I feel like I’ve learned a lot about different fabrics, fabric weights, and using the right sewing machine needles in the last couple of years. I’ve used the wrong needle on fabric and basically ruined the fabric. The right sewing machine needle can make or ruin your sewing project! Do you know all the parts, sizes, and different kinds of sewing machine needles?


Basics of Sewing Machine Needles

Shank: The top part of the needle that goes into your machine. Home-sewing machine needles have a flat back that corresponds with the machine, so it’s easy to fit the needle into the machine at the right angle.

Shaft: The main part of the needle below the shank.

Front groove: The slit on the front of the needle. This is where the thread sits while sewing which protects it from breaking.

Scarf: The skinny space in the back of the needle which helps the machine not skip stitches. The scarf is actually longer on stretch needles to accommodate the fabric. 

Eye: Just like a hand-sewing needle, the eye is the hole where the thread goes. The difference is sewing machine needles is that the eye is on the opposite side of the needle. 


Universal needles: Like the name says, it’s universal and can be used for almost anything. The point is sharp with a little bit of rounding. It can’t be seen with the naked eye, so I included a picture with examples.

Ballpoint needles: The point is very round and is for knit fabric. When sewing with knit fabric, you don’t want to pierce the fabric like you do with woven fabric. You want to push the yarns aside. If a yarn is broken in knit, it unravels.

Stretch needles: Similar to a ballpoint needle, it just has a deeper scarf to prevent skipped stitches.

Sharp needles: Sharper than a universal, this needle is used for wovens, fast straight-stitch sewing (like quilting), and topstitching. It makes a clean stitch because it is so sharp.

Jean needles: Thick, sharp needles to accommodate thick fabric.

Leather needles: Sharp needles made specifically for sewing on leather. I have never actually sewn on leather, so I don’t know much about it.

Twin needles: Two needles connected at the top so it can be put in the machine as one. When sewing, the stitching on top is two parallel stitches with a zigzag on the bottom. The zigzag comes from the bobbin thread going back and forth between the two needles. There are also stretch twin needles for sewing on knits and jean twin needles for making that common double thread we see on jeans these days. Here’s how to use a twin needle.

Basics of Sewing Machine Needles



The European needle measurement is first, and the American needle measurement is second.

  • Very lightweight                 70/10
  • lightweight                         80/12
  • medium weight                   90/14
  • medium to heavy weight   100/16
  • heavy weight                     110/18

The size I use for almost everything is 80/12. When I’m sewing on jeans or thick fabric, I use 100/16 or 110/18. I would use the 70/10 for sheer fabrics.

Also, the smaller the needle, the thinner the thread size has to be so that it can fit into the front groove. The larger needles can accommodate thick thread. They won’t work as well with thin thread because the thread will flop around inside the front groove because the groove is too big.



Regulation length 2.5 mm long (10-12 stitches per inch): I use this stitch length for everything I do.

Topstitching length 3-4 mm long (6-8 stitches per inch): I like to lengthen my stitch when I’m working on jeans.

Basting/gathering length 4 mm long (8 stitches per inch): Basting is a helpful stitch as is gathering. I will be doing a future post in this.

Reinforcement stitching 1.5 mm long (15-20 stitches per inch): This length is for strength. I use it when sewing on loosely woven fabric with corners that are going to be trimmed.

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Author: Heather Handmade

I'm a seamstress and mother. I sew, blog, thrift, upcycle, design fabric, and teach sewing classes. I'm also a self-proclaimed fabric fondler.

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7 thoughts on “Basics of Sewing Machine Needles

  1. Thank you so much!

    Posted on March 7, 2017 at 4:51 am
  2. The beginners are having no idea when they start the sewing that post will teach them what are kind of needles which help them to sew a different kind of fabrics. see

    Posted on January 8, 2016 at 6:33 pm
  3. Thanks for this post and the images. It's very helpful!

    Posted on October 9, 2015 at 5:55 pm
  4. I just came across your needle info last night. I pinned it without reading, for future reference. Today my thread kept breaking, and voila! A trip to JoAnn Fabrics, bought the right needle for the job, problem solved. Thank you!!

    Posted on September 26, 2014 at 12:40 am
  5. This is great! I have been writing a Learn to Machine Sew course on my blog and one of the first lessons talked about different needles, but you give more detail here. Thanks! 🙂 Lisa

    Posted on July 21, 2014 at 7:02 am
  6. Wow, Heather, you have been super busy with all these informational posts! I've been offline so much that I've missed them, but I love that now I have them as a reference! Thanks so much! Hope things are going great with you!

    Posted on February 27, 2011 at 6:25 pm
  7. Tjank you heather for writing these very informative posts!

    Posted on February 26, 2011 at 2:05 am