How to Choose Sewing Machine Needles

Sewing machine needles might seem insignificant, but they can literally make or break your stitching. Sewing with damaged or worn sewing machine needles can cause broken or shredded threads, skipped stitches, fabric puckering, uneven seams, or even permanently damage fabrics.

Close Up on Sewing Machine and Thick Brown Fabric

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The two most important things to know about choosing sewing machine needles are the type and the size.

You should select the type of needle based on the textile construction (i.e. knit vs. woven), and the needle size is determined by the thickness of the thread and the weight of the fabric you will be using for your project.

Illustration Depicting Parts of a Sewing Machine Needle
Image via Schmetz Needles

It helps to understand the different parts of a home sewing machine needle.

  • The shank is the part of the needle that fits into your sewing machine, with the flat side to the back.
  • The blade is what determines the needle size. (For example, a size 75 needle has a blade that is .75 mm in diameter.)
  • The shaft is the “body” of the needle, and the groove that runs the length of the shaft holds the needle thread. Did you know that the diameter of the thread you are using should take up no more than 40% of the groove?
  • The point and tip of the needle refer to the size, shape and length — all of which vary based on the type of needle.
  • The scarf of the needle is an indentation on the backside that allows the bobbin hook to smoothly grab the thread under the sewing machine throat plate to create a proper stitch.

Needle types

There are three main types of needles that are used for the majority of sewing, as well as many specialty needles.

  • Universal needles have a slightly rounded tip, and this general purpose needle should be used on wovens as well as some sturdy knits.
  • Jersey needles have a medium ballpoint tip designed especially for knit fabrics because it slips between the knit fibers and does not break or damage them while sewing.
  • Stretch needles, often confused with Jersey needles, are also a medium ballpoint tip, but these have a special eye and scarf that are designed for extremely stretchy fabrics and elastic. Swimwear is an ideal application for this type of needle.

In addition to the three most widely used needle types, there are also specialty needles for sewing with denim and leather, sewing suede, topstitching, needlepoint and embroidery, along with specific needles for quilting. Remember to select the needle first based on fabric type or usage, and then determine the correct size based on the weight of the fabric and the size of the thread you will be using.

Close Up on Sewing Needle in Machine

Needle sizing

There are two needle sizing systems: American and European. American needle sizes range from 8 to 19, and European sizes range from 60 to 120. The larger the number, the larger the blade of the needle. Often you will see both sizing numbers on the needle package, such as 60/8 and 70/10.

Home sewing machine needles are also classified as the 130/705 H system, which means they are for use in home sewing machines rather than industrial machines. That designation means the needles have a flat shank and a scarf.

Needle lifespan

Needles are one of the least expensive components in a sewing project, so feel free to change your needle with each new project. Sewing machine needles only have a lifespan of 6 to 8 hours of sewing time, but that can be even less if the fabric is particularly tough to sew. In short, change your needles often! Whatever you paid for your fabric, it was certainly more than the cost of a needle. It’s not worth the risk of damaging your project by using a dull needle.

Get Your FREE Sewing Machine Needle Guide!

sewing machine needle guide

Never mix up your sewing needles again with this handy sewing machine needle chart by your side! Click the button below to download and print your FREE copy now!Get My FREE Guide»


Aloma Cronberg

Quite often the problem you are having turns out to be a needle that needs changing. I buy needles in bulk because buying them in the little cartons from the star they become very expensive. It is very smart to change your needle at the beginning of each project and can save you loads of time and problems in the long run!!

good article!

Maris Olsen

So true Aloma – changing needles for every project is a good habit. As is buying them in bulk. Happy sewing!

Roberta Hayden-Crepeau

thanks for this information. I was getting stitch skipping and had no idea it was as simple of a fix as the needle. I will replace my needles more often for sure now.

Annie Gutierrez

I am SO glad to have found this! I’m a beginner and I don’t know ANYTHING about sewing or my sewing machine (the boxed instructions were terribly vague). I’ve been working on a project but the thread keeps choking the machine. My husband suggested a new needle but I didn’t know what kind would be best. Now I do!!! You’ve actually taken the time to explain and I love you for it! I’m so excited, I can’t wait to get going again 😀

karen markle

How about color coding the needle size It’s too hard to see the engraving of the size. Thank you


A lot of the needles do come in color-coded packages and that’s handy. Sometimes, they have a color-code on the needle, but it probably varies from one manufacturer to another. I keep a small magnifying glass in my needle box as I have been given a lot of packets and inherited some – so they’re often not the same size as the color-code on the box indicates.

Joyce Ward

This is one of my biggest peeves with the needles I use. No color coding on the needles. I have a magnifying glass, contacts and reading glasses and I still can’t read the writing on the needles. I have thought about marking them myself with nail polish.


I have the same problem. So in desperation today I took a photo of the needles in my starter pack on my I pad and then enlarged it! It was quite hard to get it focussed but I could finally read the size!! Maybe that would work for you…



Just wondering if you would recommend a particular Jersey needle?

Great article!


Some of the needles I got with my new machine have got gold on the butt, can you explain the difference please? Thanks


Thanks!!! I never thought about dull needles. It makes sense, your kitchen knives get dull, then sharpened or replaced.
Thanks for explaining the differences of needles, too.


Hi everyone.

I’ve just bought a vintage dress that I want to adjust, but the stitches just aren’t catching properly. The material is 70% polyester (draylon) and 30% wool.

Does anyone have any advice? I have a pretty basic machine, but a range of needles.

Any help greatly appreciated! :)


This is a great post but I still have questions. I work on costumes for my kids musicals. I am in every aspect an amateur. I work with many different materials from knits to poly to netting and stretchy. Lots of costume materials. What needle is correct for netting to a shiney costume material?


Great article!
Can you recommend anywhere to buy needles in bulk? I’m located in Australia.


Help! I’m at my wit’s end, I am trying to sew a thin jersey knit and I’ve done everything you say i.e. changing the needle etc. but I still get skipped stitches. But the strange thing is when I use the same needle on other ordinary fabric, the stitching is fine. I don’t know what is wrong, I’ve tried adjusting the tension and using a knits only foot but I’m at a loss. Any direction you can give me would be appreciated!


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