Lots of people – sadly, even many who sew – believe there are only two types of sewing needles… needles for sewing by hand and needle for sewing on a machine.

That is as far from the truth as Earth is from the moon. Whether sewing by hand or machine, you will find that there are sewing needles for every task, type of machine and fabric type.

Common Features of Hand Sewing Needles and Machine Sewing Needles

Before discussing the differences between hand and machine sewing needles, let’s first take a look at the similarities.

Regardless of whether you are using a hand or machine needle, they all have some common ground… starting with the point:

  • Ball point – used for knit fabrics. The ball point does not separate the fibers, stretching them out of shape, but rather goes around and between them, retaining the integrity of the fabric.
  • Regular or Universal point – ideal for light to heavyweight woven fabrics. Universal point needles go through, not around the fibers within the woven fabric. Needle size is determined by the weight of the fabric to be sewn. (see fabric table for details)
Ball point Needles

Ball point Needles

Hand Sewing Needles

Hand sewing needles

Hand sewing needles

Depending upon the task, you will find that hand sewing needles may look alike, but are vastly different.

Typically, hand sewing needles all have a sharp point on one end and an eye for the thread to pass through at the other. That, however, is where the similarity ends.

Hand sewing needles may all look alike, but they are quite different.

Some of these differences are visible to the naked eye.

Others, however, may require a magnifying glass or microscope to detect.

They are used for quilting, beading, upholstery, embroidery and countless other tasks.

The following table describes some of the most popular types of hand sewing needles.

Needle Type Use Description
Beading Attaching sequins to fabric; stringing beads for jewelry – necklaces/bracelets/ anklets Long thin needle with a medium sized eye, somewhat flexible
Chenille Ribbon/yarn/embroidery floss Long thick needle with an eye large enough to use several strands of embroidery floss or yarn at one time.
Darning Mending holes … usually in wool socks, sweaters and jackets. Long, average thickness with large. Darning needles sometimes vary in length, but generally all darning needles have the same thickness and large eyes to accommodate yarn when necessary.
Self threading General use – seams, hemming, attaching buttons Self threading needles vary in length and thickness. The primary difference between these needles and all others is that there is a slit at the eye to allow thread to go into the eye without having to be threaded as with traditional hand needles.
Embroidery Decorative hand embroidery and crewel* stitching. Average length and thickness with a large eye to accommodate embroidery floss and yarn.
Leather Sewing leather, buckskin and suede. Hand leather needles are used primarily for decorative top stitching and for adding shank buttons to leather, buckskin and suede garments and accessories. Varying length and thickness; triangular point; small eye.
Decorative stitching, pleating and basting Longer versions of sharp needles (see below)
Sharps General sewing, hemming, etc. Sharp point, medium length, round eye.
Carpet sharps Working with rugs and carpets Longer and thicker than regular sharps.
Tapestry Embroidery, needlepoint, decorative stitches on thick or loose weave fabric. Long needle with a large eye and blunt tip.
Upholstery Tufting; working with thick upholstery fabric; tying off quilts. Thick curved or straight needles. Curved upholstery needles are used when working with a straight needle is awkward. Straight upholstery needles can be from 3 to 12 inches long. Curved upholstery needles vary in length from 1 ½ to 6 inches.

* Crewel stitching is a form of hand embroidery that includes decorative knotting to give texture to hand embroidered projects.

Machine Sewing Needles

The needles used in sewing machines and sergers are different from needles used for hand sewing in that the eye and the point are at the same end.

The opposite end of the needle is usually flat on at least one side for insertion in the needle bar of the sewing machine. The size and shape of the insertion end depends largely upon the sewing machine manufacturer.

Machine sewing needles

Machine sewing needles

Sewing machine and serger needles are sold under the brand name f the sewing machine manufacturer.

Sewing machine needles sold by other manufacturers are often categorized by machine brand name, making it easier for consumers to select needles that are compatible with their machines.

Unlike hand needles, there are fewer types of machine needles. Do not, however, let that fool you. If you use the wrong needle, you will very quickly discover your mistake.

If you are sewing several items in a single day, it may be necessary for you to change your needle three or four times in order to get the best possible results for each different sewing project you take on.

When it comes to sewing needles, it should be noted here that in addition to standard universal and ball point needles, chromium round or universal point needles are ideal for machine embroidery, serging and for sewing at very high speeds.

Chromium needles are stronger than their regular counterparts, and therefore capable of withstanding the pounding generated by creating up to 2,500 stitches per minute without suffering the stress that could easily break or damage an ordinary needle.

