Everything You Need to Know About Sewing Machine Needles

Photo of sewing machine needle

by Alexandra F | popular guides

Choosing the right sewing machine needle is an often overlooked part of any new sewing project. This is not how it should be!

When you think about it, the needle is not only the part of your sewing machine doing the most work, but it is also the most vulnerable.

By understanding how to pick the correct needle for your sewing project you will get MUCH better results, and you will be able to make sure that you avoid broken needles along the way.

What you need to know

By the time you have finished reading this guide, you will know everything there is to know about the sewing machine needle! In this guide we will:

  • Go over the different parts of the sewing machine needle
  • Discuss the different needle points you can get
  • Talk about the different types of needles and when to use them
  • Review different needle sizing systems
  • Review the top needle brands
  • Cover how often needles should be replaced
  • Discuss why needles break and how to avoid it

Whew, that’s a lot to cover! Let’s get started.

Anatomy of a sewing machine needle

First, let’s take a look at the different parts of a sewing machine needle.

Image showing different parts of the sewing machine needle, including shank, scarf, eye, point etc...
The different parts of a sewing machine needle

Here is a quick description of each of the main components:

  • Butt – end of the needle, which is inserted into the needle clamp when you change your needle.
  • Shank – this is the thicker top part of the needle. It usually has a flat side. When you change your needle, make sure you insert it into the needle clamp with the flat side away from you.
  • Shoulder – this is the section which tapers the thickness down from the shank to the shaft.
  • Shaft/Blade – this is the main body of the needle, between the shoulder and the eye.
  • Groove – the groove is an indentation in the shaft at the front of the needle, which provides a small channel for the thread to sit in.
  • Scarf – the scarf is a small concave section at the back of the needle, just above the eye. It makes it easier for the bobbin hook to grab the thread, and in doing so reduces the risk of skipped stitches.
  • Eye – the eye of the needle is the hole which your thread passes through. The eye will have different lengths depending on the type of needle.
  • Point – the point and tip of the needle are the parts which help the needle penetrate through your material. There are several types of needle point, which I look at in more detail further down.

Who would have thought such a tiny object could have so many different components, each serving their own specific purpose!

Having a good understanding on what each part of the needle does will help you understand why different needles act in different ways, and could even help you diagnose issues with your stitching (skipped stitches anyone?!).

Needle systems

Before we get into the specifics of different needles, we need to make sure we understand needle systems.

Household sewing machines only take needles which have a shank which has a flat back and which have a scarf. This is referred to as the 130/705 H needle system. The H in 705 H stands for the German word Hohlkehle, which means “with scarf”.

If your needle is from the 130/705 H system it will most likely be suitable for your domestic machine. This system is also sometimes referred to by the names 15×1 and HAx1 The needle system is usually written on the needle box or packaging, alongside the needle type and size (more about those later!).

Location of the needle system designation on needle box
The needle system is always indicated on the needle box or pack

Industrial machines or older machines may use needles from other systems. Some older Bernina domestic machines for example take needles from the 705 B system – these needles do not have a scarf.

So in summary, if you have a modern household sewing machine, make sure you buy needles with “130/705 H” on the packaging!

Needle points

The point is the part of the needle that leads the way through the fabric. It can be shaped in many different ways, with different shapes being best suited for specific applications. Some of the most common needle points are:

  • Ball point – this point is mostly used for knit fabrics. The point has a ball-like shape which allows the needle to push the yarns of the fabric to either side as it moves through it, rather than slice through them.
  • Set point – sharper than the ball point, this needle point is mostly used for woven fabrics.
  • Wedge/cutting point – this point cuts directly through the material, and so is best suited for very dense materials like leather. You can find out more about working with these types of materials in my guide to sewing machines for leather work.

The image below shows the differences between these needle points.

Diagram showing ball, set and wedge needle points
Differences between ball point, set point and wedge point

There are many different variations on these three needle points. Ball points for example come in light, medium and heavy variations, which have varying levels of roundness. For more information, have a read of this article about needle points.

What are the different types of sewing machine needle?

When choosing the right sewing machine needle for a particular project, you need to make two choices – you need to choose the needle type and the needle size. Let’s talk about needle type first.

There are several different types of sewing machine needle. You should choose your needle type based on the type of sewing you are doing and the type of fabric you are using.

The table below lists the most common needle types, the needle point they have, and when you would use each of them. It’s always handy to have a reference table to hand – if you’re new to sewing I would recommend printing one out and keeping it folded up in your sewing machine accessory tray.

