The trick to sewing with lots of different fabrics is to use the right needle for the job!
Using the right needle makes all the difference when sewing with different fabrics, but how do you know which is the right one for your current project? I'm going to take all the guess work out of it for you.
When you’re starting out, you’re likely to be working with woven cotton fabrics which are easy to cut and sew. If you have a new sewing machine you will have a selection of needles included, which are usually universal needles in a range of sizes, perfect to get you started.
- If your machine starts skipping stitches, change your needle before anything else.
- Rethread your machine before playing with the tension.
- Keep needles in the original packets to keep them organised.
- Replace needles after every other project or every 8-10 hours of sewing.
All needles come in a range of sizes, starting with size 70/10 which is the smallest through to a thick 120/20. The needle size is based on the diameter, so a size 90 needle is 0.9mm round.
Here is a handy chart from The Sewing Directory Explaining what each size of needle is best for:
No 60 =
Silks, cotton lawn, organza and sheer fabrics
No 70 =
Cotton lawn, lining fabrics
No 80 =
Cotton shirting, quilting cotton,
No 90 =
Linen, linen union curtain fabrics, cushion fabrics, cotton sateen curtain linings,
No 100 =
No 110 =
Upholstery fabrics and canvas weight fabrics, leather, pvc and vinyls
No 120 =
Thick Denim and Heavy Canvas, thick leather
Types of Needle
You will also notice that there are different types of needles, as well as different sizes. There are 7 needle types we use regularly which I’ll talk you through now.
Universal needles are the standard sewing needle you will probably use the most. They come in a range of the sizes mentioned above, but the most commonly used are size 90/14s. Universal needles are perfect for working with all kinds of woven fabrics, from cotton lawns, to linens, to canvas and curtain fabrics. You can use the chart above to decide which size to use for which fabrics, but a general rule of thumb would be, simply, use a bigger needle for bigger fabrics.
Stretch needles are slightly less sharp than the universal equivalent and are designed for use with fabrics with elastane or lycra content, such as cotton sateen. Because they’re less sharp the needle doesn’t risk breaking the threads as it goes through the fabric and weakening the seam which needs to move and stretch.
Jersey Needles, similarly, are designed to push their way through the fabric without damaging the knit. Jersey needles have tiny ball-point end to help them with this. This is especially important with knit jersey fabrics because if you break a thread in a knit fabric you can end up with runs in the garment!
Microtex needles are particularly sharp and fine, perfect for working with fine fabrics, such as silks, satins, crepes and viscose. Because they are very fine, usually size 60-80, they make very tiny holes in your fabric as it sews. Replace microtex needles regularly to prevent the point going dull and use a needle size appropriate to the fabric type - lower for light weight fabrics like chiffon, slightly higher for heavier weight fabrics viscose and crepe.
Twin needles have two points attached to one shank which fits in to your machine in the same way that a single needle does. If you have a needle threader on your machine, it won’t work with a twin needle, sorry. Twin needles are used to hem garments with a professional finish of two lines of stitches on the top. They work by zigzagging the bobbin thread between the two lines of stitching, which also gives a little bit of stretch to the finish.
Because the twin needle sews the two lines of stitching on the top of the fabric, you need to carefully fold the hem underneath, pinning the hem down evenly and keep an eye on it as you sew to make sure it’s not shifting.
Leather needles have a chisel point to 'cut' through the fabric, and while you might not be planning on sewing with leather, they also work really well when sewing with PU or laminated fabrics like oilcloth. I've also used these needles when sewing on sticky Velcro which my standard needle struggled with.
Jeans needles are kind of self-explanatory, but it’s worth knowing they’re there if you’re planning on having a go at a pair of jeans or anything in a mid-heavy weight denim!
So, I hope that answers any questions you have about which machines needles you need and why. If there is anything else you want to know, leave me a comment and I’ll get back to you with the answer!
Our Learn to Sew series is designed to encourage new sewers to feel confident at their sewing machines and teach the basics of sewing so anyone can have a go. We have the same philosophy at Crafty Sew and So workshops. If you would like to have a go at sewing with a little more help and support, why not come to one of our ‘Start as you Mean to Sew On’ workshops, or one of the Learn to Sew workshops in our studio, where we can answer questions and help you every step of the way.