The Ultimate Guide To Hand and Machine Sewing Needles

Tired of confusing needle types and struggling to understand needle size charts? Ringing a bell seam-star?

Well, the good thing is you’re not the only one! It can be suuuper duper confusing, especially if you’ve recently started sewing.

But every day is a school day, which is why we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to sewing needles to help you navigate the world of BOTH machine & hand sewing needles.

Or if you’re a seasoned seam-star this is a great refresher to brush up on your knowledge.

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Sewing Machine Needle Guide

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Choosing the correct sewing machine needle

Sewing machine needle types

Hand needle types

At Plush Addict we have an incredibly well stocked, extensive range in our online haberdashery and needles are no exception!

We stock a variety of types, sizes and brands of hand sewing and machine sewing needles.

We realise that all of this choice can be confusing to the uninitiated Seam-Star so we hope you find this Ultimate Guide To Needles valuable when making the right needle choice for your next sewing project.

Choosing The Correct Sewing Machine Needle

Sewing machine needle sizes – let’s demystify those numbers!

Have you ever wondered why sewing machine needles have two numbers on either side of a slash?

You might see something like 90/14 or 80/12 on a machine needle and wonder what those numbers mean….

This part isn’t tricky – these numbers reference the European and American needle size systems. The higher number is European and the smaller number is American.

Longarm needles tend to have 3 numbers, both European and American as well as the Longarm sizes. 

But what do sewing machine needle numbers mean you may ask?!

When it comes to sewing machine needles, remember – the bigger the number the bigger the needle

As a general rule of thumb

The finer/ lighter your fabric, the lower the needle number you need & vice versa – the thicker & heavier your fabric the higher the number needle you need.

Here are some example fabrics and the needle size you might consider. Fabric weights can vary extensively so the ideal needle size can vary between the same fabric type. If in doubt – sew a test on some off cuts of your fabric

  • Cotton Lawn – 70/10
  • Quilting cotton – 80/12
  • Denim – 90/12

Remember the thread on a sewing machine must sit fully in the groove of the needle without any movement on either side. This ensures the thread doesn’t unravel or shred. However, the eye of the needle must be large enough for the thread to pass through with minimal friction. 

We’ve made a sewing needle size chart below. So remember to come back to it if you ever need a hand choosing needles.

Sewing Machine Needle sizes

European SizesAmerican Sizes

Top Trouble Shooting Tip: When your sewing machine drops or skips stitches, it’s often caused by a damaged needle, or occasionally a mismatch between the size of the thread and the needle. Try changing your needle, this often fixes the problem!

Different Types Of Machine Needles

Universal Needles:

Universal needles aren’t as sharp as other regular needles. They are tapered allowing them to slide through the fabric without pulling threads on the weave.

They’re usually suitable for most types of fabric and are a good all-rounder to have on hand in your sewing stash

Universal Machine Needles Medium 80/12

Ballpoint Needles:

With a rounded tip, ballpoint needles are designed to be used on jersey & stretch fabrics. The slightly rounded point gives ballpoint needles their name, and means the needle finds its way between the fabric fibres and avoids leaving behind a hole!

Hemline Ball Point Machine Needles Assorted Size

Embroidery Needles:

Embroidery needles are special needles that have a big eye, are polished and are designed for rayon and polyester machine embroidery threads. Have you seen how fast an embroidery machine needle can move in full swing? You want to make sure you’re using the right needle for the right job here…

Schmetz Stick-Nadel Embroidery Needle

Metallic Needles:

Using metallic needles are the best choice when sewing metallic thread. Metallic needles have an enlarged, polished eye to prevent shredding and or splitting of this specialist thread.

Hemline Machine Needles Metallic

Quilting Needles:

Quilting needles for….. quilting! Featuring a strong, tapered shaft these needles have the ability to sew through multiple layers without breaking.

Ideal for those thick quilts and fluffy wadding!

Hemline Quilting Machine Needles Medium 80/12

Topstitch Needles:

Topstitch needles tend to have a very sharp point allowing for precise, neat stitches.

They are ideal for woven fabric and they also have long eyes and grooves for thicker topstitch threads.

