What Do the Numbers on Sewing Machine Needles Mean? Easy Guide to Sewing Needle Handling

Image of sewing machine but What Do the Numbers on Sewing Machine Needles Mean?Sewing machine needles are at the heart of machine sewing. They facilitate the stitching process and move the thread through the fabric. The needle you use could make or break your project. To efficiently use this versatile tool, we need to understand it fully. And the one thing about sewing needles that have confounded many sewers is the numbers on them. So, what do the numbers on sewing machine needles mean?

The numbers on sewing machine needles represent their sizes. There are usually two numbers because the sizes are presented in both the American and European systems. The American sizing system runs from 8 to 19, with the European one running from 60 to 120. Therefore, the more significant number represents larger needles in both these systems, while the smaller ones represent smaller needles.

This article will comprehensively cover the sizing systems of sewing machine needles, which size to use for what project, the several types of needles you can choose from, and how to pick the best needle for you.

What Is a 90 14 Needle Used for?

A 90/14 needle is used to sew medium-weight fabrics such as poplin, light wool, jersey, muslin, terry, synthetic suedes, and syn velvets.

What Is an 80 11 Needle Used for?

You can also use the 80/11 needle to sew lightweight fabrics such as taffeta, crepe de chine, tricot, gauze, handkerchief linen, tissue faille, and silks.

What Is a 70 10 Needle Used for?

The 70/10 needle is used to work on sheer to lightweight fabrics such as chiffon, batiste, georgette, silk, organza, and net. You can also use it on micro deniers or microfiber fabrics.

What Is a 16 100 Needle Used for?

You can use the 16/100 needle for medium to heavy-weight fabrics such as denim, corduroy, canvas, heavy suiting, and other heavy materials.

How Do You Read Sewing Machine Needle Numbers?

Understanding the numbers on sewing machine needles is vital in helping you choose the right one and avoid several problems with your sewing machine. Although the needle labeling system is simple enough, it can seem overwhelming because of the two numbers. However, it is pretty simple. The two numbers represent the American and European labeling systems.

The American sizing system ranges from 8 to 19. 8 represents a fine needle, while 19 represents a thicker, heavier needle.

On the other hand, the European needle ranges from 60 to 120, with 60 being a fine needle and 120 a thicker one. In both systems, the smaller the number, the finer the needle, and the higher the number, the wider the needle.

Most sewing needles will have both numbers printed on the packaging to help you choose easier depending on the system you are used to. It is also important to note that the order in which these numbers are listed does not affect the needle size.

How Do I Know What Sewing Machine Needle to Use?

Although, at first glance, many needles may seem interchangeable, using the wrong needle in your sewing machine could be disastrous. You could damage your sewing machine’s mechanisms, sew inferior stitches, and irrevocably damage your fabric. Choosing the right needle for your job is therefore quite vital.

You should consider several factors before choosing the needle to ensure that you have the correct one. These include:

1. The fabric you are sewing

Different needles are made for different fabric types. Every needle will not work with every fabric type. The type of fabric plays a significant role in determining the shape of the needle’s tip, while the weight of the material will decide the size of the needle to use.

So, first, think about the fabrics that you are going to work on. It could be a light fabric, a thick one, or even a stretchy fabric. This factor will help you narrow down on the choices you have.

2. The thread

The needle you are using should also suit your sewing thread. As a general rule, the thread should not occupy more than 40% of the diameter of the needle’s eye. If the thread you are using does not pass smoothly through the eye, you could have problems with your stitches. So, when you go needle shopping, ensure that you already have an idea of the thread you plan to use.

3. Your sewing machine

While commercial sewing machines may use various needle systems, most home sewing machines use a specific system. The needle system on your sewing machine does not change, regardless of the needles’ size and type.

Before you go needle shopping, ensure that you know the needle system that your sewing machine uses. Almost all home sewing machines use a 130/705H flat shank needle system.

What are the sewing machine needles I could choose from?