Chromium needles cost a little more, but are well worth the investment when you consider the fact that you will be replacing your needles far less frequently.

Needle Type Use Description
Denim/Jeans Sewing Denim, twill and lightweight canvas Sharp point, larger than most other types of machine sewing needles
Twin Used for topstitching, decorative effects including certain types of pintucks Two needles mounted on one bar. Twin needles can be used on most sewing machines. Read your owners’ manual before investing in a twin needle to make sure your machine is compatible with the needle you are interested in.
Wing Used in heirloom sewing. The wings that extend the entire length of the needle leave a tiny hole at each stitch. Best if used with natural woven fibers – cotton or linen. Wings extend from the point up the shaft, tapering toward the needle clasp.
Leather Used for sewing leather, suede and buckskin. Slight triangle at the point makes it easier to pierce the material.

Choose the Right Needle for the Job

Up to this point, we have discussed many different types of needles and the fabric types these needles are best suited for.

Choose the Right Needle for the Job

Choose the Right Needle for the Job

However, we have given very little attention to, different fabric weights or sewing needle sizes. When shopping for needles, you will notice little numbers on the package.

These numbers indicate the actual size of the needle point. I like to purchase needles that come in packages containing multiple sizes.

This is a personal preference and simply because I work with many different types and weights of fabric on a regular basis.

Once a multi pack is opened, keeping up with the various needle sizes can be a challenge if you do not have a system for identifying the various sizes already in place.

Each needle has its size stamped at the top. Most people need a magnifying glass to see these tiny numbers, however. Some people develop a color coded system to make the process a little easier.

They assign a needle size to a particular color and then make a tiny mark at or near the top of the needle with an indelible marking pen. Not only is this a great time saver, it helps alleviate eye strain.

If, however, you work almost exclusively with lightweight knit fabric, or light to medium weight woven fabrics, you probably have no need for a needle combo pack in your sewing basket.

For those who work with multiple fabric types and weights, however, the following table* should be useful in helping you determine which sewing needle type and size to use for specific fabric weights and types.

Fabric Weight/Woven Needle
Sheer … voile, chiffon, georgette, batiste, organza, microdenier, microfiber Universal 9/70;
Lightweight … crepe de chine, charmeuse, gauze, tissue faille, handkerchief linen, taffeta, silk Universal 11/80
Medium weight … chintz, corduroy, brocade, broadcloth, flannel, poplin, linen, taffeta, ultra (synthetic) suede, terrycloth, velvet, satin Universal 14/90
Medium to heavy weight … gabardine, ticking, wool, coating, damask, drapery fabric, upholstery fabric, fake fur Universal 16/100;


Fabric Weight/Knit Needle
Sheer/lightweight … spandex, tricot, jersey, single knit Ball 10/70;
Medium/heavyweight … double knit; sweater knit; sweatshirt fabric Ball 14/90


Specialty Fabrics Needle
Denim or canvas Denim/
Leather/suede/buckskin Leather/

6 Responses

  1. Jennifer

    Hi there,
    Great website and just the question I was asking myself last night/this morning about needles. I am using a Brother (a oldish model – quite standard, sorry I can’t recall the model) and want to sew on wool and faux fur. Which needle size would i use – the 14/90?

    Also, the manual is not very clear and I have been trying to work out the tension for adjusting the top and bottom stitch evenly. Currently top stitch is fine and bottom stitch is loose. No matter how I adjust the problem seems to get worse not better. Is this a servicing issue? I got the machine from a friend who bought it to learn how to sew but never used it.

  2. Jennifer

    Hi again Vernelle

    I just spotted your guidance on sewing machine needle to use for wool/coating/faux fur. 16/100 and 18/100?

    I still would welcome a steer on the stitching tension query as previously mentioned if possible please.

    many thanks again

    • Vernelle

      Hello, Jennifer –

      Thank you for visiting Sewing Insight.

      You don’t happen to mention whether or not your machine has a drop in bobbin. You can adjust the tension on a machine that does NOT have a drop in bobbin by using a small screwdriver to turn the screw on the bobbin case slightly to the left or right until you achieve the correct tension. However, if your machine DOES have a drop in bobbin, adjusting the bobbin tension is not possible.

      Happy stitching.

  3. Pam Turner

    You did not mention my side threading needles in your incredibly well written article. Thought I would let you know about Spiral Eye side threading needles. Check out my website.


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