Selecting a Sewing Machine Needle

Item # X-HT-300089

For the best sewing quality possible, you’ll want to use the right needle for the job. In this post, we're going to take a look at the types and sizes of needles available. There are hundreds of variations of sewing machine needles, so how do you choose from the myriad of options? Needles are selected according to the needle system required for the sewing machine, the type of needle for the fabric, and the needle size for the thread. Taking the selection process one step at a time is an easy way to determine which needle you need.

Step 1: Needle System

The first step in choosing a sewing machine needle is knowing which needle system is compatible with your sewing machine. This is determined by the shape of the needle shank. Check your owner’s manual to see which system your sewing machine needs. Home sewing machines use a flat shank, System 130 needle. Here is a chart of the needle systems required in our Sailrite sewing machines:

This chart shows which needle systems work with Sailrite Sewing Machines

If you own another machine, you might find your needle system in this Sewing Machine Needle Chart PDF.

Step 2: Needle Type

The next step is determining which needle type you need for your project. The needle type refers to the shape (point and tip) of the needle. This is where the fabric you are sewing comes into consideration. There are many variations on these needle types and you can find a specific needle for almost any application, but here is a basic overview of some common needle types. All of these needle types are available at Sailrite®.

Diagram of a round point sewing machine needle

Round Point (Sharp): This is the most common needle type. It features a sharp point that can be used for all general sewing. You will use a Round Point needle for canvas, sailcloth, vinyl, home fabrics and more. This is the most commonly purchased needle at Sailrite and the needle type that the average DIYer will use for the majority of their sewing projects.

Diagram of a ball point sewing machine needle

Ball Point: This is a specially designed needle for sewing knit fabrics and stretchy material. The blunt point preserves the elasticity of the fabric by allowing the thread to pass between the fibers of the fabric rather than through them. The tip is more blunted compared to the Round Point (Sharp) needle. We recommend a ball point needle for fabrics like Ultraleather, Ultrasuede, mosquito netting and neoprene.

Diagram of a DI leather needle

DI Leather: This specialty needle is designed for sewing leather. It is optimized for heavy, dry, hard leather. The diamond shaped blade cuts the leather fibers so the needle does not have to separate them. The DI tip has very aggressive blades at the point of the needle. Instead of just penetrating the leather, it cuts the leather so the needle can enter and exit smoothly.

Diagram of an SD1 sewing machine needle

SD1: This is a specialty needle optimized for fine leather or leather clothing; it also works well for sewing heavy sailcloth assemblies. This needle shape is a hybrid of a Round Point and a DI Leather needle. It has a very small triangular cutting tip similar to the DI needle, and then transitions into a Round Point needle. It partially cuts the fibers with its very sharp point, and then pushes fibers out of the way with its Round Point needle shape. We recommend this needle type for fine leather, leather clothing and imitation leather, heavy sailcloth, and materials with a PVC or polyurethane coating.

Diagram of a Serv7 sewing machine needle

Serv7: This is a specialty needle designed to prevent skipped stitches when sewing stretchy or slippery materials, or when sewing heavy and thick assemblies. The scarf's unique design creates a larger loop than other needle types, which enables the thread to be more easily caught by the point of the gib hook when creating a lockstitch. Serv7 needles have extra reinforcement compared to other needle types, which means they are far less likely to bend when sewing through thick, dense assemblies. If you find that you are breaking your standard Round Point (Sharp) needles, switch to Serv7 needles and the problem should be resolved. When switching from Round Point to Serv7, you can go down a needle size without losing any needle strength due to the needle's increased stability.

Step 3: Needle Size

The size of a needle is determined by the diameter of its blade and is calculated by taking the diameter of the blade in millimeters times 100. For example, a needle with a .80 mm diameter is size 80. Needles sizes are either listed by the diameter (ex. size 80), the numerical “size” equivalent (ex. #12) or both. For context, a #12 (80) needle is small and a #22 (140) is a very large needle. The size of the needle you want should correlate with the fabric you are sewing. A thicker, heavier fabric will require a larger needle than a lightweight sheer. For a general reference, you can use this chart:

Needle & Thread Size Recommendations

Fabric Needle Size Thread Size
Lightweight 10-12 Home Threads / V-30
Medium-weight 14-16 V-46 / V-69 / Upholstery Thread
Heavyweight 18-20 V-92 / PTFE Threads
Very Heavyweight 21-23 V-138 / Heavy PTFE Threads

For more specific recommendations, you can use our Thread and Needle Recommendation Guide (PDF), which makes needle recommendations based on fabric choice, organized by brand.