Sewing Machine Needles - PLUS a Size Reference Chart!

Let’s talk about needle sizes real quick. Often I will see new sewers (or even some experienced sewists) struggle with using the correct needle size for a project. Below I have compiled a quick reference chart to check when using certain fabric types.

Machine Needle Reference Chart

Why is the needle size important? –Are you ever sewing a project and using a brand new needle.. and it still breaks? Chances are - you are using the wrong needle size.

Using the appropriate size needle can be a first step in solving machine sewing issues such as needle breaks, thread breaks, large holes in the seam line of lighter weight woven fabrics, and the dreaded skipped stitches. But how does a sewer know which needle is best? The numbering system can be a bit confusing for some. I know that when I first started out, I had no clue what the difference was between using a 14/90 needle vs an 11/75. And why did they use two different numbers??

American vs European – The American system uses a measurement system of 8 to 19. The lower the number, the finer the needle. This means that you would want to use a higher number when using heavier fabrics like leather, suede, or heavyweight canvas. The European system utilizes the same overall concept – the higher the number, the heavier the fabric. The European number system ranges from 60 to 120, with 60 being used for fine fabrics such as gauze or chiffon.

Common Machine Sewing Needle Issues

Skipped Stitches

  • Skipped stitches are one of the most common needle-caused issues. Skipped stitches are areas in a row of stitching where the needle and thread did not make a complete or a consistent row of stitching. The skipping occurs when the hook misses the top thread loop on the backside of the needle while sewing.
    • Old, bent, or dull needle
    • Regular point needle rather than using a ball point needle (stretch or knit fabrics)
    • Stitch regulation
    • Machine was not threaded correctly
    • Machine needle and thread combination or incorrect
    • Machine tension is too high
    • Bobbin was wound incorrectly or too tight
  • Recommendations
    • Check your needle. If it is bent, broken, installed incorrectly, or too loose – you may see skipped stitches. I also recommend that you change your needle every 8 hours of stitching time. Typically, I will use a new needle for every new project.
    • Re-thread the machine ensuring that you are following all of the thread guides correctly. Also be sure that your presser foot is in the up position when threading your machine. This will ensure that your thread is sliding properly into the discs while you sew.
    • Check your thread weight. Using a thread weight that is too large for a smaller needle size can result in an array of machine sewing issues.
    • Slow down. If you are pulling the fabric too tight or too fast, this can cause the machine to skip stitches.

Thread is Shredding

  • A common reason why you may see your thread fray, shred, or break – the eye of the needle is too small to accommodate the needle, which causes too much stress or friction. This can result in the thread becoming damaged. However, there could be a few other reasons..
    • Thread is too old or poor quality
    • Thread is too large
    • The needle is too small
    • Machine timing is off – ensure that the needle is in the correct position as the hook/looper is crossing.
    • Machine is not threaded correctly
    • Machine tension is too high
    • The needle is bent or blunted
    • The needle is not installed correctly and is rubbing against the presser foot or throat plate.
  • Recommendations
    • Check your needle size and thread size. Often changing to a larger needle, or a finer weight thread can resolve thread shredding/breaking issues.
    • Re-thread your machine ensuring that the thread is moving freely while you sew. If the thread is catching on a disc, this can cause stress and friction resulting in thread breakage.
    • Clean and oil your machine. Although not all machines require the user to add oil. A quick clean can often help the machine get back into working order. I also recommend that you have your machine serviced yearly. This involves a deeper clean and re-oil of your machine.

Needles are breaking

Broken Machine Needle

  • Needle breaks during machine operation can be caused by a variety of reasons
    • The needle is too old and needs replaced
    • The needle size is too small for the thickness of the fabric that is being used
    • You are pulling the fabric through the machine too fast causing the needle to bend during use. This increases the chance that the needle will hit the plate and break.
    • Incorrectly placed bobbin case
    • The thread is catching on the spool – pulling the needle and thread too tight which causes the needle to snap
    • The needle was not installed correctly
    • The needle is not tightened enough
    • Machine timing is off
    • Sewing over pins, zippers, or foreign objects
    • The needle position is incorrect – the needle is hitting the presser foot or throat plate and breaking
  • Recommendations
    • Replace needles after 8 hours of stitching time to ensure that the integrity of the needle’s strength is not an issue.
    • Check that you are using the correct presser foot, throat plate and needle position before you begin sewing.
    • Change to a larger needle size – if the fabric is too thick and you are using a needle that is too small, the needle will break.
    • Ensure that the needle is fastened securely and correctly in your machine. If the needle is too loose it can “wobble” during operation and hit the presser foot or throat plate.
    • Check that your bobbin is installed correctly. This can be a frustrating but quick fix.
    • Slow down. If you are pulling your fabric through the machine too quickly, this will cause your needle to bend in the same directly and cause the needle to snap.
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