Selecting a Sewing Machine Needle
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:
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®.
Round/Sharp Point: 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/Sharp 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.
SAN 5.2 Round/Sharp Point: SAN 5.2 needles can sew the same materials as standard Round/Sharp Point needles, but with fewer issues such as deflection, needle breakage and material damage. These special needles have innovative design features — including a beveled shank, an extra-large eye, double grooves in the tip and a wear-resistant titanium nitride coating — that set them apart from standard Round/Sharp Point needles. These upgrades give SAN 5.2 needles greater thread control, which makes them ideal for sewing PTFE or lifetime thread. You’ll also enjoy improved stability and resistance to gumming from basting tape.
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/Sharp Point 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.
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/Sharp Point needle. We recommend a Ball Point needle for fabrics like Ultraleather®, Ultrasuede®, mosquito netting and neoprene.
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.
Triangular Point Leather: This specialty needle has a sharp, three-sided cutting point. The clean, triangular holes that this needle cuts in leather result in a straight seam with slightly elevated stitches. A Triangular Point needle is ideal for thick or hard leather. For best results, sew medium or long stitches in leather with a Triangular needle.
DI Leather: This specialty needle has a large, diamond-shaped cutting tip. The aggressive blades on the tip make a DI needle a good choice for sewing thick, dry or hard leathers. Seams from this needle are straight and neat-looking with slightly recessed stitches. For best results, sew medium to long stitches; don’t sew short stitches to avoid creating a perforation line in the leather.
Twist Point Leather: If you’re looking for a quicker, easier alternative to hand stitching to speed up your leatherworking process, a Twist Point Leather needle is the way to go. This specialty needle has a sharp cutting point that is twisted at a 45-degree angle from the eye. It’s best for sewing short to medium-length stitches in light leather. The stitches mimic the look of hand sewing, so you can still get the artisanal, handcrafted look you want in a much shorter timeframe.
Perpendicular Point Leather: As its name suggests, a Perpendicular Point Leather needle has a wide, sharp cutting point that lies perpendicular to the direction of sewing. This is the only type of needle that doesn’t follow conventional sizing rules because it cuts stitch holes that are wider than they are long. This results in a decorative seam of slanted stitches. Use this needle to sew light to heavy leather. For best results, sew very short stitches with a Perpendicular Point needle.
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. Needle 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 very large. 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.
Note: This blog was updated in July 2022 to add information on SAN 5.2, Triangular Point, Twist Point and Perpendicular Point needles.
Note: This blog was updated in October 2022 to add additional information on DI Leather needles. We also updated the naming conventions of Round Point (Sharp) and SAN 5.2 Round Point (Sharp) needles. These needle types are now written as Round/Sharp Point and SAN 5.2 Round/Sharp Point.