Demystify the Machine Sewing Needle with Some Facts

comments (4) May 27th, 2008     

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Shannon_Dennis Shannon Dennis, contributor
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So many needles, so many sizes—finding the perfect size needle for
each project can make a big difference in your sewing experience.
Here is a close-up of a needle-packaging case. The needle size is the number in the circle.
So many needles, so many sizes—finding the perfect size needle for
each project can make a big difference in your sewing experience.

So many needles, so many sizes—finding the perfect size needle for each project can make a big difference in your sewing experience.

Photo: Shannon Dennis

So why did I pick needle parts and sizes as a topic? Would you believe that a needle of the wrong size or type can make or break your project? It can make that fantastic silk that you paid $25 a yard for turn into a warped, crinkle-seamed mess or transform a tired, hand-me-down georgette into a work of art. A needle's penetration will determine how the fibers in the fabric are separated when the machine stitch takes place. This penetration is just the first step in the quick action of a stitch that results in a seam. So the quality of the resulting seam is determined when that needle goes through your fabric. So here is the shimmy about needle parts!

Anatomy of a Machine Sewing Needle

Shank: Starting at the top of the needle, you have the shank. This is the part of the needle that goes up into the shaft of your machine. The shank usually has a rounded, front part and a flat back part. This is a very easy way to tell if you're putting the needle in correctly. The flat side always goes towards the back of the machine. The needle size is usually etched into the shank.

Shaft: This is the part of the needle between the base of the shank and the point of the needle. It is also called the blade of the needle, and it's the part that will be doing most of the sewing work for you.

Groove: If you take your finger and run it down the blade/shaft of the needle, right before you come to the eye of the needle, you will reach a slight indentation called the groove. This is a place for the thread to lay into the needle. When we talk about different types of needles in a later post, this will be an important part of the needle to reference.

Scarf: This is the groove on one side of the shaft of the needle that allows the bobbin-case hook to connect with the top thread to form a stitch.

Eye: The most widely known part of the needle for sure. This little hole changes in size depending on the type/size of the needle. The eye is the place for the top thread to pass through in order to complete the top of the stitch.

Point: The point is the very tip of the needle. This part can change not only in size but also in sharpness, depending on the type of needle.

So now that we have the parts down, let's talk sizes.

Needle Sizes
You can find the size of the needle either etched into the side of the needle shaft or within the circle located on the needle's package.


Both U.S. and European sizes are printed on the needles; the U.S. size is listed first and the European size is listed after the "/." For example, 70/10 and 90/14 would designate U.S. needle sizes of 70 and 90, respectively, and a European size of 10 and 14, respectively. The lower the number of the needle size, the lighter and thinner the needle shaft.


Needle size is important as different sizes are used for different weights and types of fabrics. For example, a sheer organza will most likely require a smaller needle, such as a 70/10 or 75/11. Smaller needles will have a thin needle shaft that is perfect for penetrating lightweight fabrics without creating too large a stitch hole. Conversely, a dense, coarse boating canvas will need a large 110/18 or 120/19 size to get through such a thick fiber. If you used the 70/10 needle on the boating canvas, your needle would snap rather quickly, and if you used the 110/18 needle on your organza, you would find big penetration holes in your seam.

Needles are really a fascinating part of the sewing process, and sometimes, simply using the proper needle can make an enormous difference in the quality of your sewing. I would love to hear any questions that you may have, and I will do my best to answer as we make our way through the needle series!

posted in: needle size, machine needle parts

Comments (4)

cftsimon writes: good info
Posted: 10:08 pm on December 13th
Shannon_Dennis writes: We can continue the needle conversation for sure! The thread will dictate the needle size because the larger your thread the larger your needle eye needs to be to accomodate it. For example, if you are using a 12wt cotton thread on a woven fabric I would suggest a 90/14 topstitching needle. As a little secret...I don't usually use metallic needles for metallic threads. I have had the best success with topstitching needles and metallic thread!
Posted: 9:31 am on July 1st
luluvision writes: THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!

I am a novice sewer and I always wanted to know what all those numbers on the needles meant and I even tried to google it and couldn't find any useful information at all!! And nothing in my sewing books either (maybe my library is missing the must have books?) Anyway, this is so helpful!!
Posted: 3:11 pm on May 28th
JC_Genzie writes: I'd love to hear about different types of needles such as in felting or embodier. Also, how does choosing the thread dictate the needle size?
Posted: 8:41 am on May 27th
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