Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Sewing Machine Needles

While you could use any needle for your projects, you'll get the best results if you use the right one. But knowing which needle is best is easy if you pay attention to your fabric and your thread. Today's crash course is to help you understand sewing machine needles.

I tend to use Schmetz, because they're very common and easy to find, decent quality, and not super expensive. Singer and Kenmore also make machine needles, but I think the naming and sizes mentioned in this post are all fairly standard, and should translate well enough.

When you choose your needle, there are three things you need to pay attention to: how fresh the needle is, the type of needle, and the size of the needle.

1. Freshness!
Rule #1 when it comes to needles is to always use a fresh one when you start a new project. As you sew, and the needle hits the fabric, it can change. Tips that used to be sharp can grow dull, which affect how it interacts with your fabric. Needles that have bent even a little are a hazard to your machine, as well as to your face and eyes, if they break at any point.

I keep a little needle graveyard in my pin cushion, but it's not necessary to keep them. Dull needles are great if you ever need to sew in paper (for cardmaking or perforation), but for me, this is a pretty rare occurance.

You can also keep needles in the soft half of hook and loop tape (aka., Velcro). If you get the sticky kind, you can keep it on cardboard and label the type of needle, to use for short projects when you don't want to break out a new one. Dritz makes a machine needle organizer, which you can get at Joann, but I think it's kind of expensive.

2. Needle Type
The type of needle to use is determined by the fabric you're using, and the type of sewing you want to do. It helps to keep needles labelled, but you will find some markings on each needle, which can be helpful. Most needles will have their size embossed at the top part of the needle, where it is held by the machine. This is called the shank.

Specialty needles usually have a band of colour on the shoulder, which is the tapered part just underneath the shank. There may also be a colour marking on the shoulder to indicate the size again. There are a lot of specialized machine needles, but here is a quick list of ones that you're most likely to use in general crafts and garment construction.

  • Universal: has a slightly round but still sharp point. Good for most projects using wovens or knits. If you're just starting to sew, or aren't sure what to use, you can usually get by with one of these.
  • Ballpoint: also called jersey needles, these have a rounded point. These are great for sewing with knit fabrics, since the round tip is more likely to pierce the fabric between threads, instead of poking through the thread itself, which helps to maintain stretchiness, and does not damage your fibres.
  • Microtex: have extremely small, sharp points, and are great for textiles like silks and vinyls, or anything where you need to have clean stitches. These can dull fairly quickly, however, so it's good to have several around for your project.
  • Denim: also called jean needles, these have a reinforced shaft, or blade (the main part of the needle), and a slightly rounded point. These are best if you need to sew through thicker fabrics, or several layers of fabric--think of hemming a pair of jeans, and how thick it gets at the side seams. 
  • Leather: these needles have a sharp point which cut effectively into suede and leather. Yeah, that's a big surprise, isn't it? It doesn't matter if it's real or synthetic. 
  • Topstitch: these needles have a larger eye (where the thread goes through the needle), which lets you use thicker topstitching threads, or for when you want/need to use multiple threads from different spools.
  • Double needle: double or triple needles look very cool to me. It has one shank, connected to a holder which has multiple needles. This is great for both pintucks and faux-coverstitching. When you use a double needle, you need to make sure that each thread goes on either side of your tension discs at the top of your machine.
Other Schmetz needle types are listed here, though I think I actually covered most of them.

3. Needle Size
So now you know which needle to use, but you should also pay attention to its size. The size of the blade generally determines the size of the eye, which means you should match your

You'll notice two numbers that indicate size, which generally look like 80/12. The larger one (80) is the European sizing, which corresponds to tenths of a mm: an 80 needle is 0.80mm wide at the shaft. The smaller number (12) is the American sizing. As the needle shaft gets larger, so do the numbers--an 80/12 needle is larger than a 70/10 needle, for example.

80/12 and 70/10 are the most common sizes, and it's extremely rare that you will need anything else. Needles can range from 35/2 to 200/25, but if you're using basic sewing thread that you got at your local craft or sewing shop, chances are, the most you will need to stray to is 90/14.

Twin needle sizing differs slightly. The top-right set in my photo below says 4,0/80. For these, all of the numbers are European: the needles are 4.0mm apart, and are size 80/12.

There is obviously a lot more you can learn about needle types and size, if you start really digging into how they're made, and how thread construction affects what you need to use. But this is hopefully enough to get you started on the right path for needles in your project!

Next week will be a crash course on fibre content. BECAUSE FIBRE.

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