Needle NameNeedle PointApplication
UniversalLight ball pointBetween a sharp point and medium ball point, this is a general purpose needle which can be used for most applications without issues.
JerseyMedium ball pointUsed for knit fabrics, the ball point on this needle pushes the yarns apart instead of cutting through them.
StretchMedium ball pointUsed for stretch materials – similar to the Jersey needle, the ball point on this needle avoids cutting through fibres, which would be disastrous for a stretch material. The scarf on this needle is specially designed to prevent skipped stitches.
Sharp/MicrotexSharp set pointThe very sharp point makes this needle ideal for tightly woven fabrics including synthetic materials like polyester, silk and laminates.
JeansSharp set pointGreat for denim or densely woven fabrics. The sharp point allows the needle to penetrate these fabrics more easily. Good for heavy duty projects.
Metallic/MetafilSharp set pointUsed with metallic or synthetic threads – this needle has a longer eye with a non-stick coating which helps prevent shredding and breaking of the metallic thread. Also easier to thread due to the larger eye.
EmbroideryLight ball pointThese needles sometimes have special coatings to help deal with the extra heat generated by the faster embroidery stitching speeds.
QuiltingLight ball pointA stiffer shaft and tapered needle point allow this needle to more readily penetrate several layers of fabric, which is perfect for quilting.
TopstitchSharp set pointA topstitch needle has a larger eye to accommodate heavier topstitching threads.
LeatherWedge/cutting pointLeather needles have a cutting point which allows them to slice through the densely packed structure of leather.
Quick-threading/Self-threadingLight ball pointThese needles are the same as a universal needle but have a slot into the eye which makes them much easier to thread.

Schmetz have a good breakdown of their needle types on their website.

Needle Sizes

Each type of needle also comes in a number of sizes. When we talk about the size of the needle we are not referring to its length (all sewing machine needles for household machines are of the same length). We are referring instead to to the diameter of the needle shaft.

Choosing the right needle size

Choosing the needle size correctly is as important as choosing the needle type.

You choose the size of your needle based on the material you are working with and the weight of the thread you are using. Selecting too large a needle for the thread you are using will increase the likelihood of skipped stitches. You will also end up with a poor looking result as the holes in your fabric will be much too large for the stitches. A smaller needle should be used for lighter fabrics.

Sizing systems

Needle sizes are defined in two systems – the American system (also known as the Singer system because Singer originally came up with it) and the European system. The European size is the diameter of the needle shaft in hundreths of a millimetre. A 90 needle for example will have a diameter of 0.9mm, and a 110 needle will have a diameter of 1.1 mm.

The table below lists the different needle sizes in both the American and European systems. The recommended fabric weights corresponding to each needle size are also shown.

AmericanEuropeanFabric Weight
20120Very heavy

Some needle types only come in certain sizes. For example topstitch needles will only come in larger shaft sizes.

Top sewing machine needle brands

Only a limited number of companies manufacture sewing machine needles for use in household sewing machines. The main manufacturers are:

  • Schmetz
  • Organ
  • Klasse

The following sewing machine brands also market their own needles, but they are mostly rebranded from one of the big needle manufacturers:

  • Singer – I believe their needles are manufactured by Grosz Beckert.
  • Bernina – these are rebranded Schmetz needles
  • Janome – these are rebranded Organ needles.
  • Inspira – this is a brand of needles owned by SVP, the company which owns the Singer, Pfaff and Husqvarna Viking brands, and so you will often see these needles recommended for use in Pfaff and Husqvarna machines. I believe that these are the same as Klasse needles.

To be perfectly honest I do not see too much of a difference in quality between needles from different brands.

I would advise sticking with whatever needle is recommended by the sewing machine manufacturer, but to get cheaper needles I would buy in bulk from the original manufacturer (e.g. buy Organ needles in bulk for a Janome machine instead of the Janome-branded ones). As always, carefully test each new needle you use.

Needle colour coding

Different brands use different methods and colours for telling needles apart, which can make things confusing.

Here is a quick summary:

  • Bernina and Schmetz needles have two colour bands printed on the needle shoulder. The top colour indicates the needle type and the bottom colour indicates the needle size. Singer needles are similar but the entire shank is coloured to indicate needle type, and the shoulder is coloured to indicate needle size. Note that not all needles will have an associated colour. Universal needles for example are often uncoloured.
    Needle Colour Coding for Schmetz, Bernina and Singer Needles
    Needle Colour Coding for Schmetz, Bernina and Singer Needles
  • The shank of Klasse needles is stamped to indicate needle size and type, but the boxes the needles come in are colour coded.
  • Janome and Organ needles needles are mostly not coloured, but three speciality needles have coloured shanks (which they call blue tipped, purple tipped and red tipped needles) and come in one size only.

Why do sewing machine needles break?

