Tips and Tools: Sewing Machine Needles

Tips and Tools

We hope you gain some valuable sewing knowledge from our tips and tools posts.  Have a question or a tip or tool you just have to share?  Please send it our way.  Message us on our Facebook page or send us an e-mail at info@modern-textiles.com

This week we would like to share a little bit about sewing machine needles.  Every machine has them,but not everyone might understand just how important they are to the final outcome of your project.  Sewing with a dull or bent needle can cause enlarged holes in your fabric, make uneven or loopy stitches, and can even damage your sewing machine.  Luckily, sewing machine needles are fairly inexpensive and are really easy to swap out.  

Sewing machine needles are different than needles for hand sewing.  Needles for a machine have the “eye”or opening at the bottom sharp end or point of the needle as opposed to a hand sewing needle that has the eye at the top. The top of a machine needle or “shank” is also much thicker and has one flat side instead of being perfectly round. 

Step into the notions aisle at a sewing supply store for the first time and you might get a little overwhelmed.  There are many types of sewing machine needles, but today let’s just stick with the basics; knit, stretch, universal (with varying sizes) and denim.  The knit needles are obviously for knit fabrics. If your knit is especially stretchy or you are sewing a swimsuit type lycra fabric you would want to switch to the stretch needle.  The universal needles are for woven fabrics and come in many sizes from 60/8 up to 120/19. The easiest way to remember which needle to use is to think of standard quilt weight cotton as the middle on a fabric to needle spectrum.  80/12 would be the appropriate needle for this weight; lighter weight fabrics would use smaller numbers and heavier would use larger numbers.  If you are planning to sew denim or another type of similar weight fabric a denim needle would yield the best results.   Many times universal needles have a variety of sizes packaged together. 

Changing the needle on your sewing machine is simple.  Make sure your needle is in the up position on your machine.  Find the needle clamp screw.  If you’re not sure where this is, follow your needle up into the sewing machine. The needle clamp screw will be sticking out horizontally from the needle shaft.  Loosen this screw until you can easily pull the needle down and out of the machine.  Insert a new needle and push it up as far as it will go in the hole.  Make sure the flat part of the shank of the needle is facing the back of your sewing machine.  Re-tighten the needle clamp screw.  That’s it!  Job done. (If you are really struggling with this step YouTube has a ton of videos to walk you through.)

How often should you replace the needle?  The experts say every 4-6 hours of actual sewing.  That might be hard to gauge, so let me share my personal guidelines.  If I’m starting a big project and I can’t remember the last time I changed it, then I do it right away.  If I’m sewing something lighter or heavier than quilt weight fabric, I change it right away because I tend to mostly use 80/12’s. And at the first sign of sewing machine trouble, changing the needle is typically my first troubleshooting solution.

Hope this helps you enjoy some much happier sewing!  Please feel free to comment with questions.  We’ll do our best to answer them.  So tell us, when is the last time you changed your needle?


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