Basics

Sewing Machine Needle Sizes and Types

Sewing Machine Needle Sizes and Types

Choosing the right type of sewing machine needle before you start sewing can make a world of difference in your projects. They’ll create more even stitches and won’t bunch up your fabric as you sew.

When you first look at the needles available for purchase, it’s likely you’ll be overwhelmed by how many choices there are. There are different brands, types, sizes, and colors of needles. There are so many options it may be tempting to just grab the first one to see. Keep reading and you’ll see that all the needles have a system and purpose and choosing the right one can really make the world of difference in your sewing projects.

If you’re trying to choose a needle for hand sewing instead of machine sewing, here’s a guide to hand sewing needle sizes and types.

Reading Sewing Machine Needle Sizes

Closeup of sewing machine needle sizes

@Stacy Fisher

Needle sizes on a needle case

@Stacy Fisher

On every sewing machine needle package you buy, you’ll see a set of numbers (such as 80/12). Some of the needles come in variety packs and they may have a set of numbers underneath each needle. This is the size of the needle. The larger the number, the larger the needle shaft. 

The first number is the size based on the European metric system and the second number is the American numbering system for needles.

You want to choose your size of needle and type of needle based on what type of fabric you’re using.

Universal Sewing Machine Needles

Two packages of universal sewing machine needles

@Stacy Fisher

Universal sewing machine needles should be your go-to needle that’s usually in your machine. These are used for making quilts, sewing woven apparel, and for quick sewing projects made with cotton fabric.

The point of the universal sewing machine needle is just slightly rounded so it can pierce woven fabrics but also slip in between the fabric threads of a knit.

Here’s a chart that will show you what universal sewing machine needle size you should choose based on the weight and type of fabric you’re using.

Fabric WeightTypes of FabricNeedle Size
Very LightweightSilk, Chiffon, Organza60/8, 65/9
LightweightCotton Spandex, Cotton Voile70/10, 75/11
Medium-weightCotton Woven, Linen, Jersey, Fleece80/12, 90/14
HeavyweightDenim, Canvas Duck, Corduroy100/16
Very HeavyweightUpholstery, Heavy Denim110/18, 120/20

If you’re not sure which to pick, a variety pack of needles would be a great choice. These have sizes 11, 14, and 16 needles inside.

Speciality Sewing Machine Needles

If you are sewing on a fabric other than a woven or stable knit, you may want to consider choosing a different type of sewing machine needle. Here’s what type of needle works well with what type of fabric.

Type of NeedleType of Fabric
Ballpoint/JerseyKnits (Jersey, French Terry, Hacci, Interlock, Sweatshirt Fleece, Spandex, Ponte de Roma)
StretchKnits (Spandex, Lycra)
Sharp/MicrotexSilk, Organza, Chiffon
Denim/JeansDenim, Canvas Duck
LeatherLeather, Vinyl

Here’s a closer look at the parts of the needle as well as how some of the points differ from each other. With a close-up like this, you can really see just how different the needles are from each other.

Illustration of a sewing needle

@Wikipedia Commons

Ballpoint/Jersey Sewing Machine Needles

Two packages of ballpoint needles

@Stacy Fisher

Ballpoint sewing machine needles also called jersey sewing machine needles, are the perfect choice if you’re sewing with a knit. The point of the needle is round, making it easy for it to go in between the fibers of the fabric without piercing it.

Ballpoint needles come in sizes 10/70, 11/17, 12/80, 14/90, 16/100, and 18/110. The smaller sizes work better with the lighter weight knits and the larger sizes are great to use with the stable, thicker knits.

Stretch Sewing Machine Needles

Stretch sewing machine needles

@Stacy Fisher

Stretch sewing machine needles have a medium, rounded needle point, although slightly less rounded than ballpoint needles. These needles are great to use on fabric that has a lot of elastic in it such as Spandex. These come in sizes 75/11 and 90/14.

Sharp/Microtex Sewing Machine Needles

Sharp, or Microtex, sewing machine needles have a very sharp and thin needle point. These needles are great for using with thin and delicate fabrics like silk and chiffon because the point will evenly pierce the fabric without causing snags. You can find these needles in sizes 60/8, 70/10, 80/12, 90/14, 100/16, and 110/18.

Denim/Jeans Sewing Machine Needles

A package of Shmetz jeans/denim needles

@Stacy Fisher

Denim sewing machine needles or jeans sewing machine needles have a thick and sharp needle point. This is great for heavier fabric like denim or canvas duck that need a sharper and thicker needle to pierce the heavy-duty fabric. You’ll find these in sizes 70/10, 80/12, 90/14, 100/16, and 110/18.

Leather Sewing Machine Needles

A close-up of a leather sewing machine needle

@media.digest/Flickr

Leather sewing machine needles are for, you guessed it, leather. These needles have a chisel point that easily pierces through leather and thicker vinyl. They come in sizes 70/10, 80/12, 90/14, 100/16, and 110/18.