Breaking a sewing machine needle can be a frustrating and rather scary (not to mention dangerous!) occurrence. Knowing some of the causes of broken needles can help you avoid this unpleasant experience. Here are a few of the most common causes:

  • Needle type or size not suitable – Always make sure you have chosen the correct needle for the job, and test on scraps before starting your project.
  • Pins – If you are using pins and forget to remove one before it passes through the machine, there is a good chance your needle will break if it hits it. If it doesn’t break from hitting the pin, it may still be bent and could break at any time.
  • Needle not inserted properly – Make sure you follow the instructions that came with your sewing machine for replacing needles.
  • Needle is bent – If the needle is bent, there is a very high risk of it contacting part of your machine and breaking. Always check that your needle is not bent before starting a project.
  • Pulling fabric – If you pull your fabric through the sewing machine rather than letting the feed dogs do most of the work, you run a good chance of breaking a needle by causing misalignment between the needle and the needle plate or presser foot.
  • Poor maintenance – Lint in your bobbin case or in the needle plate can result in broken needles. Be sure to clean your machine regularly.
  • Thread not feeding properly – if your thread is not unwinding freely from the spool, or is getting caught somewhere in the thread guides due to incorrectly threading the machine, the thread will be under tension and you run the risk of breaking your needle.

Remember – whenever you change the needle in your machine, always use the handwheel to manually lower the needle first. This is to make sure that it is correctly aligned and does not hit the needle plate or presser foot.

How often should I replace my sewing machine needle?

Guidance about how often to replace your sewing machine needle can be confusing. Most manufacturers recommend replacing your needle after a certain number of hours of sewing:

  • Singer recommends replacing your needle every 8 to 10 hours of sewing in some guidance, but every 16 hours in this FAQ.
  • Bernina recommends replacing your needle every 4 to 6 hours of sewing.

So it is difficult to get a consistent answer. In addition to that, the fact is that different machines run at different speeds. So the total number of hours of sewing isn’t necessarily the best way to measure when to replace a needle.

Some recommendations tell you to replace your needle after a certain number of stitches (10,000 stitches, for example). But this is also very difficult to measure. Others recommend replacing the needle after you have been through a certain number of bobbins. This has the advantage of being easier to measure.

In any case I would recommend inspecting your needle before every project, and replacing it more often than you think you should. Needles are cheap, and it is a false economy to try and run a needle for as long as possible.

Bear in mind that titanium plated needles do not dull as quickly as regular needles. Janome claim that their titanium-coated needles last for up to 40 hours of sewing.

Let’s discuss!

I hope you enjoyed reading through this guide to sewing machine needles, and that you learned a thing or two along the way!

Have a favourite needle brand? Or a few additional tricks for how to avoid broken needles? I would love to hear from you in the comments below!

41 thoughts on “Everything You Need to Know About Sewing Machine Needles

  1. I glad if you give me the diameter of the shank because I need to buy for the industrial machine and the diameter is different, for my machine is 1/16 ” but for household or domestics are 5/64″.
    Can you guide me over needle for industrial machines?

    1. HAx1 and 15×1 are alternative references for the common needle system 130/705H so you can definitely use any needles labelled with those references.

  2. I’m a bit of a needle nerd and am so pleased to see such a good descriptive guide. So many leave out technical information that presumably they think may confuse readers and end up missing out really vital information such as needle systems. Yours doesn’t and gets extra stars for that alone! The brand information was interesting for me. I don’t use Klasse or Prym as their needles don’t work with my needle threaders and this explains why it’s those two. There’s always something else to learn. 😀

  3. I am trying to find compatible needles for my vintage treadle machine. Its a UNITY made by national USA I think the original size of the shank was 2.02 mm with an overall length of 42 to 45 mm have you anything that would work………………………Dave

    1. My vintage treadle took pretty much what any other standard machine would take. It would have to be very old indeed to take anything else. The appropriate needle types still apply.

  4. Can you recommend a machine which is easiest to thread please
    My fingers have limited sensitivity so l feel clumsy with my familiar machine and that could stop me using it, which would be a b####r.

  5. Hi, I have a new Juki DX5 and when I tried to put a new needle in I couldn’t get the needle threaded to work, I was trying to use a Pym 130/705 is this not the right needle? What would you recommend. I’ve put old needle back in for now.

    1. I have recently got a Pfaff and for the first time in 60 years of sewing find their inbuilt needle threader works brilliantly, everytime

    2. Smaller size needles have a smaller eye and will not let the threader work. You may even break it. Never go smaller than a 12

  6. hello, I have industrial straight Emel machine it can only accept very small needle and as I sew leather materials , the needles are breaking. How do I convert it to take bigger needle

  7. I have 5 Singer Featherweight 221s. I’ve been using the same ones I use in my Berninas–Schmetz 80/12s or 75/11s. Do I need to change?

    Likewise, I was always told, “Change needles after every quilt.” Is that too seldom?

  8. I have my mothers 1947 New Home sewing machine which has a shorter needle and can’t find them except on rare occasions. The package has a target on the small package they are in. Any idea if these are still being made. My other option is to grind down a regular needle which I probably would never do. Any suggestions?

