Notes on Needles

    Never, never, don't ever,      
    ever buy cheap sewing
       machine needles.

Cheap needles are not worth the price you will pay in frustration. This is not the place to skimp and try to save money on your sewing projects. Cheap needles have dull ragged points that will rip holes in the fabric. Their eyes are not as smooth, this causes thread shredding and breakage. They are not made from quality steel so they are more likely to bend and break. You can hear the difference while sewing between a cheap needle and a quality needle. The quality needle will make less noise as it cleanly slips through the fabric, the cheap needle will punch through the garment with a popping, ripping  sound.

Needles wear out. Just think of the number of times that the point of the needle goes through the fabric when sewing a seam. They may look alright to the naked eye, but the points become dull. Using a dull needle puts stress on the sewing machine. There is another factor in the life of a needle. As those miles of thread pull through the eye they rub on the steel causing the eye to become rough and it can shred the thread. Don't think that just because the needle is not broken it is alright.

The type of needle that is chosen must be matched to the type of fabric, the weight of the fabric and the type of thread for the best stitching. There are many more needles on the market than there were before because there are many more types of fabric available to the home sewer. Needles have many styles of grooves, scarfs, eyes and points. These differences are small and difficult to see without strong magnification but they make a big difference in the quality of the stitching.

The needle that most of us need for sewing square dance outfits is the Universal Point size 8, 9 or 10. This is the needle for cotton and poly/cotton broad cloth type fabrics. When you start a new garment get out a new needle. If you have to change projects, such as mending a pair of jeans, take out the garment needle and put it with the garment. Insert a heavy duty jeans needle and complete the mending task. Then change back to the garment needle. The jeans needle can be put aside for future mending. I can hear someone saying,"Why bother?" to all of these steps. The garment needle could become bent, dulled or broken trying to force its way through the heavier denim fabric. This could cause skipped stitches when going back to sewing on the garment. There could be skipped stitches in the mending project because the garment needle is too light for the task. Needle size and type will make a difference in the quality of the stitching no mater what machine is used.

Parts of a Sewing Machine Needle

Shank - This is the thicker upper part of the needle that is held by the machine. One side is usually flat. On most machines the flat side goes to the back when inserting a needle. The needle size is engraved on the shank.

Shaft - The part from the base of the shank to the tip. The diameter of the shaft determines size. Larger needles are for heavier fabrics, smaller for finer weaves. The shaft must be perfectly straight and smooth to sew properly.

Groove - The channel that runs down the front of the needle shaft. The thread rides in the groove when it goes through the fabric. 

Scarf - The indented area on the back of the needle just above the eye. The bobbin hook catches the upper thread at the scarf and pulls it around the bobbin. This creates the stitch. If the needle is bent the bobbin hook can't catch the thread.

Eye - The hole in the needle that the thread passes through. Thread goes through the eye both forward and back ward. If the eye is too small for the type of thread being used the thread will shred and break. Topstitching needles have a larger eye and deeper groove for the thicker topstitching thread.

Point - The sharp tip of the needle that penetrates the fabric. There are different types of points depending on the fabric. Ball points are slightly rounded so that they slide between knit fibers rather than piercing them. Sharps are ground like a hollow point knife for microfibers that are very tightly woven. Leather needles have a triangular wedge point to cut through leather. Universals have a moderately angled point for woven fabrics.

The Schmetz Co. makes hundreds of different types of needles for household sewing machines. Once you see and feel the difference that specialized needles make you will want to have a wide selection in your sewing box. Today's machines with their high speed computer guided accuracy require high quality needles to do the best job on your special projects.

More Needle Information

       Until about 1960 there was only one type of needle available to the home seamstress and that was the sharps. When polyester was introduced there was a need for a new needle. The sharps had a tendency to skip stitches because it would poke into the fibers of the polyester and bounce back. The ball point needle was invented to slide between the polyester fibers. After that came the universal needle. It has a point between a ball point and a sharps. This is the perfect needle for most home sewn projects but it is not the right needle for every thing.

       If you are going to be working on tough fabrics like denim the needle to use is a sharps. Many people think that you automaticly need a bigger needle to get through tough fabric when the point is the problem . A sharp needle will penetrate rather than poke the fabric. The machine will work smoother if the needle is slipping through the fabric rather than jabbing into it.

      When sewing several layers of fabric the proper needle is the topstitch. It has a sharp style point and a larger eye that help the stitches connect better through thicker sewing. If skipped stitches is the problem try a top stitch needle. Top stitch needles are needed when using heavier weight thread because of their larger eye.

       Microtex needles are made for silky, slinky stuff. They have the most tapered points and will make the sewing go much easier. Use a finer needle on the slinky stuff. It makes a smaller hole causing less damage to the fabric.

     Most new machines have an automatic needle threader, and they are wonderful, but they will not work as well on needles smaller than size 80, the hook is too big for the eye of the needle.

      Some machines work better with one brand of needle. Singer machines with the drop in bobbins work better with Singer brand needles. Other brands of machines don't like the Singer needles. When you find the type of needle that works best for you stick with it.

        Have a large selection of needles in your sewing supplies. There  are few things more frustrations that breaking your last needle on a Sunday night and having to stop when the sewing was going so well, or being unable to start a new project because the right size needle is not at hand. Once you start using the different types of needles and see what a difference they make in the quality of sewing you will become a needle nut.

ALWAYS - sew on a scrap of fabric before starting on your garment. Check the stitch quality for skips, tension and holes.  The best way to check the stitching is to cut a square of scrap fabric.  Sew across the square, corner to corner, so the stitching is on the bias. Check the stitching for skipped stitches, puckers or large holes. Hold the square by the corners and pull. If only the top thread breaks the top tension is too tight. If only the bottom thread breaks the top tension is too loose.  It is easier to reset the top tension than the bobbin tension which is factory set. If both threads break at the same time the tension is perfect. 

Types of Needles

Universal - Used for general sewing, it has a slightly rounded point which works well for most fabrics used by the home stitcher. They come in a variety of sizes 80 and 90 being the most commonly used. 

Ballpoint - This needle has a highly rounded point that slips between the thread of the fabric. This is especially important when sewing with stretch fabrics. It prevents the needle from making pulls in the fabric.

Embroidery - The slightly rounded point prevents damage to the fabric and the rounded eye allows the rayon threads to feed smoothly.

Jeans - Larger needles with a sharp strong point for piercing thick fabrics. Works well for home deco projects and other heavy uses.

Leather - The triangular point cuts a smooth path through leather. Do not use this on faux leather or vinyl or the stitching holes will rip through the fabric.

Quilting - When sewing through three layers, top, batting and backing this needle is designed to reduce 'bearding'. that is the fuzzy wisps of batting that other needles drag to the back of the quilt.

Twin Needles - Two needles set into one shaft. They can only be used on zig zag machines that thread from the front. They have decorative and functional uses. The Space between the needles can only be as wide as the widest zig zag of the machine.