Schmetz Topstitch Needle 130 N

Denim Needles:

Denim Needles, also sold as Jeans Needles, are more heavy-duty than many other needles and are designed to be used with denim. These bad boys can cope with multiple layers of heavy denim fabric.

These needles are also a good choice for other heavy weight fabrics, like canvas.

Hemline Jeans Machine Needles Medium 90/14

Leather Needles:

Leather needles are one of the sharpest cut point needles. These are designed to pierce authentic leather, artificial leather as well as other thick non-wovens.

Hemline Leather Assorted Machine Needles

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Sewing Needle Sizes and Uses

Hand Needle Types

Sharps Needle:

Sharps handheld needles are often short to medium length with sharp points. Sharps needles are a good all-rounder and are used for a wide range of hand-sewing tasks.

Hemline Sharps Hand Needles Size 5-10

Betweens Needles:

Betweens needles are usually short, sharp needles used in hand quilting. As well as other sewing makes that require precise accuracy when sewing.

Hemline Hand Needles Betweens Size 3-9

Hand Embroidery Needles and Crewel Needles

Hand embroidery have sharp points and eyes that are wider than the shaft of the needle and enable thicker threads to be used.

Embroidery is the art of sewing intricate, decorative stitches made with floss or thread.

Crewel refers to the same types of stitches, stitches but sewn with wool thread. The needle is the same in the embroidery & crewel techniques.

Hemline Embroidery Crewel Hand Needles Size 5-10

Hand Applique Needles

Hand applique needles are actually sharps needles and are ideally suited to applique and intricate hand-work.

Although they are sharps, some brands name them applique needles, to assist sewists that are looking for the best needle for hand applique.

Often short to medium length with sharp points.The needle eyes are often small and the needles come in several lengths & sizes. Clover needles really are the best quality and a dream to use.

Applique Needles

Chenille Needles:

Another great embroidery needle is the Chenille needle, they are different to a regular embroidery needle.

Chenille needles are often referred to as a combination between a tapestry needle and a crewel or embroidery needle. They are sized the same as tapestry needles.

Usually starting at size 14 and all the way up to size 28 (which is the finest needle you can find).

Straw/Milliners Needles:

Straw or Milliners needles are looooong needles with round eyes, traditionally used for hat making. However, they can also be used for hand sewing.

They are often the choice of preference for those who prefer longer needles.

Hemline Straw / Milliners Hand Needles Size 3-9

Tapestry Needles:

Tapestry needles are often used in needlepoint, petit point, counted cross-stitch and plastic canvas work. They have a large eye with a blunt, round point.

Hemline Tapestry Hand Needles Size 26

So that’s our ultimate guide to sewing needles! We hope you’ve brushed up on your knowledge and picked up on a few needle tips along the way.

Did you find this sewing needle guide helpful?

Please let us know in the comments below!

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Hemline Tapestry Hand Needles Size 26

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16 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide To Hand and Machine Sewing Needles”

  1. Thank you for this. I never understood the machine needle sizes. How simple when explained

  2. Thank you for this guide, I didn’t know why there were 2 numbers on needles, a very helpful guide

  3. Ah, now I know why I am getting skipped stitches or bunched up back stitches ! Thank you 🙂 is there one on interfacing ?

  4. I liked the guide, however I have a query:- the guide tells me that machine needle sizes work on the smaller the size number the finer the needle, i.e. 70 for cotton lawn and 90 for denim. However you don’t explain about the sizing for hand needles, which appears to be different from the comment under chenille “Usually starting at size 14 and all the way up to size 28 (which is the finest needle you can find).” I could do with some clarification please. Many thank.s

    1. Hi Jenny, I hope I have understood your question correctly… Hand sewing needle size numbers go the opposite way to machine needles – ie – the higher the number the finer the needle size, whereas with machine needles they are the other way around – the higher the number the larger/ thicker the needle. In the Chenile example size 28 is the finest and 14 would be the largest. I hope this makes sense!

      1. Thank you – your reply absolutely makes sense. You might like to put that point into the blog info as well. Best wishes.

      2. Thank you – I thought that must be it, but it would be helpful to have a line saying that in the blog too. xx

      3. Hi Jenny, thanks for the feedback, always valuable! This info is in the post already but I’ll have a review and see if it needs a re-word.

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