Sewing Machine Needles: Why Choosing the Right One Matters

sewing machine needles pin

You may think that the type of sewing machine needles that you’re using in your machine doesn’t really matter, but it does! Using the right sewing machine needle size and type for the project can mean the difference between broken threads, skipped stitches and a  professional looking seam.

I thought for years that the reason I was getting a “bad stitch” was because there was something wrong with my machine. Not so.

One day I was doing a little research on needles and read how using a “sharp” needle will give you a nice straight stitch when topstitching. So I switched my needle to a sharp needle, and BAM I got a beautiful straight stitch.

I was considering buying a new sewing machine, thinking mine had serious problems, when all I had to do was use the right type of needle! That piece of information saved me a few bucks.

So choosing the right needle does matter!

How do I choose the right sewing machine needles?

It’s all about the needle type and size.

You’ll select the needle type by what kind of fabric you are sewing on (i.e. knit vs. woven).

The needle size is determined by the thickness and weight of the fabric.



Needle Types

I am going to go over some of the most common needle types. (Don’t let all this information overwhelm you. It really is quite simple).

Universal Needles

As the name suggests, universal needles are the most commonly used needle. They can be used with woven fabrics, synthetics and some knit fabrics. This is the type of needle I use for 90 % of my sewing. The finer needles are mostly used for lightweight fabrics. Larger sizes are used on medium to heavyweight fabrics. I recommend staying stocked up on a good basic Universal needle. There are variety packs that include sizes 70-90, like the one pictured above.

Ball point

Ball point needles are similar to a universal needle but it has a more rounded tip, which pushes the fabric fibers apart rather than cutting them. This makes ball point needles ideal for working with tightly woven, rib knits, interlock, cotton knits, fleece, and double knit.


Jersey needles are a standard ball point needle specifically for knit fabric (t-shirt fabric). If when using a jersey needle you experience stitch skipping, you will want to switch to a stretch needle.


Stretch needles, often confused with Jersey needles, are also a medium ballpoint tip. These needles are good for extremely 2 way stretchy fabrics like spandex and elastic. If you’re sewing swimwear, grab this type of needle for sure.


Leather needles are often known as chisel point needles thanks to a point that looks and acts like a chisel when in use. These needles should be used with genuine leather, suede and difficult to sew projects, but should not be used with imitation leather, ultra suede or synthetic suede since the characteristics of these fabrics are quite different.


Quilting needles are designed to be used with several layers of fabric because of their reinforced shaft.


This needle has a sharp point and narrow shaft for piercing woven fabric.  Works best on finely woven fabric like chintz, silk, light weight faux suede, and microfiber. They are also great for heirloom sewing or any other type of topstitching.


The extra large eye, large groove, and sharp point make it perfect for heavy decorative threads, like embroidery thread, or even two strands of all purpose thread. Use this needle anytime you have stitches visible on the outside of your project for a neat, clean look.


Denim Needles have a sharp point and strong shaft. These needles can stitch through many layers without breaking. Use on heavy, tightly woven fabric, like denim, canvas, and duck.


Twin needles have a single shaft connecting two needles. This is often used when you want two perfectly matching stitches. This is a common seam for jeans and decorative stitching. Your machine must be twin needle capable, with two separate thread spools and a wide enough needle plat. They are available in Denim, Stretch, Embroidery, Metallic, and Universal. These work well for topstitching t-shirt hems.


Sewing Machine Needles Sizes

So what are those numbers shown on the packages of needles? I am embarrassed to admit that until just recently I didn’t understand what they meant. I knew it had to do something with the size.

If you look at most needle packaging they will have 2 numbers on them with a / to divide them. For example ( 80/12). The smaller number relates to the American system and ranges from 8 to 20 and the larger number is for the European system and ranges from 60 to 120. Who knew?

What sewing machine needles size do you use for what projects?

The numbers represent the thickness of the fabric that you are able to sew with the needle. The larger the numbers the thicker the fabric you can sew. Common sizes are 60/8, 70/10, 75/11, 80/12, 90/14 and 100/16

I have created a sewing machine needle guide that will hopefully help you figure out what type of needle will suit the sewing project you’re working on. (Look for the download link below) What do the colors on the needle shaft mean?


You may have wondered what the little color stripes painted on the shaft of the needle mean. The top color indicates the needle type and the bottom color indicates the needle size


You will find variations of the same color in different brands but ultimately, this is the chart:

  • Universal – no color code
  • Ball point – medium blue
  • Jersey – orange or light brown
  • Stretch – Yellow
  • Jeans – dark blue
  • Microtex – purple
  • Leather – brown
  • Universal twin – red shaft
  • Stretch twin – blue shaft
  • Quilting – green


I love having a copy of this chart in my wallet for those times when I need to purchase a new needle. You can laminate the charts to make them last longer.

I have made the PDF available for you to download and print for FREE!

This PDF includes THREE different size charts.

  • 1 LARGE – to hang in your sewing room.
  • 1 MEDIUM
  • 2 SMALL – to keep handy in your purse or even your wallet.

How long do sewing machine needles last?

Ideally, you should change your needle beginning of each project. But if that’s a little too much, the best practice is to change the needle about every 10 hours of continuous sewing.

If you accidentally hit a pin when sewing, then you should change the needle immediately as you will have damaged the tip and you won’t get a good stitch and may even mess up your bobbin.

What brand is the best when it comes to sewing machine needles?

Every seamstress may have their favorite brand or if you’re like me, they all seem to work just fine.  I don’t think you can go wrong with a Schmetz needle. They offer such a large variety. Schmetz needles are of such good quality you’ll find that changing the needle every 10 hrs of sewing is not quite necessary, the needles still look and feel amazing! You should still change the needles though as they might get damaged when you’re in the middle of your next project or 10 hrs round.

How to store and manage your sewing machine needles

Do you ever change needles and just stick it in your pin cushion or on your sewing cabinet? Then weeks later wonder what size or type of needle it is?

I do this all the time and end up just pitching it because I don’t want to be using the wrong needle. They do engrave that information on the needle itself, however you’ll need a magnifying glass to be able to read it.

So I have started marking the needle when I take it out of the machine with a little piece of masking tape. Works like a charm.


sewing machine needle tin

I store my needles in a recycled Altoids Mint tin.

I hope this was helpful!

When I started using the correct needle for the project at hand; it did make a huge difference in my sewing results, and I didn’t have to buy a new sewing machine. LOL.

Want some hand sewing tips? Check out this post showing you some basic hand-sewing stitches.

Have fun sewing my friends,





  1. Can I get a printable version of this article please?

    • Hi Johanna
      Off to the left of the blog post there are social icons and the bottom one is a printer icon. Click on that, and it will give you a printable version. There will be quite larger pictures, but you can copy and paste the text into a word document if you don’t want them.

  2. This is one of the most helpful, easy to understand articles I have ever read about sewing needles. Thank you!

    • Thank you, Gloria!

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