Monday, November 12, 2007


Ever feel like you are “Searching for a Needle Under A Hay Stack” when you are trying to select the Right Needle for the task at Hand?

Well you are not alone. I hope to help clear up a few of your questions and help you to make your next needle selection, quick and painless!

First thing we need to consider is the needle sizing Numbers. Packages of Sewing Machine needles show the needle sizes at the bottom of the package and will show numbers that appear in this form: 8/60 ; or perhaps 19/120 so what does that mean?

Lets consider the needle size 8/60. These two numbers actually indicate firstly the American (or North American) needle size .. In this case the #8 and the European needle size of #60.

So in actual fact in Canada when choosing your sewing machine needle size in the case of a needle package showing size 8 /60 we would actually say we are selecting a #8 needle.
Lets face it … much easier to remember that we have a #8 needle in our sewing machine than to remember the 8/60 combination number isn’t it!

Since in Canada we use the “American” sizing system you need to know that we size our needles from a #8 to a #19.

A #8 needle being the finest and 19 being the thickest needle.

Also when making your needle selection you need to consider both the fabric you are going to be sewing, the project, and the size of thread or type of thread you will be using!..

Whew this sounds way more complicated than it actually is!

The manufactures of needles have actually made the packaging of needles as easy as possible.

Remember two things: the project, and the thread that you will be using.

QUILTING NEEDLES – these are sharp needles with a special taper to the point to help prevent damage to the expensive materials and thicknesses of a quilting project.

For quilters, both for top stitching and for the “Quilting” of the project we have …
Quilting Needles.

These needles have been designed to stitch through thick layers of fabric, (backing,batting, and tops) as well as the thicknesses associated with intersecting seams when piecing the tops of a quilt.

Quilting needles usually range in sizes from #11, to a #14. So now we must ask ourselves why would I use the #11 and why would I use the #14 .

I would choose to use the #11 needle when piecing the quilt top.

It is a smaller diameter of needle than the #14, therefore creating a smaller hole when piercing the fabric. Since we would usually be using a standard thread when piecing the quilt top, this would be a good choice if sewing a straight line, and “not” using the appliqué technique. ( I will talk about thread at the end of this article)

If I was “Quilting” my project, then I would use the #14 needle as this is a larger needle and will go through several layers better, and also I would be using “Quilting thread” which is thicker than standard sewing thread so the needle would be making a larger hole for the thread to pass through.


The next needle which is often used by quilters is the “Microtex Sharp Needles” these needles are extremely sharp a package of needles usually range in size from #8 , #10, to a #12. I would select the #8 when using a tight weave cotton and using a fine Egyptian cotton, or Italian cotton # 50/2 , (“Aurifil” piecing thread is an example) (this is a fine /two ply cotton thread) a #8 needle is Very fine! So the eye of the needle is very small also, it is best used when using a fine, 2ply thread.

A #10 needle I would usually consider when piecing a quilt top that has lots of seams to cross, i.e. A block like a pinwheel, or mariners compass, and/or when I was using a thicker thread. Perhaps a standard sewing thread of 50/3 (50 weight/3ply) this is thicker than a 50/2ply thread as they are now twisting three thread fibers of the same diameter instead of 2 fibers of the same diameter. Hence the term, 2 ply verses 3 ply!
Easy if you understand the terms right!

Okay now for the last needle in the package: #12. I would use this when using a standard sewing thread, “50/3 ply” or when I was using a thin batting and quilting it using standard thread, Not “Quilting Thread” (which is much thicker) or perhaps when doing Appliqué, usually you want to use a thicker, (standard) thread when appliquéing. (Also some sewing machines tolerate a #11 better when appliquéing)

However you should really do a test zig zag with the thread you want to use to test the result you want to achieve before making your final decision when using a zig zag appliqué technique.

Some sewing machines when doing a zig zag stitch tolerate different needle sizes better than other needle sizes, in this case my advise is “ TEST TEST TEST!”

UNIVERSAL Needles as indicated by their name are a good “all around” needle. They are intended to be used with a woven (cotton) or knit fabric. The point is very sharp yet is is also ever so slightly rounded.

