Which Size Sewing Machine Needle

Size Characteristics

The size of a sewing machine needle is a vital contributor to the quality of your sewing project. Depending on the type of fabric you are using, different size needles will be better able to penetrate the fabric and provide an optimal seam. The ideal needle size should be slightly larger than the fiber of the fabric you are using. A needle should not snag the fiber of the material you are sewing with, but should be just slightly larger than the fiber so it will penetrate and give the right amount of stitching.

Needle sizes are categorized and labeled with numbers, beginning with a 2, which is the smallest size or 4/0, and increasing in size to up to a size 18 and beyond. The larger the number, the thicker the needle, with a size 18 the thickest.

Fabric Types and Needle Sizes

Choosing the correct needle size for the fabric you are using is an important part of sewing quality garments. Lighter fabric such as chiffon, voile and organza and sheer fabrics will require a finer needle between sizes 9 and 11. Embroidery needles are also smaller in size – 80/12. Medium and heavier weight fabrics such as corduroy, upholstery and denim will require a heavier needle between sizes 14 and 18.

Using the wrong size needle on your fabric can cause damage such as pulled stitches, holes and uneven stitches. A size 18 needle which is too large for lightweight fabric can tear through, damaging the fabric and the garment, while a size 9 needle which is too small for medium to heavier fabrics may cause skipped stitches, tearing of the fabric and birdnesting of the thread.

Needles for Specific Fabric Types

Cotton and polyester fabrics usually require a size 11 or 12 needle. Denim, canvas, and upholstery require needles sizes 14-16. For fine fabrics such as chiffon, voile and organza, you should use a size 9 or 10 needle. Leather and vinyl require a specialized leather needle – size 14 to 16. For extra synthetic fabrics such as Lycra, spandex and neoprene, use a size 12 to 14 needle.

For knit fabrics, ballpoint needles with a slightly rounded tip should be used to help the needle slide between rather than piercing the fabric fibers. For stretch fabric, a stretch needle should be used to prevent skipped stitches. Specialty needles also include quilting needles, jeans needles, and topstitching needles.

Using Regular Versus Ball Point Needles

Many needle types are available to the sewer which are specified for use with particular materials or techniques. Regular or sharp point needles have a sharp tip which penetrates and cuts the material. Ballpoint needles have a slightly rounded tip which slips between the fibers instead of piercing them. This type of needle is used for knit and stretch fabrics to prevent skipped stitches and fabric damage.

Changing Needles for Different Projects

Incorrect needle selection and failure to change needles when moving from one fabric to another cause many sewing machine problems. If you’re sewing a combination of fabrics with different weights, make sure to change the needle which is the correct size for each of the fabrics. This will ensure that you are getting the optimum stitch quality and professional looking results.

When changing needles, remove the old needle and insert a new needle with the flat side towards the back of the sewing machine. Push the needle up as far as it will go and tighten the needle clamp securely.


The size of the needle that you use on your sewing machine will have a great impact on the quality of the end result. It’s important to choose the right size needle for the fabric that you are sewing to ensure stitches which are even and do not pull or pucker the fabric. Needles come in a range of sizes from 2 (4/0) to 18, with the larger numbers being thicker. The size of the needle will be based on the type of fabric you are using, with lighter fabrics needing smaller needle sizes such as 9 or 11 and medium to heavier fabrics requiring sizes 14 to 18.

Types of Needle

In addition to size, the type of needle should also be considered. Needles come in a variety of types such as regular and ball point for different fabrics. Knit and stretch fabrics will benefit from the ball point needle as it has a slightly rounded tip which slips between the fibers to prevent skipping or damage to the fabric. Quilting and topstitching needles are also available.

It’s important to change the needle when changing fabric or project to ensure you get the optimum stitch quality. Remove the old needle and insert a new needle with the flat side towards the back of the sewing machine, pushing the needle up as far as it will go and tightening the needle clamp securely.

Maintenance of Needles

Regular maintenance of your sewing machine needles is important for the quality of your work, avoid using dull and bent needles. When a needle gets dull, it can cause skipped stitches, fabric damage, and uneven stitching. Bent needles can even cause damage to the bobbin case and needle plate.

Always use genuine, quality needles and change them regularly depending on the type of fabric, or if you are having a problem with skipped stitches, breakage of thread or other problems. Replace your needles with the correct size needle corresponding to the type of fabric.


If you are having trouble with your stitches and need to troubleshoot, check the needle first. Make sure that the needle is the correct size and appropriate for the type of fabric you are using. Make sure that the needle is clean and sharp, and that it is inserted correctly with the flat side at the back. Also check for burrs or lint around the needle plate or needle hole and clean as needed.

If you are using the correct needle for the fabric, still having problems and the machine has been serviced and cleaned, the problem could be due to an incorrectly adjusted needle. If this is the case, contact your dealer or service technician for further instruction.


Using the right size and type of needle for your sewing machine is one of the most important considerations when it comes to outfit construction. The right needle can make the difference between a good stitch and a professional-looking finish. Be sure to carefully evaluate the type and weight of fabric, and choose the right needle size and type accordingly. Also remember to change the needle often and ensure that your needle is clean and sharp. By following this simple advice, you will be able to create garments and projects with the best possible results.

Geoffrey Kirby is an experienced author and sewist who has been creating sewn projects for over 20 years. He has a passion for teaching beginners and inspiring more advanced sewists both online and through his writings. Outside of writing about sewing, Geoffrey loves to explore new techniques and styles of sewing that incorporate upcycling fabric remnants into sweet items with personality.

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