewing. This is often an optional accessory for your machine. You will get the best, even seam, using a Jean/Sharp needle with a straight stitch throat plate. As well as a straight stitch plate, a straight stitch foot is also recommended because, like the throat plate, it has a small round hole instead of a wide rectangular one.

Remember, In machine embroidery, it is important to use a thick enough needle to punch a big enough hole to allow the embroidery thread sufficient access to prevent damage to the thread and thereby shredding and breaking. Therefore the thicker the thread the thicker the needle should be.

Finally, change your needle regularly, the point and the blade can be easily damaged, especially in difficult applications.

How often should I change my needle?

A regular needle under normal use should be changed every eight hours.  If you don't count then it is new project new needle.

If ever you have a stitching problem, the first thing you should do is change your needle, that will immediately solve 45% of your problems! 

Needle Technology - Titanium Coating

Every now and then there comes along something new.  Sometimes it's good sometimes not so good, but each and every one of us will have an opinion.  It is my opinion that something new has arrived for home machines (but been used on the industrial machines for a few years now) that makes a huge difference in the way we stitch and that is the Titanium Coated Topstitch Needle.

We highly recommend the Superior Titanium Topstitch Needle for all your sewing needs.  A Topstitch needle is sharp, with an elongated, double length eye, that allows your thread to bounce through the eye without becoming stressed.  The needle also has a groove that runs up the front of the shaft that is wider and deeper than on any other needle.  The thread sits within the groove as your machining, protected by the needle on three sides from fabric abrasion.   

But here's the best bit.... because the needle is titanium coated and titanium is so hard, the coating extends the life of the needle by up to 5 times.  Imagine a needle that will stay sharp for 40 hours without replacing... Imagine also a needle that will allow you to run any thread without changing... that is a magic needle and it's the Superior Titanium Topstitch Needle. If your using metallics, the size 90/14 Topstitch needle is THE needle to use. 


Needle Sizes

The size of a needle is calculated by its diameter, thus a 90 needle is 0.9mm in diameter. You will see that the higher the number the thicker the needle will be. A previous method of numbering was from 8 to 20 and those numbers equate to the current system as follows.

Size 8 = 60, Size 10 = 70, Size 11= 75, Size 12 = 80, Size 14 = 90, Size 16= 100, Size 18= 110, Size 20 = 120.

Quick Guide

No.60/8 - Silks

No.70/10 - Lightweight fabrics

No.75/11 - Medium weight fabrics
No.80/12 - Medium weight fabrics

No.90/14 - Medium heavyweight fabrics

No.100/16 - Heavy weight fabrics

No.110/18 - Upholstery fabrics.
No. 120/20 - Denim and Heavy Canvas

Most of the specialist threads need to be run through a size 80 or 90 needle.

If in doubt, it's cheaper to buy some new needles than repair your machine!

Schmetz Needles Colour Coding Chart

When a needle is out of the pack, a problem very often faced is 'Which needle is in my machine'  Now, all needles from Schmetz have colour coding bands that show the type of needle and the size of the needle.  Take a look at the chart below to quickly identify your needles.


Thank you for reading our guide.

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