How to identify sewing machine needles

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It’s important to know more about the tools of the trade, so if you’re regularly working on sewing projects or run a sewing business, it’s a good idea to know how to identify sewing machine needles so that you know which ones to use and when.

Along with the thread you use, the sewing machine needle is one of the most important parts of your sewing machine. Without the correct needle type and size, you could end up tearing your thread, having problems with stitches, creating sewing pieces that are of poor quality and you could even damage your sewing machine!

How to identify sewing machine needles

In this blog post, we look at how to identify sewing machine needles and answer the following questions:

-How do sewing machine needles work?
-What are the different parts of the sewing machine needle?
-What needle size do you need for your project?

This blog is also perfect if you’re learning how to sew for the first time!

How do sewing machine needles work?

Sounds like a simple question, but when you look into how sewing machine needles work, it makes more sense why it’s important to identify the right machine needle for the project you’re working on.

The purpose of a sewing machine needle is to pierce the fabric you’re working on, to allow the thread to pass through the fabric and create a stitch. Regardless of whether you’re sewing to create a garment and therefore putting pieces of fabric together, or you’re sewing to decorate something, without a needle, you can’t sew a stitch! Pretty obvious, right?

Depending on the type of stitch you’ve selected, the sewing machine needle is programmed to move in a certain way so that you end up with the perfect stitch for your project. The needle allows the thread to loop through the fabric and create the stitch you’ve selected on your sewing machine.

What are the different parts of a sewing machine needle?

If you’ve never used a sewing machine before then you might not know that a sewing machine needle is slightly different to a needle you use when sewing by hand. The main difference between a sewing machine needle is that one side of it is flat and designed in such a way that it can fit inside a sewing machine nice and securely.

A regular sewing needle for hand sewing is the same shape all around as it doesn’t need to be secured into a machine.

The different parts of a sewing machine needle are:


The butt is the top part of a sewing machine needle, the part which is inserted into the sewing machine. The butt is usually either flat or rounded so that it can be inserted into the machine. This is different to a sewing needle for hand sewing.

Needle eye

The eye of a sewing machine needle is the hole where you put your thread through, towards the top of the needle. The smaller the needle size, the smaller the eye, which can make threading a small needle more challenging than threading a large needle. I’m sure you’ve noticed this when sewing by hand!


The shank is the part of the needle extending below the butt. A sewing machine needle’s shank is usually flat on one side, but industrial sewing machine needles tend to be completely rounded. The shank differs according to the type of machine you’re using and the project you’re working on.


The shoulder is at the bottom of the shank and just above the shaft of the needle. Sometimes, sewing machine needles are color-coded and you’ll see the color on the shoulder of the needle.

Needle shaft

This is the part of the needle between the shoulder and the actual point or tip of the needle. When working with thicker fabrics, you needle a sewing machine with a thicker and stronger shaft that can pierce through the fabric.


The groove is the front part of the shaft on the needle and helps to guide the thread between the fabric and the eye which helps the stitch be more smooth.


The scarf is an indentation between the eye of the needle and the groove. This indentation helps the bobbin hook grab the thread during stitching. Probably something you have never noticed before however it plays an important role when sewing with a machine.


The sharp tip of a sewing needle is called a point. This is the most important part of the needle because it pierces the fabric. When a point is blunt, you can run into all sorts of issues such as not being able to sew into the fabric. In other words, a blunt sewing machine needle is useless!

How to identify sewing machine needles- how do you know which one you need?

Not all sewing machine needles are the same! You need to have the right one for the project you’re working on, so it’s a good idea to become familiar with the different types of sewing needles and how to choose the one you need.

Needle size

You’ve probably seen different sized sewing needles and may have even worked with a few if you have hand sewn before.

The most confusing part about sewing needle sizes is that sizes differ depending on the country you’re in. In the U.S., needle sizes start from size 8 to size 19, with size 19 being the thickest.

European sewing machine needle sizes start from a size 60 to a thick size 120.

When shopping for sewing machine needles, the packaging usually lists both size types. So you might see a size 60/8 which tells you that the needle is a European size 60 or a U.S. size 8. The packaging may also tell you whether it is a fine or extra fine needle and which fabrics the needle is suitable for. This makes choosing the right sewing machine needle so much easier!

Here are the universal sewing machine needle sizes and the fabrics they are suitable for:

0.60 mm diameter (0.024 in) 8/60- Fine fabric (organza, silk, lace, chiffon)
0.65 mm diameter (0.026 in) 9/65- Fine fabric
0.70 mm diameter (0.028 in) 10/70- Fine fabric
0.75 mm diameter (0.030 in) 11/75- Lightweight fabric (cotton, lycra, synthetic fabric, spandex)
0.80 mm diameter (0.031 in) 12/80- Lightweight fabric
0.90 mm diameter (0.035 in) 14/90- Medium weight fabrics (linen, muslin, knits, fleece, velvet)
1.00 mm diameter (0.039 in) 16/100- Heavyweight fabrics (leather, denim, canvas)
1.10 mm diameter (0.043 in) 18/110- Extra heavyweight fabrics (thick denim, upholstery)
1.20 mm diameter (0.047 in) 19/120- Extra heavyweight fabrics
1.25 mm diameter (0.049 in) 20/125- Extra heavyweight fabrics
1.30 mm diameter (0.051 in) 21/130- Extra heavyweight fabrics

Type of sewing machine needle

Needle size will be the most important factor to consider, but if you’re working on fancier projects then the type of sewing machine needle is also important.

Self-threading needles are the most common type and these are found in sizes 80/12 or 120/19, suitable for most fabric types.

Embroidery needles are needed for, you guessed it, embroidery projects. They generally have a longer eye so that you can work with multiple threads and they can easily be threaded through the eye.

When working with leather you need a leather needle. These can also come in different sizes because not all leather is the same. Some leather is thicker and harder and requires a stronger needle whereas softer leather calls for a smaller needle. But regardless of the type of leather, you still need a leather needle.

What’s the difference between a regular sewing needle and a sewing machine needle?

To put it bluntly (pardon the pun!), you can’t use a regular sewing needle on a sewing machine because they’re not designed to be used with a sewing machine. The shape of a sewing machine needle is such that it can be placed into the sewing machine and works perfectly when stitching your project.

A regular sewing machine needle doesn’t have the same butt nor does it have a groove to help with the bobbin hooking the thread. A sewing machine needs a different designed needle so that it can mimic the movements of a hand when sewing and so that the different parts of the sewing machine work perfectly in sync with the needle and thread.

One final word

When learning how to identify sewing machine needles, you’ll get a better understanding of why it’s important to have the right sewing machine needle for your project.

Make sure you have spare sewing machine needles because they do go blunt over time and need to be regularly replaced. This is important if you run a sewing business and make garments- you will go through sewing machine needles more quickly than someone who only sews for a hobby and not every day!


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