Which size needles should I use for which fabric?

Posted by Kim O'Rourke on

What Size Sewing Machine Needles Do I Need?

Using the wrong size needles for your fabric or project can result in broken needles, your tension being out, or your needle not going through the fabric or project you’re working on.

If you prefer to watch a video, here's the video version of this blog.  If not, read on for the full article.

On each needle packet you will see a number. 

For instance, this packet is a 90/14. 

 Numbering system on sewing machine needles

What do these sewing machine needle numbers mean?

The first figure is the European sizing and that goes from 60 through to 110.

The second number is the US numbering system and that goes from 8 through to 18.

For BOTH numbering systems, the grading is the same: the LOWER the number, the finer the needle; the higher the number, the thicker or stronger the needle.

So...what sewing machine needles do I need then?

Now think about the fabrics that you want to sew with.  A thin or sheer fabric will need a fine needle, so you can safely go for a 60/8.  If you’re sewing denim or curtain fabric, then you need to look at a 90/14 or 100/16.

For medium weight cotton quilting fabric, a 70/10 or 80/12 sized needle will be fine.

However, it’s not just about the fabric that you’re using.  If you are sewing through lots of layers or through a bulky seam, then you will need a stronger or heavier needle to get through those layers. 

Let’s say you’re making a bag out of quilting cotton: you would sew the pieces together with your 70/10 or 80/12 needle but when you get to sew on your handles, you’ll find that you’ll be going through lots of layers and it will be tough for your 70 or 80 needle to get through.  At that point you will need to switch up your needle size to probably a 90/14.

Sewing machine needles for quilting

When I’m making a quilt, I will use a 70/10 needle for all my piecing, an 80/12 for my quilting and another 80/12 for sewing on my binding as that’s when I have a few layers to sew through.

Specialist Needles

You will also see specialist needles such as topstitch needles (designed for going through a few layers), denim needles (for denim and canvas), quilting needles, metallic needles and so on. 

The numbering system works exactly the same but those needles are designed to do a particular job.  For instance, denim needles are designed to go through that tough fabric and I used a denim needle in a size 100/16 recently to sew through header tape on some heavy duty fire retardant curtains which made my job a lot easier.

Always choose the correct sewing machine needle size

Choosing the correct needles for your fabric and the sewing task at hand and swapping your needles as you make up your project will make sewing your projects that much more enjoyable and so much less frustrating.

I hope that helps!
Kim
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