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Needles - Getting To The Point

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Needles - Getting To The Point

Confused about needles? Beginning the work with a new needle, and choosing the right size and type of needle for the design and fabric that you are stitching on, can make a world of difference in the quality of the finished embroidery. When the wrong needle is chosen for the work or the needle is in poor condition, the threads can loop, skip stitches, or break. As well the fabric might pucker around the design and stitches may distort and appear shabby. Learning a bit about needles can help you solve many problems that would otherwise be quite frustrating, as well as costly when the wrong needle causes damage to the garment. Let's take a closer look.

Click on the small thumbnail images to enlarge.

Click to enlarge
Parts of the Needle

Shank: the top part of the needle that fits into the needle bar and its shape reveals whether the needle is for a commercial machine or a domestic machine. If the shank is completely round in circumference, it is for a commercial machine, and if it's flat on one side, it is for a domestic machine.

Blade or Shaft: the part of the needle that extends from the bottom of the shank to the point.

Scarf: curved indent above the eye on the back of the needle. This indent allows room for the hook that comes up and around and catches the top thread, locking it with the bobbin thread to form a stitch.
 
Groove: straight indent on the front of the needle between the eye and the base of the shank that allows for the thread to lie close against the shaft while the needle passes through the fabric.

Eye: the hole where the thread passes through.

Point: the tip of the needle at the bottom below the eye that pierces the substrate, such as fabric, leather, paper, etc.

Click to enlarge
Needle Points

At left is a commercial Ball Point, and at right is a domestic Universal Point.

Ball:
the point is slightly rounded to push between the fabric fibers without cutting them, eliminating runs and tears in fabric like knits, nylon and fleece. A Light Ball Point, such as Universal, is not quite a sharp point and not quite a ball point, landing somewhere in between.

Sharp: the point will cut through the fibers allowing for a more accurate penetration on the fabric without causing puckers and it's suitable for fabrics that don't usually run like denim, terrycloth, and tightly woven fabrics, as well as leather and paper. An Acute Round Point id the sharpest point needle.

Click to enlarge
Needle Sizes and Types

Most needle packages list both European and American sizes. A high number indicates a thicker needle and larger eye, and a lower number indicates a thinner needle and smaller eye. On commercial machines an average size of DBxK5 75/11 ball point or light ball point (SES) often works best for most fabrics when stitching with 40 WT thread, whereas, a larger size would be best for the thicker 30 WT thread.

Click to enlarge
Needles for domestic machines include the size number, but many that can be used for both embroidery and normal sewing are marked for the job, such as “Topstitch” or “Universal”.

You will also find specialty needles, such as the Wedge Point that has a V-shaped sharp point, used to cut a larger hole in leather and allow the thread to pass through without shredding. Teflon Coated needles will make stitching with metallic threads less difficult by reducing the friction on the thread and keep it from fraying, and they also work well for stitching coated or waterproof fabrics. Denim needles are designed for tightly woven fabrics like denim or similar, and will also stitch through multiple layers of fabric, such as for quilting. Twin needles are handy for stitching a double-line topstitch, such as for hems. Double eye needles have two eyes in one needle for stitching with two spools of thread at the same time; used for decorative stitching. Self-threading needles have a notch in the side of the needle to slip the thread through the eye, instead of threading directly through center and are helpful to those with impaired vision.

Click to enlarge
Needle Condition

This damage is difficult to recognize, but when viewed through a magnifying glass, it's revealed this needle was bent slightly when striking a pin; as indicated when compared against the blue horizontal guideline. You should never start stitching without first examining the needle. Problems like a dull, bent or chipped point are not always obvious and can result in a poor sew-out or damaged goods. A dull needle can be the cause of stitches looping on the top, flagging in the hoop (fabric bouncing up and down with the needle), as well as loose bobbin stitches and birdnesting.

Click to enlarge
Birdnesting:

A collection of tangled thread between fabric and needle plate that resemble the nest of a bird, usually caused by poor top tension, top thread not through take-up lever, incorrect thread path, needle not seated properly or fabric flagging. Removal consists of carefully snipping away the threads between the fabric and the needle plate; threads can be pulled away from the needle plate with a tool like a small needle nose pliers or hemostat (locking clamp), and then cut with an X-Acto utility knife.
 
