How to identify sewing machine needles

When choosing a needle type, think about your fabric. If it’s thick or heavy, you might want to try using a thicker needle with a larger eye or ballpoint. If you’re sewing on knitwear or lightweight fabric, you can use a universal or needlepoint needle instead.

There are several different types of sewing machine needles. These include embroidery, quilting, universal (general purpose), ballpoint (heavy duty), and needlepoint (for denim).

How to identify sewing machine needles

What is a Sewing Machine Needle?

A sewing machine needle is a type of needle with a point that is mounted on a shaft and can move vertically, horizontally, and diagonally.

The shaft is mounted vertically to the base of the machine. The horizontal axis points from left to right, creating the point at which the needle moves up and down. The diagonal axis moves from front to back.

This allows for more control over feed placement when sewing curves, bullion knots, and other decorative stitches.

Most sewing machines come with a needle threader. This means that your machine will have an area where you insert the thread into a hole in order to pull it through the eye of the needle. You then pull both ends of the thread until they are even. This will allow you to pull the thread through the needle.

Related: How to Choose the Right Sewing Machine Needle

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Sewing Machine Needle Sizes

Understanding what a sewing needle size means is really simple. The higher the number, the smaller the needle.

The 60/8 is a good example of this. It’s a very common size for lightweight fabrics and anything that is sheer, like chiffon. The 60 represents the size of the needle in millimeters.

After this number, you’ll see the letter “H” or “J” which shows whether it is a household sewing machine needle or a ballpoint sewing machine needle. If there are no letters after the number, then it is a Universal sewing machine needle.

Additional numbers and letters after the 60/8 indicate the thickness of the shaft and the type of eyehole on the needle.

Related: How to Thread a Brother SC6600 Sewing Machine ( The Best Way)

How to identify sewing machine needles

A seamstress or tailor can identify the right needle to use for your fabric by using one of the following techniques: touch the fabric to identify the fiber type; open up a few threads of fabric and see if it’s translucent enough for light to shine through; wet the fabric and see how it darkens.

Embroidery and quilting needles

Embroidery needles, also known as sharps, are designed with a sharp point so they easily go through thick fabrics such as multiple layers of denim.

They have a small eye for threading cottons and polyesters quickly. Generally you’ll use an embroidery needle if you are sewing 2-3 layers of denim, but it can be used on lighter weight fabrics as well.

Quilting needles are designed with a sharp point for maneuvering in tight spaces when quilting 3 or more layers of fabric together.

They also have small eyes that can easily weave in and out of heavyweight, thick fabrics quickly and easily, while the sharp point glides through multiple layers.

You’ll want to use a quilting needle when sewing 3 or more layers together and if you’re planning on using thicker embroidery threads such as #12 and #14-#16 perle cotton for decorative stitching.

Universal needles

Universal needles are designed for general sewing purposes. They are the best fit for most fabrics ranging from light to medium weight, but can also be used on heavy fabric as well.

Universal needles have a slightly rounded tip, unlike embroidery and quilting needles which have a sharp point.

This feature enables them to pierce through many layers of fabric at once. They are also used for sewing on buttons.

Ballpoint needles

Ballpoint needles have a slightly rounded tip, rather than a sharp point like embroidery and quilting needles, so they glide smoothly through knitted fabrics such as sweaters.

The slightly blunt point prevents the stitches from catching or snagging in knitwear. Generally, you’ll use a ballpoint needle when sewing on knits.

Needlepoint needles

These needles are similar to universal needles, but they have an even more rounded tip for sewing on heavy or denim fabrics.

They also work well with knitwear and very thick fabrics as well, such as terry cloth and chenille. This type of needle can also be used for sewing on buttons.


If you are a seamstress or tailor, understanding what needles to use for your fabric is simple. The higher the number on the needle size, the smaller it becomes. For example, 60/8s are great for light-weight fabrics and anything that is sheer like chiffon.

Knowing how many layers of denim you want to sew together will help determine which type of sewing machine needle you should be using as well.

If all else fails, just remember that Universal needles work best with most types of fabric weights ranging from light to medium weight materials while ballpoint needles are typically used when sewing knits such as sweaters where other types may catch in them easily because they have a slightly rounded tip instead of sharp point similar to embroidery and quilting needles.

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