    1. New Home was bought by Janome…. Same Company, New Name!
      Check first but…You can probably use either Organ Needles…
      Or Janome Needles…. Which are just rebranded Organ Needles

  9. I can’t find any info on shank dimensions for 15 x 1 home machines. I have measured 10 needles and found all to be .080 diameter, but when I measure across the flat, I get from .0604 to .0698, nothing above .0680 will fit my 401A. what’s up here?

  10. I have a Brother XL 2600i and I got these Schmetz 130/705 H Wing sewing needles. Do you have a video where I can see how to use them. Please, will appreciate a lot. Thank you

  11. Help please. I have an ancient domestic Singer 5107 plus a newer Janome XCL301 which I wish to use for multiple purposes including load bearing strap manufacture.

    I understand that domestic machines will not accept industrial/commercial needles, what is the heaviest/largest eyed needle can I use in these machines. I am in particular looking for the largest eyed to allow for the use of strongest/thickest threads.

    Supplemental. What is the strongest/thickest thread available for these machines and where can I obtain some.

    Thanks in advance to all you gen bodies out there in the ether.

  12. Will the Schmetz and Organ needles fit my Frister Rossman 602. It was bought in 1976 and made in Japan.
    Please advise?

  13. Hi, I have purchased a Singer 331K5 Walking Foot industrial sewing machine. I am intending to upholstered the seats in my vintage car. I am using 1.1mm leather, can anyone tell me what needle and thread I should use. I have tried to research needles, but due to the age of the M/c I am getting confused.


  14. I found some needles in the drawers of my grandmother’s old Singler treadle machine. All were regular needles except three! They are completely round with NO flat side. They are marked Boyle 30-40 and Boyle 40-60. Apparently they were not for her treadle machine though.

  15. I have a Janome 1600P QC. The manual shows to use HL x 5 needles. I only have 2 more before having to go dig up the ones I ordered but I have standard sewing machine needles handy. Will they work? Someone either told me or I read that they could be used but I don’t want to damage my machine and the manual doesn’t answer questions like that! Lol. Thanks.

  16. I have read probably a dozen articles about sewing machine needles and not one has mentioned anything about the length of a sewing machine needle. By the way, this question came up because there are a lot of sewing machine needles that are sold online (eg.,Ebay) from China and the ads will sometimes say “the needles may be one to three millimeters different than the stated length of 39 mm length.
    Now maybe this is not important at all but it seems to me that if a sewing machine needle is more than what I believe is the normal legth of 39 mm.,and you put it into your, say, Singer sewing machine, it might not work or worse cause some damage to your machine (?) Am I way off base here? And if I am, I wonder if others might be wondering the same thing.

    1. I have been told by sewing machine technicians that you are correct. I have also been shown that older Singer needles have an extra bit on the top that will make them longer and will damage your hook if you are putting them in another brand than a Singer machine.

  17. Thank you so much for this guide to machine needles. My daughter was gifted a Pfaff 1222. I have tried to search for a universal needle, hoping there might be a brand available locally. Not having any luck identifying a universal brand needle for this machine. Thanks for any advice you might have.

    1. I have a Pfaff 938, 1137 and 2042. The Pfaff 1222 is a great machine. If in doubt on needle brand, Schmetz is the ‘home team’. Schmetz needles and Pfaff sewing machines are both German companies. Having said that, I have had success using Singer ‘Regular Point’ needles in my Pfaffs. As they say, your mileage may vary. Best wishes and fond thoughts on her 1222.

  18. I have a. Brothers Sewing machine. What Other. Brand Name Sewing needles. Will. Work On my. On my. Brothers Sewing machine. Thank you

  19. Hi, I have an Alfa 472 and would like to use a double needle. My problem is the needles are designed to fit with the flat towards the back and threading front to back whereas my machine is designed to have the flat fittig to the right and threading from the left. would I need to buy special needles for my machine or is it impossible to sew with a double needle on my machine. Thank you.

  20. Hi I have a singer promise 1408 and recently since I couldn’t find singer sewing needles in Zambia I had to buy organ needles for my quilting project but the top thread keeps breaking, do you know what the reason could be?

  21. I’ve ordered new needles, however noticed there is a small difference between the ones I have ordered and already have! My current ones say 03UN and new ones 05UN. They are both Singer, 2020, 90/14. What does this mean?

  22. I have question the needle of my serger is ELx750 now its hard to find this needle is there any generic needle that same of ELx750 that can i use in my serger?

  23. I have read a lot of needles’s info and was a pleasure to find this post. Thanks for the details. Very helpful! Regards from Argentina!

  24. I have a box of Singer needles .
    The needle itself has the following code 200. 23 KY .
    On the box the code shows
    23/160 and on the other side 216×3 set. 23

    What kind of needles are these and what kind of materials can you sew with these ?

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