Needle Selection for Sewing Machine

Needles as little as they may seem plays a very crucial role in sewing. A needle in a sewing machine is enough to determine the quality of a finished garment. This article will cover the various types of needles and various criteria for choosing a sewing machine needle for making a quality garment.

Needle selection guide

A damaged or worn sewing machine needle can cause skipped stitch, broken or shredded threads, fabric puckering, uneven seams, permanent damage to the fabric so can a wrong needle. So, it becomes very important to use the right type of needle for sewing.

A sewing machine needle is a specialized needle designed solely for the sewing machines. It consists of
  1. Shank – It is the part which is clamped by the sewing machine’s needle holder.
  2. Shaft – It is the length suitable for driving the eye and the thread through the material and down to the bobbin.
  3. Groove – It is the cut-out in the needle from the eye to keep the thread as close as possible to the needle as it passes through the fabric.
  4. Scarf – Provides extra room for the hook or shuttle to pass close by.
  5. Eye – The thread passes through the eye in the needle
  6. Point – It the tip of the needle thus is able to penetrate the material either by parting the threads or cutting holes in the fabric
Since fabrics are of different weights, structures, materials the needles used for sewing them cannot be the same. Different types of sewing machine needles are used for different types of sewing material and they vary greatly in their geometry, shape, length of various parts and size. Apart from fabric they also need to suit various types of threads that are to be sewn. Below are the most commonly used sewing machine needles as they have been categorized by their uses.

Table-1: Different types of needles
It is intended as an all-purpose needle mostly used for woven fabrics where a sharper needle can damage the fabric. It is similar to ball-point needle and is tapered at the point to allow the needle to slip through the fabric without producing a run.
It is similar to universal needle but has much more rounded edges and not tapered as much as of universal needle. It is intended for closely knitted fabric where the rounded point will push apart and through the fabric instead of cutting through the fabric.
It is for tightly woven fabrics such as canvas, jean. It has a strong sharp point which cuts through the fibre.
These needles come with an extra-large eye and a specially shaped scarf to prevent embroidery thread from shredding.
Handicap/self-threading needle
Have a cut-out through the eye of the needle allowing easy threading of thread through the needle. The thread stays in the eye through the vertical tension both in upward and downward direction during the sewing process. It works well with woven fabric.
Leather needle
It is used for sewing leather. It has a slight cutting point like a arrow head making a clean hole for the needle to pass through it.
Stretch needle
It is similar to that of ballpoint but with slightly tapered point. It is used for elastic fabric like that of spandex, lycra etc.
Microtex/sharp needles
The needles have a very sharp and tapered point and is used for sewing microfiber silk, synthetic leather, precisely stitching edges etc.

The above classification was based on the shape and geometry of the needles but apart from that, needles also come in various sizes. Initially, there were various standards on which machine needles we made depending upon the manufacturer.

But at present, only two such standards are most commonly in use, the American and the European standards.

The European designation being the most updated standard represents the diameter of the needle blade in hundredths of a millimetre measured just above the scarf but not at any reinforced part of the blade. 

For example, a 110 needle is 1.1millimeter in diameter while 50 is half a millimeter as diameter. Prior to this, the American standard was used which was popularised by Singer. The needles were divided into classes which represented the machine model example being Class 15, Class 24, etc. with each Class coming in a variety of sizes with an arbitrary numbering system. 

For both the system, the ascending numbers represent ticker/heavier needles with ticker shafts and larger eyes to suit thicker threads and use for heavier fabric. Since both of the systems is commonly used, needle packets contain both the number.

Table-2: Needle size and its uses
American system
European system
These are very fine needles and are used for fine sheer fabric like georgette or organdy, lace, net, lawn, fine silk, polyester and voile.
It is used for medium weight fabrics thus can sew the largest range of fabrics like jersey, Lycra, linen, calf leather, poplin. Viscose, polycotton, linen, needlecord, trill, brocade etc.
It is used for heavy weight fabrics like jeans, vinyl, upholstery canvas or more than double fold medium weight fabrics.
It is used for very heavy fabrics.

Nowadays, the needles come with color code, since the engraving of the size number in the needle becomes very difficult to read. The colors are painted at the shank of the machine and can be referred from the color chart.

How to determine correct thread for a needle?

For determining the correct thread for the needle, a simple exercise can be done

1. Take half a meter of the thread being used on the machine and thread it through the eye of a loose needle.
2. Hold the thread vertically with the needle at the top.
  • If the needle is too big, it will drop to the bottom of the thread.
  • If the needle is too small, it will stick at the top of the thread.
  • If the needle is of the correct size, it will spiral slowly to the bottom of the thread.
Before using in a garment even after proper selection, it should always be tested using the needed thread on a scrap fabric rather than the original material. It should be considered as dangerous as what scissor is to a fabric. Improper needle selection leads to irreversible damage to the fabric, puckering while sewing, frequent needle breakage, increased changing of the needle due to wear and tear, etc. so it is always advisable to choose the correct needle in accordance to the thread and the fabric used.


Soumyadeep Saha

Soumyadeep Saha holds a Master's Degree in Fashion Technology from NIFT, New Delhi. He is also a graduate in apparel production. His area of interest includes Quality Assurance and technology implementations in Apparel Production.

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