You could choose several types of needles depending on the kind of project you are working on. However, before choosing a needle, it is also essential to know and understand all the basic parts of a needle. The essential parts are the same in all needles, with the only variation happening in some parts’ shape and length. The essential parts of the needle are:

  • The shank- This is the thick upper part of the sewing needle. It is the part of the needle that you will insert into your sewing machine. Most home sewing machine needles have a flat and round side which helps in ensuring the needle is positioned correctly. However, the shaft of industrial machines is entirely round, with the groove used as a guide on how to insert the needle in the machine.
  • The shaft- This is the area of the needle that spans from the end of the shank to the tip. This area contains the scarf, groove, eye, and point of the needle. The shaft diameter is what determines the size of the needle.
  • The groove is the part of the needle that is found along the side leading to the eye. It acts as a position for the thread to lay into the needle. The size of the groove also varies with the different needle sizes.
  • The scarf is an indentation on the needle’s backside. It allows the bobbin hook to grab the thread from under the throat plate and create the required stitch.
  • The eye- This is the part of the needle used to carry the thread so that the sewing machine can form stitches. Its size varies between needles depending on the type and size. It is recommended that the thread should not occupy more than 40% of the needle’s eye if it is to move quickly and smoothly.
  • The tip is the needle’s first point of contact with the fabric and determines how the needle pierces the material, as we will see below.

Sewing machine needles can be broadly categorized into two groups: General purpose needles and specialty needles.

The general-purpose needles include:

  • The universal needle

When you purchase a sewing machine, it will likely come with the universal needle, which is the best choice for standard, everyday sewing. These needles have a slightly rounded tip and a tapered point, and you can use them with both natural and synthetic fibers.

  • Ballpoint needles

As the name of this needle suggests, their tip is usually slightly rounded. This shape allows the needle to slip between fabric fibers without cutting through them quickly. These needles are specially made for sewing through knit fabrics, and you can find them in sizes 10/70 to 16/100.

If the knit you are working on is interlocking or a coarse knit, which may snag easily and make runs in the fabric, the ballpoint needle is an excellent choice.

  • Sharp point needles

Sharp needles have a very slender tip, around the eye, and medium length. Such needles work best on woven fabrics such as linen and cotton, and they work to create stitches without puckering. Thus, sharp needles are an excellent choice for projects where precision stitching is essential or when you work with faux suede.

The thread used for these needles should also be fine since the eyes are small. You can find sharp needles in sizes 9 through 18.

Some of the common specialty needles include:

  • Wedge point needles

These needles are excellent for working with leather, vinyl, and suede fabrics because they create self-closing holes. As a result, they pierce the material without tearing through it. The wedge shape of this needle’s tip also makes it ideal for heavier fabrics to penetrate them easier.

You can find wedge-shaped needles in sizes 11 through 18. If you are working on thicker material, use a larger-sized needle while using the smaller ones for lighter fabrics.

  • Quilting needles

Quilting involves sewing through multiple fabric layers, and a special needle is required to sew effectively. Quilting needles have tapered tips and a small, rounded eye; they are specially designed to do piecework and quilting. These needles help you penetrate the thick fabrics easier and but eliminate any skipped stitches.

  • Embroidery needles

Machine embroidery needles have more enormous eyes for easier threading, a light ballpoint, and a groove. Together with the specially designed scarf, these features protect the embroidery threads from excess friction, which keeps the threads from shredding or breaking.

They allow you to embroider dense designs without any trouble. You can use these needles using acrylic, specialty, or rayon threads.

  • Topstitching needles

Topstitching needles have an extra-long eye and a long groove that accommodates the heavy topstitching thread or even double strands of the all-purpose thread. The pint is also extra-sharp to allow for accurate stitching. With a straight-stitch plate, you can use this needle to achieve even stitches and perfectly straight lines.

  • Twin needles

Twin needles are made by mounting two needles to one shaft. They are used to sew parallel rows of stitches and are especially useful for hemming, heirloom, and decorative stitches. However, you can only use this needle on a sewing machine with zigzag capabilities since the two needles must fit the stitch plate hole.

