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All About Sewing Machine Needles


One of the questions I get often is how do I know what sewing machine needle do I use?

This is an important question.  Different fabrics and projects may require a specific machine needle type and size.

how to identify sewing machine needles
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Knowing what sewing machine needle for cotton or denim really does make a difference.  Larger needles leave larger holes.  You wouldn't want to use a large denim needle for a delicate stain fabric.  Results would not be good.



Let's dive into all the different sewing machine needles in this simple sewing machine needle size guide.


sewing machine needles for different fabrics


Anatomy of a Machine Needle
A sewing machine needle has anatomy.  Just like you learned about fabric anatomy.  Each part of the machine needle has a different purpose.



Shank: upper portion of the needle that is place into the machine.  Front is rounded and the back is flat.

Shaft:  the lower portion of the needle that is at the base of the shank.  This is where needle size is determined.

Groove:  the indentation on the front of the needle.

Scarf:  the indentation on the back of the needle.  Allows the bobbin thread to pass close to the needle.

Eye:  the hole in end of the shaft.  Thread passes from the front to the back.

Point:  the tip of the needle that goes through the fabric.









what sewing machine needle for cotton


Types of Needles
The different types of needles are designed for different types of fabrics.  Each type can come in several sizes.  But the specific needle type is determined by the fabric you plan to sew with.



machine needle size guide
Universal or general-purpose needle
The universal need has a sharp point and is designed for use with woven and knit fabrics.


Ballpoint needle
The ballpoint needle is designed with knits or stretch fabric.  The tip is slightly rounded and allows the needle to slip between the yarns without snagging.


what size sewing machine needle to use
Stretch (Jersey) needle
The stretch needle is designed for use on synthetic fabrics and knitwear.  It is designed to prevent skipping stitches.


Leather needle
The leather needle has a wedge-shaped point designed to pierce leather, vinyl and heavy non-woven fabrics.


Twin (double) needle 
The twin needle is great for decorative stitches and also used to hem knits nicely.





what size sewing machine needle to use

Machine Needle Sizes
Sewing machine needles come in many ranges from 6 to 20.  Different manufactures may have different sizing methods, but you can usually find how the decide on ranges online.

How do you decide what needle you need?  Just remember that the lower the number, the smaller or finer the needle.  This is the case with all sewing machine needles.

what sewing machine needle for cotton

Make sure to check out the chart above for ideas on what fabrics for which needle size.


  • 70/10 - fine, lightweight fabrics like chiffons, tulle, organza
  • 80/12 - lightweight fabrics like quilting cotton, calico, linen fabrics
  • 90/14 - medium weight, home decor fabrics
  • 100/16 - medium to heavyweight, denims, corduroy
  • 110/18 - heavy weight, like denim, leather, heavy denim, thick canvas
All About Sewing Machine Needles

When do I change my sewing machine needle?
Technically, you should be changing your needle between each sewing project.  Of course, if you have a small project, you can use that needle for longer.

Just make sure to check your needle regularly for any dings.  If your finger snags on the point of the needle, it is time for a new one.



sewing machine needles sizes

Also, most problems with tension on your sewing machine can be resolved with changing out your machine needle.  It is one of the things I've learned in the past decade plus of teaching sewing.  If the thread is wonky, change your needle.



Learn all about sewing machine needles and what size sewing machine needle to use for what fabric.

I hope this post cleared up some of your questions about sewing machine needles.  I promise this knowledge will really help you curb some of the frustrations that come with sewing.  Having the appropriate needle can make a huge difference in your success with sewing.

Make sure to check out our free Sewing Basics course to answer more of your sewing machine questions.


Learn all about sewing machine needles and what size sewing machine needle to use for what fabric.


Learn all about sewing machine needles and what size sewing machine needle to use for what fabric.

Learn all about sewing machine needles and what size sewing machine needle to use for what fabric.



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