Thursday, October 20, 2011

Pattern Drafting 101: Sewing Machine Needle Primer

Choosing the right kind of sewing machine needle for your sewing projects can seem a little daunting. But it doesn't have to be! All you basically need to do is match the type of needle to the type of fabric you are using.

Sew Mama Sew had the most comprehensive information out there and it should answer all your sewing machine needle questions.

Sharp points (regular) are for use with woven fabrics (including cotton and linen etc) because they cause a minimum amount of puckering and produce an even stitch without damaging the fabric. These are not recommended for use with knits as they can cause skipped stitches. Sharp points are more slender through the shaft and should be used when edge stitching on woven fabrics, sewing on finely woven fabrics or heirloom stitching on very fine fabrics. They are also a good choice when sewing with synthetic suede. These needles come in varying sizes from the finest size 9 to the heaviest size 18.
Universal Point needles have a slightly rounded point that is similar to the ball point needle and is used for general, every day sewing of most woven or knit fabrics. The needle is tapered so that it slips through the fabric weave of the knit easily whilst still retaining enough sharpness to pierce the cloth. It is usually Universal needles that come with your sewing machine. They come in many different sizes with the 14/90 and the 11/75 being the most popular.
Ball Point needles are specifically designed to be used with knit and stretch fabrics. They have a rounded point rather than a sharp one (the larger the size of the needle, the more rounded the needle point) and they push between the fabric yarns rather than piercing them the way the Sharp Points do. The needles should be used when sewing with interlock knits, coarse knits and other fabrics that will run if snagged. The needles come in varying sizes from 9 to 16. The larger the size of the needle, the more rounded the needle point is.
Embroidery needles have a larger needle eye to accommodate the thicker embroidery threads. They are also designed to protect the decorative threads from breaking.
Quilting needles (called Betweens) have a tapered point that allows you to stitch through several layers of fabric (usually the quilt sandwich) and across intersecting seams. They have a tapered point to prevent damaging the often heirloom quality fabrics used in quilting. They are generally smaller and stronger than normal needles with a small eye. They come in sizes 9,10,11,and 12.
Topstitching needles are for use with heavier topstitching thread and as such have an extra large eye and a deeper groove. They can also be used with a double thread for a more pronounced stitch. Using the correct top stitching needle can make a real difference to the finished look of your project.
Wedge Point needles are used less often as they are designed for use with leather and vinyl. They easily pierce the fabrics and create a hole that will close back up on itself. The wedge shape makes it a superior needle for piercing tough, unyielding fabrics such as leather or suede. These needles come in varying sizes from 11 to 18. The smaller sizes are suitable for softer, more pliable leather, whilst the larger sizes are designed for heavy leathers, or multiple layers.

Understanding the type of needle is extremely important to achieve a high quality finished project, but so is knowing which size needle to use.
The general rule is that the needle size is judged by the type of fabric being sewn, although there are always exceptions:
Delicate Fabrics: When sewing with fabrics such as silk, chiffon, voile, fine lace or organza a fine “size 9″ needle would usually be the best choice.
Lightweight Fabrics: When using lighter weight fabrics such as synthetic sheers, batiste, taffeta or velvet would a “size 11″ needle would be the normal choice.
Medium Weight Fabrics: When sewing with slightly heavier weight fabrics such as gingham, poplin, linen, muslin, chambray, wool crepe, flannel, knits, jersey, wool, wool suiting, or stretch fabrics a “size 14″ needle is generally best.
Medium-Heavy Fabrics: Sewing with fabrics such as gabardine, heavy suiting or tweed would require a “size 16″ needle.
Heavy Fabrics: When using heavy weight fabrics such as denim, ticking, upholstery or canvas a “size 18″ needle is the most suitable.

The final and perhaps the most important piece of information that needs to be taken in to account when sewing, is that you should always replace a dull or damaged needle straight away. Damaged needles can be responsible for skipped stitches and tearing fabric as well as also causing damage to your actual sewing machine if they nick the bobbin case. And of course you don’t just change your needle if it gets damaged or if you change fabrics, you should also change them every time you start a new project to ensure that you are always sewing with the sharpest needle possible.


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