The sizing for twin needles is noticeably different from other needles. You will see two numbers written on the needle’s packaging. The first is the distance in millimeters between the two needles, while the second is the needle size. Needles closer together are used for more delicate fabrics, while those that are farther apart are used for heavier fabrics.

Apart from twin needles, you can also get triple needles which feature three needles on one shaft. However, this type of specialty needle is only available in universal with the same sizing system used by twin needles.

How Do I Know What Size Needle to Use?

Different needle sizes are used according to the thickness of the fabric you are working with. A standard rule to keep in mind is that the thicker and heavier the material, the larger the needle size, while the lighter your fabric, the smaller the needle size. This rule also generally applies to the type of thread you plan to use.

You can also know if you are using the wrong needle if you experience the problems associated with using a wrongly sized needle. If the needle is too thin, meaning that you have chosen a needle smaller than what you needed, the needle will break easily or get bent and deformed.

A fine needle cannot handle working in thick and heavy fabrics such as denim and therefore give way. In some of the worst cases, the needle could break inside the machine bringing another host of problems. Another problem associated with using a finer needle than you should is thread bunching, which would leave you with a bird’s nest on the back of your fabric.

If you are using a too thick needle, meaning you are using a needle above the required size, you will get wrinkles on the fabric you are sewing. The large needle will also leave unsightly holes on your material or cause snags. Although you will not damage the needle, your final work will not be pleasant.

In either of these cases, you will not be pleased with the result. So, first, check that you are using the rightly sized needle before you start sewing.

How to troubleshoot common needle problems.

1. Skipped stitches can happen when you are using an old, dull, or deformed needle. Replace the needle with a new one.

2. Shedding thread- If your sewing thread is shedding, this could mean that the needle you are using is too small for the thread. You can correct this by either changing to a larger needle or downsizing to a thinner thread. Remember, the thread should occupy no more than 40% of the needle’s eye.

3. Breaking needles – If your needles are breaking, then the needle you are using is too small for the fabric thickness. Replace it with a larger-sized needle, and do not forcefully push and pull the fabric as you sew. Instead, let the feed dogs do their job.

4. Large holes in the seam line – Large holes could indicate that you are using a too big needle for the fabric thickness. Downsize to a more appropriate needle.

5. Popping sounds are also a strong indicator that your needle is damaged or bent. Replace with a new one.


  • Replace your sewing needle every 8 to 10 hours of use for the best results.
  • Insert all needles into the machine correctly.

What Size Needle Do You Use for Cotton?

Medium-sized needles are the best choice for cotton. Sharp enough to pierce cleanly and create even stitches, while not large enough to make unsightly holes. For woven fabrics such as cotton, the best needle to use is the sharp point one.

The pointed tip helps you pierce the materials well and create stitches without puckering. Sharp point needles usually range between the sizes 9 and 18 (American) and 65 to 110(European).

You are not limited to only one exact size for sewing cotton; you can select the best size for you, and it gives a perfect blend of aesthetics and performance.

Cotton is a natural fabric that has several excellent characteristics. It is versatile, solid and durable, breathable, and low maintenance. All features make it an excellent choice for sewing fabric.

What Number Is a Heavy Duty Sewing Machine Needle?

Heavy-duty sewing machine needles usually range from 100/16 going upwards to 120/19. The higher the numbers, the more heavy-duty the needles. These needles are excellent at handling thick and heavy fabrics such as heavy denim, upholstery fabric, and others with ease.

Final Thoughts

With the correct needle, your sewing process will move smoothly and without any snags. The needle will work to create even neat and consistent stitches without causing any problems, such as bird’s nests in your work, and the final product will be just as you intended. Still, the vital question remains,

What do the numbers on sewing machine needles mean?

The numbers that you see on the needles are the American and European needle sizing systems. The needle size depends on the type and heaviness of the fabric you are sewing and the thread you are using to sew.

We appreciate you for reading to the end of this article. We hope that we have clarified any issues you had and questions you had on this topic. Feel free to engage us in our comment section below if you have any questions, comments, and suggestions.

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