Day 10: How to choose (and not break) your needle

Today is day 10 of 31 Days of Sewing School.

One of the most frustrating things in using a sewing machine is when you are going along and suddenly your needle snaps in half! Or worse yet, when you have to suddenly stop working on your project and leave your seventh grade Home Ec class to rush to the nurse”s often because your fingernail has a broken sewing needle stabbed into it. Not that I would know anything about that. Ahem.

Today we”ll talk about the different kinds of sewing needles and also how to avoid breaking them.

First of all, machine sewing needles are not the same as hand sewing needles. Machine sewing needles are specially shaped and designed to attach to your machine and do your sewing work for you.

Types of needles

I recommend Schmetz brand needles for your sewing machine. This is what I”ve always used and what I”ve been told is the best. My sewing machine actually came with a set of Schmetz needles.

Here are some of the most useful types of needles they make and (briefly) what they are used for (source).

Photo by Schmetz


A general purpose needle that can be used on knit or woven fabrics. A casual sewer who might repair a pair of jeans today, a child’s t-shirt tomorrow, and some lingerie next month will probably use this needle most often. It will do a number of tasks sufficiently.

It has a long scarf (that”s an indentation above the eye that allows the bobbin hook to smoothly grab the thread under the throat plate to create a stitch) that is great for zigzag stitching and it does not damage knits. It is sharp enough to go through a lot of fabrics but it does have a slight ball point which does not make it ideal for going through many layers or high thread count fabrics. This needle comes in a wide range of sizes from size 60 to size 120.


Made especially for synthetic suede or highly elastic synthetic knit wear. This needle is constructed with a medium ball point to help prevent skipped stitches. It comes in sizes 11/75 and 14/90. Choose the size based on the type and size of thread being used.


For use with rayon and other specialty machine embroidery threads including polyesters. The special scarf, long smooth groove, and large eye, of this needle protect these more fragile threads and guard against excess friction.

These needles come in size 75 and 90. The beautiful sheen of these threads results in outstanding embroidery work. Check the size of the thread and use the appropriate size needle for each thread — remember the finer the thread, the smaller size needle that should be used.


Made especially for sewing through densely woven materials such as denim or imitation leather. It is both strong and sharp. Some quilters use it when sewing through many layers of fabrics, especially high thread count batiks.

This needle comes in sizes 10/70 through 18/110. Choose the size based on the type of thread being used. The heavier jeans threads work best with the larger needle. The standard Jeans needles are the 90 or 100.


Made especially for piecing and machine quilting. The thin tapered design of these needles allows them to pass through many layers smoothly to help eliminate skipped stitches and keep stitches even.

These needles come in size 75 which is fine for piecing with 50 weight threads or size 90 which works well with heavier plain or variegated 40 weight threads for quilting. This needle is also sold in an assortment pack containing both sizes 75 and 90.

Microtex Sharp

A very slim needle with a thin shaft that helps make very straight stitches. It was developed for the modern micro- fibers and polyesters and high thread count, high quality fabrics used today. The point is very sharp — thus the name — but because of this it is a bit more fragile and needs to be changed more regularly.

This is a great needle for piecing high thread count fabrics like Batiks, silks, and microfibers. It is also used for beautiful topstitching or edge stitching. It comes in sizes 60, 70, 80, and 90.

My mom”s favorite needle to use is a Microtex Sharp 70.

Here is a handy guide with all of the types and sizes of Schemtz needles.

Needle sizing

The size of the needle refers to the size of the hole it will make in your fabric (eye size doesn”t vary much)– the larger the number, the larger the hole. Sizes range from 8/60 (the finest) to 20/120 (the largest).

According to Schmetz, “The goal is to have the needle slide easily through the fabric without damaging the fibers or creating too large of a hole, and to carry the thread smoothly without damaging it when sewing.”

For all the nitty gritty details on sizing, read this and this.

For everyday cotton sewing, the most common-sized needle is a 70 or 75 Universal or Sharp.

Tips for not breaking needles (and/or damaging your machine)

  • Use the right type of needle for the fabric you are using
  • Do not sew directly on top of your pins (we will discuss the use of pins in more detail later)
  • Don”t use a damaged (ie bent) needle
  • Change your needle periodically (Schmetz says, “A general rule of thumb is to replace the needle after eight hours of use and at the beginning of each project.” I am much too lazy for this myself and rarely change mine. Hm. Note taken.)
  • Needles work much better in fabric, than in fingernails. Just sayin”.

Disclaimer: Schmetz has no idea I wrote this post (they didn”t sponsor me or anything)– I just really like their needles and found their website to be very educational.

Have you ever had the unfortunate experience of breaking your needle? (I sure hope no one else has sewn their own finger like little ol” me!) Hopefully now you”ll have a little more know-how so you can choose the right needle for your project. See you here tomorrow when we”ll touch on the all-important bobbin.


Nicole lives near the beach in Southern California with her husband and three young kiddos. She writes a a lifestyle blog about creativity, family life, community, and all sorts of other fun stuff, and also keeps a homeschool journal called The Bennettar Academy. Her most recent (free!) ebook is about why and how to make more time for reading.

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  1. Ouch. Good to know about the different needles with different fabric.

  2. Oh, have I broken needles… yikes. But I have managed to avoid the apparent rite of passage in my family of skewering my finger with them!

    I was always taught to use ball points with knits so that the needle nudged the threads aside rather than piercing through the threads and (potentially) snagging them, kind of on the same principle as darning with a fairly blunt needle. But I don’t know if that’s the real reason. At any rate, I rarely change needlees and tend to just sew with whatever’s in there until it complains (the basic needle works well for 95% of what I sew, so this works most of the time).

    In defense of using the right needle for the job, though, most of my needle breakages have been when not bothering to swap the needle for the right one for the job (ahem, using the already-in-the-machine great-needle-for-silk on four layers of denim) and when not being “nice” to the sewing machine (tugging too hard at the layers of fabric while the needle is in the middle of a stitch = broken needle). Ah, the costs of being lazy! But I am grateful that I’ve managed to skip the “emergency room visit to extract broken needle” laziness-cost so far, and this reminder might motivate me to be a little more careful about what needle’s in the machine next time…

  3. Nice to be here and see your post!

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