What Size Needle Do I Need for My Sewing Machine?

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Cover Image: What Size Needle Do I Need for My Sewing Machine?

When you look at it from the outside, it may not seem like much, but sewing machines have a rather complex working mechanism. It is no wonder that it’s one of the common objects with a very rich history and so many unsuccessful patent attempts: it took people quite a lot to develop a machine that actually works. One of the main components of the sewing machine is the needle, and while small, choosing the right one does require a little bit of knowledge first. So, if you’re not sure what sewing machine needle to use, read on!

Sewing Machine Needle Sizes

Set of sewing machine needles on a white background. Isolation

When you choose the wrong size and type of needle, it can break, and this is a technical difficulty that a lot of beginners experience if they don’t seek advice about needle compatibility. The first thing that you should know is that every needle has a certain number associated with it, which will indicate what size you’re dealing with and will guide you on the right path.

You should also know that American needles are labeled differently compared to European needles. For example, American needles are sized from 8 to 19, with the lowest number representing a fine needle and a higher number increasing the thickness of the needle. European sizes, on the other hand, are labeled from 60 (really thin and fine needles) to 120 (thick and heavy needle).

Needle sizes are associated with fabric, not types of sewing machines. Keep in mind that:

  • For really delicate fabric, you will need a thin needle, like an 8/60. If the needle is too thick, you will leave holes in the fabric.
  • If you’re working with thick pieces of fabric, you will need a thicker needle, because a thinner one will definitely break. Using a 19/120 needle for fabric such as upholstery is a much better idea.
  • There are cases when you’ll have to work with lightweight fabric that need a heavy top-stitching detail, which implies that you’ll be using heavy thread. The logical thing would be to use a heavy needle, but that would damage the fabric, in which case you are better off using a middle-range one, like a 12/80.

Needle Parts

ten sewing needles close-up on a white background isolated

You should not that needles are pretty standard, which means that the aspects you should look out for are size and type of needle, and not your personal sewing machine brand. One of the major things that people should know about needles is that, aside from the presser foot and the thread, these are the only changeable parts of the machine that will determine how stitches are formed.

In order to understand more about the sizing and types of needles that one can possibly work it, it’s important to see what the different parts of the needle are itself. Naturally, as these characteristics vary from one needle to another, so will the fabric they’re compatible with.

Even if sewing machine needles do share a series of basic parts, their shape and size will determine their best use.

The Shank

Hand holding set of sewing machine needles on white background

The shank is the part of the needle located in the upper position. It is easy to recognize because it is thick, as it is the part that’s meant to be inserted inside the machine. If you own a sewing machine designed for home use, you will notice that the needles for it have a flat and round side, meant to help you place the needle correctly.

Avoid following general guidelines when it comes to inserting the needle in the machine, and always follow the instructions that are given in the sewing machine user guide or manual. Industrial sewing machines have needles with a different type of shank, one that is completely round. It features a groove that will show you the correct direction for putting a needle inside the machine.

The Shaft

The shaft is basically the portion of the needle found between the bottom side of the shank and the tip of the needle. The shaft is comprised of other parts that we will discuss in the following paragraphs: the eyes, the groove, the scarf, and the point of the needle.

The Groove

The location of the groove is along the needle’s side which leads to the eye. The role of the groove is to provide a place for the thread to lay into the needle. Grooves are different from one needle size to another, and if you carefully slide your fingernails across it, you will understand how the heavier thread will require needles of different sizes.

The Eye

Sewing machine needles and thread metal reel close-up

The eye of the needle is responsible for carrying the thread in order to provide the machine with the “raw material” for making a stitch. The size of the eye will vary from one needle size to another, and it’s typically correlated with the groove of the needle.

What you should keep in mind is that the eye of the needle has to be of the appropriate size, or else it can cause shedding and breaking of the thread if it’s either too small or too large.

The Scarf

The role of the scarf is to facilitate the intersection between the upper thread and the bobbin case hook, in order to help your machine form stitches.

The Point

Close-up shot of needle and thread of sewing machine

The point of the needle is the tip that comes in contact with the fabric you’re sewing. They are basically the part of the needle that will make holes in the fabric, so the size of the point is super important when dealing with projects for leather, satin, or upholstery fabric.

There are typically three types of needle points:

  • Universal needles are compatible with synthetic fibers, knit ones, but also woven materials. However, in some cases, it might be wiser to use an even more specific type of needle for woven fabrics.
  • Sharp needles are great for all woven fabrics, because they can sew straight lines.
  • Ballpoint needles are good for knit fabrics, as the point will glide between fabric loops without interfering with the fabric’s fibers.


In order to determine what size of sewing machine needles to use for your unit, you shouldn’t really pay attention to your machine’s brand, but rather focus on the type of fabric you want to sew. It’s important to know how the parts of the needle play a part in the compatibility between the fabric and the needle, and then basically arm yourself with an arsenal of different needles that will help you see more projects through.

If you want a detailed procedure on how to properly use a sewing machine, check our guide here.