Other Sewing Machine Needles

Some sewing machine needles are made specifically for what type of thread you want to use on your project or a special stitching technique you’d like to use.

Metallic Sewing Machine Needles

Metallic sewing machine needles are used with metallic thread and other specialty threads. They have an elongated eye which helps protect the metallic thread from breaking.

Embroidery Sewing Machine Needles

Embroidery sewing machine needles have a wide eye and groove with a slightly rounded point. They’re to be used with specialty embroidery threads and the wide eye helps protect those delicate fibers. They come in sizes 75/11 and 90/14.

Embroidery Gold needles are a great choice when you’re embroidering with very fragile threads and the titanium coatings resist any adhesives or course material you might be sewing through. These come in the same sizes 74/11 and 90/14.

Quilting Sewing Machine Needles

Quilting sewing machine needles

@Stacy Fisher

A quilting sewing machine needle is to be used when you’re machine quilting or piecing a quilt. It has a tapered point which lessens the change of skipped stitches. These are available in sizes 75/11 and 90/14.

Topstitch Sewing Machine Needles

Topstitch sewing machine needles

@Stacy Fisher

Topstitch sewing machine needles have an extra long eye which helps you to get very straight stitch lines when you’re topstitching a project. They’re available in sizes 80/12, 90/14, and 100/16.

Hemstitch Sewing Machine Needles

Hemstitch sewing machine needles have a wing on each side of the needle and are a great choice for loosely woven fabrics or heirloom sewing.

Twin Sewing Machine Needles

A twin sewing machine needle

@Stacy Fisher

A twin sewing machine needle has one shaft that splits into two needles. You’ll need to thread two upper threads (one for each needle) along with your bobbin thread. This will get you two rows of stitching right beside each other.

Twin needles come as universal, hemstitch, embroidery, metallic, jeans, and stretch needles. These are sized differently because the first number stands for the distance between the two needles. These come in sizes 1.6/70, 1.6/80, 2.0/80, 2.5/80, 3.0/90, 4.0/80, 4.0/90, 4.0/100, 6.0/100, and 8.0/100.

Self Threading Needles

Self-threading, or quick threading, needles have a small slot in the eye that allows for easy threading. these come in a variety of sizes and types. If you don’t have an automatic needle threader on your sewing machine, these can be a sanity saver.

Sewing Machine Needle Brands

There are all sorts of brands of sewing machine needles with Schmetz, Singer, and Organ being some of the most popular. Unless you have a very old or industrial sewing machine, any of these sewing machine needles should fit your home sewing machine.

Sewing Machine Needle Color Codes

A close up of the colored bands on a sewing machine needle

@Stacy Fisher

On the top of the shaft of sewing machine needles, you may notice that there are one or two colored bands. This indicates either the size, type, or both size and type of the needle. Don’t panic if you don’t see a colored band, some won’t have them. You won’t need to pay much attention to them when you buy them, but if you are switching needles on a regular basis, it can help you keep track of which needle is for what type of fabric.

While sewing machine needle sizes and types are universal among the brands, their coloring coding system is not. Sometimes they stand for the type and sometimes they stand for the kind of needle. Sometimes there are two bands for each.

You may also see the size of the needle printed in very tiny numbers on the shank of the needle.

Schmetz Color Codes

Schemtz sewing machine needles have two bands of color on them. The top color indicates the needle type and the second color stands for the needle size. Here’s the color guide for the top band of Schmetz needles, which stands for the type of needle.

Schmetz Needle Color (Top Band)Schmetz Needle Type
NoneUniversal
OrangeJersey/Ballpoint
YellowStretch
BlueJeans
PurpleMicrotex/Sharp
PinkMetallic
RedEmbroidery
GreenQuilting
Light GreenTopstitch
BrownLeather

Here are the color codes for the bottom band on the Schmetz needles, which indicates the needle size.

Schmetz Needle Color (Bottom Band)Schmetz Needle Size
Red130/21
Black125/20
Brown120/19
Yellow110/18
Purple100/16
Blue90/14
Orange80/12
Pink75/11
Green70/10
White65/9
Light Green60/8

Singer Color Codes

Singer sewing machine needles can have a colored shank (the very top part of the needle that attaches to your sewing machine) and a colored band on the top of the shaft. The color of the shank indicates the type of needle and the color on the shaft is the needle size.

Singer Needle Color (Shank)Singer Needle Type
RedUniversal
YellowBallpoint
BlueDenim
BrownLeather
Singer Needle Color (Shaft)Singer Needle Size
Green70/9
Orange80/11
Blue90/14
Purple100/16
Gray110/18

Changing Your Sewing Machine Needle

How often should you change your sewing machine needle? The common rule is to change your needle after every project or after 6 hours of sewing. I usually use them a little longer than that but a new sewing machine needle can really make a quality difference in your stitches.

If you notice that you’re getting skipped stitches, broken threads, or puckered fabrics, it’s time to change your needle.

Next article How to Clean a Sewing Machine
Previous article Denim Fabric: What It Is and How to Sew With It

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