Schmetz Needles advises, “The operator should check the needle point regularly for damage. This can be done with the fingernail of the pointing finger or with a piece of nylon stocking. The best effect is achieved if the check is done every hour. This check is essential when you are sewing knitwear because only this measure together with a needle change policy will maintain a good quality garment.” When new needles continue to break, be sure that the needle is inserted correctly, the needle clamp screw is tightened and the needle is straight with the eye facing front to back. Any slight collision of the needle can cause it to bend, such as hitting the hoop, striking a pin or the needle plate, or even when the hoop is held a bit too high when removed, allowing the fabric or hoop to scrape the point.

Needle Use Chart

Canvas:  80/12 sharp
Coated/waterproof:  80/12 sharp/ball point
Corduroy:  75/11 sharp/ball point
Cotton Sheeting:  70/10, 75/11, 80/12 sharp
Denim:  75/11 sharp
Dress Shirt:  70/10, 75/11, 80/12 ball point
Duck Cloth: 75/11 sharp
Golf Shirt:  70/10, 75/11, 80/12 ball point
Knits:  75/11 ball point
Lace: 75/11 sharp point
Leather:  80/12, 90/14 sharp point or 75/11, 90/14 wedge point
Lingerie & Silk:  60/8, 70/10, 75/11 sharp/ball point
Lycra, Spandex:  70/10, 75/11, 80/12 ball point
Nylon Wind breaker: 70/10, 75/11, 80/12 ball point
Organza: 65/9 ball point
Paper: 75/11 sharp point
Rayon: 75/11 ball point
Satin Jacket: 75/11 ball point
Sweatshirt: 70/10, 75/11, 80/12 ball point
Taffeta:  65/9 ball point
Terry cloth towel: 75/11 sharp/ball point
Water Soluble Stabilizer (for FSL): 75/11 sharp
Velvet: 65/9 ball point
Vinyl: 75/11 sharp point or 75/11 wedge point

Test The Needle

Always stitch the design on same or very similar fabric as the final garment, using the needle recommended for the substrate. Examine the sample and if you see any large needle penetrations, switch to a smaller needle, or if the thread is shredding or breaking, switch to a larger needle. If the fabric is puckering around the design or the stitches appear distorted, it might be caused by a ball point needle pushing at and stretching the fabric; if so, switch to a sharp point. If you are using a sharp point and see fabric fibers fraying next to the stitches, or fill stitches in the design are shredding as top elements stitch, switch to a ball point.


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Meet The Author: Bonnie Landsberger
Bonnie Landsberger has been a crafter and hand embroiderer since childhood and a machine embroiderer and digitizer since 1986. She was the in-house head digitizer for a 50-head embroidery shop for 11 years and later offered custom digitizing services and stock design sales through her web site for Moonlight Design since 1993. She currently also holds a position as a customer service representative at EmbroideryDesigns.com. Bonnie has won several awards for digitizing, including a gold medal in the 2002 Digitizing Olympics and grand prize in all categories & first place for Winter Holidays category in the Stitches Magazine Great Greeting Card Contest 2003. Her embroidery and digitizing technical articles can be found in various trade magazines and she is currently a contributing writer and Editorial Advisory Board Member for Stitches Magazine. You can also find more of her articles online at EmbroideryDesigns.com and will continue to contribute articles to our Learning Center.

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Denise C Jun 21, 2014
While I learned many hand sewing techniques (embroidery, crewel, counted cross stitch) as a young girl, I never learned much about the mechanics behind my sewing machine. I truly appreciate this information which also applies to my recently purchased embroidery machine. Thank you for this very educative article. Your information is easy to understand without overwhelming a new machine-user.
Reply

Rise V Jun 21, 2014
Excellent article. It's obvious Bonnie has a great deal of knowledge in this area. The sign of a good article is when you read the entire post. We're always told to change the needle before the start of a new project, but Bonnie explains why that is important and the consequences of not using a new needle. I also found the section 'parts of a needle helpful'. So THAT's why there's a scarf! Great job, Bonnie! I'll be reading more of your articles.
Reply

Anonymous Jun 21, 2014
Excellent instruction!
Reply

Anonymous Jun 21, 2014
Excellent instruction!
Reply

Jo F Jun 21, 2014
Very good article
Reply

Norma S Jun 21, 2014
Very helpful info.
Reply

Anonymous Jun 21, 2014
I have been sewing for at least 55 years and continue to be less than certain as to which needle to use. This article clarified my uncertainty and the chart is a wonderful reference tool. Thank you.
Reply

