What Size Machine Needle?

What size sewing machine needle should I use?
For everyday medium weight projects you will need a Universal Needle in a size 80/12 or 90/14.
(The first number 80, 90 is the metric number, followed by 12, 14 the imperial number. Most needle brands feature both numbers on their packaging.)

80/12 – suitable for medium weight fabrics e.g. cotton, polyester, linen
90/14 – suitable for medium weight fabrics, e.g. slightly heavier weight cotton, polyester, linen, lightweight upholstery fabric.

Light Weight Fabrics
Lighter weight fabrics such as silk (chiffon, organza, crepe-de-chine) will require a smaller sized needle. The lighter the fabric the smaller the needle required. Try a 75/11, 70/10 or 65/9, 60/8.

Do I need a smaller needle?
With practise and experience you will learn to acknowledge the size of needle required for the project. However a tell-tell sign that you are using a needle too large for the fabric is puckering, gathering and snagging of the fabric. The puckering can be around the needle entry point or in an area parallel to the sewing line. Be sure to replace the needle with a smaller sized needle, or if you believe you are working with the correct size, a new needle (as puckering can illustrate a blunt needle).

Heavy Weight Fabrics
For heavy weight fabrics such as denim, canvas and upholstery you will need a larger needle such as a 100/16, 110/18 or 120/20. The heavier the fabric, the larger the needle sized required.

Do I need a larger needle?
A larger needle will be required with thicker, heavier weight fabrics. If you are using a needle that is too small for the job, the needle will break. A simple solution will be to replace the needle with a larger sized needle.

How do you know that you need to change the needle size?
You will have one of two problems. The needle may break; this will point to using a larger sized needle. Alternatively the needle may cause puckering, snagging in the fabric. This will require change to a smaller sized needle (or a fresh needle if the needle is blunt).

Needle Size Guide:
No. 60/8 65/9 – Silks
No. 70/10 75/11 – Lightweight Fabrics
No. 80/12 – Medium Fabrics
No. 90/14 – Medium (slightly heavier) Fabrics
No. 100/16 – Heavyweight Fabrics
No. 110/18 – Upholstery Fabrics
No. 120/20 – Very Heavy Fabrics

Once you are happy with your choice of needle type and size I recommend testing the needle on a sample of fabric to check you are working with the right needle for the job! This also allows you to test the thread and stitch length for your project.

Hopefully you understand the different needle types (What Sewing Machine Needle to Use?) and sizes available and when they are required.

How often should I change my sewing machine needle?
This is one of the MOST popular questions. Needle retailers will normally inform customers that changing of a needle should take place with every new project and/or with every 6-8 hours of sewing. However I personally find it hard to know how much sewing I have completed with the needle, especially as I change between sizes and types.

So… I tend not to work with any particular rule, if I am starting a new very important project I might use a new needle, this is more important when working with lightweight fabrics (to avoid puckering the fabric). Otherwise I tend to test the needle on my fabric and visually inspect how it performs. Take the needle out of the machine and check the tip if you are worried, it can be a good idea to check that the needle isn’t bent.

To check this simply lay the needle on a flat surface, it should lay flat!