They are the most economical needle to purchase and a pkg. of these needles usually range in size from a #10, #12,#14 needle. Remember once again that a #10 needle is the finest therefore has the smallest eye for the thread to pass through to a #14 which is the thickest needle with the largest eye, this will make the largest hole in your fabric, and accept the thickest thread.

If you achieve a satisfactory result when using this needle in your machine with the thread you are most familiar with using then …Use it! (every penny saved on notions gives your more cash for fabric right!)

EMBROIDERY NEEDLES: were designed to be used with rayon and silk threads. Since the development of the Home embroidery sewing machine, more and more people are using this feature to enhance their projects.

Home Embroidery thread is both thicker and more “slippery” than standard cotton or polyester thread. The sewing industry recognized this difference and designed a needle to accommodate this technique.

Embroidery needles range in sizes from: #11 to a #14. If I was using a very fine silk thread for my embroider project I would choose a #11 needle. If I was to use a rayon embroidery thread I would consider the #12 or #14 needle.

Last but not least is the:

METALIC NEEDLE: these needles have a large eye for easier threading of the thicker metallic thread. It also has a large groove in the needle to help prevent the shredding of the delicate metallic threads when stitching. These usually are sized from a #12 to a #14.

Okay, so that pretty much covers most of the needles that you as a quilter might be considering using, and gives you a firm foundation to begin with if selecting needles wither doing a “Quilting” project or a “Home sewing” project.

I also mentioned I would touch on threads, so is the quick basics of threads.

Thread comes in different weights (depending on the project) as well as ply’s (the number of fibers that are twisted together)

50/3 is: 50 weight /three ply thread – this is the usual standard sewing thread weight and ply,.

40/3 ply is a slightly “Heavier” weight thread, and is once again 3 fibers twisted together to make the thread.

Notice that: the larger the thread weight number i.e. 50 weight verses 40 weight that the 50 weight thread is actually “finer” than a 40 weight thread. If both of these threads are 3ply threads!

So when purchasing a 50/2ply thread you have a “thinner / lighter thread” as 50 weight is fine fibers, and 2 ply is 1 fiber less twisted together than a 3 ply thread.

I personally like to use a 50/2 ply thread when piecing my quilt tops as this thread is very fine, however is still strong (two fibers twisted together giving it strength). This thread gives me a more exact ¼” seam as the thread is thinner and when I iron the seam is gives a more crisp fine seam.

A 40/3 ply thread is frequently a “Quilting” thread. Note: this is NOT a piecing thread but a thread I would use when I am actually “Quilting my project”

Quilting being the sandwiching and the stabilizing finial step in the creation of my “Quilted” project.

So now what thread to choose…. Personal preferences come into play here as well as your sewing machine, and the fabric you are sewing.

With regards to Quilters,…. We are for the most part using cotton fabrics. I like to use a “good quality” strong thread for the piecing of my project. There are lots of thread on the market, and they are all good threads. Some thread companies are using a polyester core thread and then twisting 2 fibers of cotton around it. This is a very strong thread as the polyester core gives it the strength, and the cotton outer twists make it a good match with cotton fabric. These frequently are labeled as polyester thread, so you need to be familiar with what thread manufactures use the poly core with cotton outer twist. They might say Polyester thread, rather than, 100% polyester thread ..or the rack might say polyester thread, good for Quilting also…I like to use this thread on a quilt project like a “baby quilt” as I know that it will be washed over and over again, and I would like it to last.

When I am making a finer more lets say detailed, and perhaps treasured quilted project I will choose a finer, 100% cotton thread. This item I would not expect it to be wash so frequently and/or there may be lots of matching seams, and I do not want the added bulk of a heavier thread to deal with when piecing the blocks together.

Threads, like needles, and fabric are a very personal choice. Please use this info as a guide only, your personal preference, and your own sewing machine will usually be a factor in making your finial choices.

As long as in the end you have a finished project that you are proud of and happy with … then that is all that counts!

Take care, and “Happy Quilting” --- Pamela

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks...that should do it!! Now if my old brain can just remember...hey, but if it doesn't then I will just check the blog!!
You've been a busy girl on the blog!! Thanks for doing it..