Sharon B Jun 21, 2014
Could have used a little more information as to why thread will fray because of a needle, could have used a couple more pictures over all well done four butterflies out of five.
Reply

Lois G Jun 21, 2014
Excellent and informative - Just starting to learn how to quilt and was confused about the different needles available.
Reply

Carol K Jun 21, 2014
Thank you for the article. I have a couple questions... Regarding the use chart: is that for regular sewing and/or embroidery on those types of materials? Also you do not address the needles labeled as "embroidery". Where do they fit in in the schema of needles? Thank you
Reply

sheila g Jun 21, 2014
Excellent resource! I have been sewing for over 50 years and there were things in this tutorial I did not know. Sheila
Reply

rachel r Jun 22, 2014
I found this article to be most helpful and informative. Now I can understand the difference in the needles and their uses. Thank you for this insightful article.
Reply

Patricia W Jun 22, 2014
Very useful information, presented simply. Easy to understand.
Reply

kathy b Jun 22, 2014
Very helpful information, thank you!
Reply

Anonymous Jun 22, 2014
I especially like the needle use chart. It'll save time for me when changing fabrics. Thanks!
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judy l Jun 22, 2014
Great information. Now I know why I have been having trouble. Thanks Bonnie
Reply

Anonymous Jun 22, 2014
Very helpful to me
Reply

Michaella O Jun 22, 2014
This article was extremely helpful. I used up the sampler set of needles with my new machine and wasn't sure what type to get. Based on what I mainly do (shirts for the grandbabies) I was able to understand what was best for me. Thanks so much! Appreciate the information!
Reply

Anonymous Jun 24, 2014
Very good information. Thanks for sharing
Reply

Deidre P Jun 24, 2014
Thank you for this excellent, very clear and comprehensive guide to needle selection and management. I have learnt a lot from it and will be saving it for future reference.
Reply

Bonnie L Jun 30, 2014
Thank you for your comments and your questions! Very good points, Sharon B and Carol K. Fraying can be caused by a number of reasons, such as burrs or scratches somewhere along the path like the needle plate, but the needle size itself can be the culprit. First, consider that the needle must make a penetration through the fabric large enough for the thread to flow through smoothly with little friction. This friction will begin to weaken fibers that eventually split and unravel. For example a 75/11 needle for 40 WT thread on cotton should work well; whereas, the same size needle for a 30 WT thread stitched on a sturdier fabric like heavy denim or nylon will likely fray. This is the reason stitching leather is best done with a very large needle or wedge point. As well, the eye of the needle is a consideration, especially when working with metallic thread that is made from shreds of metal and polyester. Excessive friction is caused when metal hits metal at high speeds, causing the polyester to melt and split. Special needles with larger eyes are available for metallic thread. The Use Chart was compiled as a starting point for embroidery on that particular fabric; however, there is little difference for regular sewing with the exception that embroidery is accomplished at very high speeds in comparison, which raises the friction factor. It’s important that the eye of the needle be appropriate for the thread, and needles marked as “embroidery” have a larger eye than those used for regular sewing, which helps avoid fraying at high speeds. The bottom line is to test your embroidery or sewing stitches first and examine the work carefully. If there are problems such as fraying or fabric running, switch to another needle size or type that is more appropriate.
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Anonymous Nov 08, 2014
Very helpful !!
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Cindy S Jul 20, 2015
I have been looking for a chart like this, thank you so much. This is so helpful.
Reply

Pat W May 13, 2016
Thought I would add just a bit about how the size of the thread should help you select the size of the needle you should be using. A size 10 needle should be used for fine threads such as a 60 weight thread. A size 10 or 11 works best for standard 40 weight embroidery thread and 50 weight metallics. You should move up to a size 12 needle for 40 weight metallics and heavier 30 weight threads. A size 14 needle is needed for heavier sized 30, 35 and 45 weight threads. A size 16 needle is best for the acrylic/yarn threads such as Burmilana and Supertwist. Using the proper sized needle so that the thread can pass through the eye unimpeded will save a lot of problems when working with specialty threads.
Reply

glenda D Jan 09, 2017
Such a great article! Takes the guesswork out of choosing a needle. I've spent a lot of time contemplating which needle to use for what project. This will help me so very much. Thank you!
Reply
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