Have you ever stood at the giant wall of needles at a big box retail store and been completely overwhelmed? All those numbers – 80/12, 130/705, 90/14 – none of them look like the fractions we covered in 7th grade math. What do all the numbers mean? Do I have to buy special needles for one sewing machine or another? Do I have to get the needles that say ‘quilting?’
What Are the Numbers on the Needles?
The numbers on needle packaging are not a fraction. Instead, each number refers to the size of the needle with a forward slash to separate them. The larger number uses a European or metric measurement system, ranging from 60-120, and the smaller number uses the American measurement system, ranging from 8-20. In simple terms, the larger the number, the thicker the needle. All other things being equal, a thicker needle is used for a more heavyweight fabric.
Most needles used in quilting will be a size 70/10 or 90/14 whether they are a universal, quilting, or topstitch type.
Machine Quilting Needles
Quilting needles have a tapered end point, helping the needle move through multiple layers of fabric and batting without skipping a stitch. Universal needles have a slightly rounded end and can more easily snag in the layers of a quilt sandwich, resulting in a skipped stitch or broken thread. Quilting needles are a bit of overkill for piecing cotton however. A universal needle is just fine for piecing quilt weight cotton.
Do I Need a Topstitch Needle?
Topstitch needles have a deeper taper and extra large eye for thicker thread types. If you are looking for a strong thread look in your project or using any sort of specialty thread, consider a topstitch needle.
Are There Needles Quilters Don’t Use?
Stretch, Leather, and Jersey are all typically types of needles that quilters don’t keep around. However, they are helpful to have if you enjoy making bags, work with cork fabric or any sort of synthetic or real leather, or want to work with Lycra or elastic. Denim needles are often used by quilters who work with thicker woven fabrics or make anything with multiple quilted layers.
How Can I Tell What Kind of Needle I Have?
Sewing machine needles are good for about 8 hours of sewing time. Most people (including us!) far exceed that, waiting for the thread nests, skipped stitches, and broken threads stop us in our tracks to change a needle. In addition, we use some needles less, stick them in our pin cushions, and lose track of what they are without the packaging. The colored bands on the tops of needles are a guide to the type and size of the needle, with the top color referencing a type and the bottom color indicating the size. Check out our handy sewing machine needle guide for details.
At Seams Like Quilting, we carry a variety of brands and sizes that quilters commonly use. Check us out at our Spooner, WI store for more details. In the meantime, check out this handy guide!