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One aspect of using a sewing machine that often does not get much thought but can help make for wonderful patterns, custom embroidery stitches and help make certain stitching tasks easier is the type of needle you use for a project.
Many people who start out use primarily, if not exclusively, universal needles in their machine, with the primary difference being the different sizes of needle used in the machine which are better suited at handling specific types of material.
There are two primary conventions that are used to determine the size of machine needles, with the American Singer system, and the number metric or European system, where 100 equals a single millimetre. Both of these are often displayed on the packaging together depending on which you prefer.
The other main distinction between different needles is the shape and type of needle, which are specially designed to more easily work with specific threads, materials and types of sewing.
Here are some of the main types and what makes them unique:
Universal – A jack-of-all-trades needle that works in any domestic sewing machine and is used for a wide range of fabrics.
Embroidery – Featuring a specially shaped scarf to stop shredding embroidery thread, as well as an extra-large eye and often heavy-duty construction to allow for fast, delicate embroidered designs. Metallic needles are also available to avoid shredding metallic threads.
Ballpoint – Similar to the universal needle, but has rounded edges that are designed to push a weave out of the way in closely-knit fabrics rather than cut through it.
Denim – Designed with jeans and canvas in mind, it has a sharp point and a very slender eye to cut through tough, tightly woven textiles.
Winged – One of the most uniquely shaped needles, it holds the fabric oven with distinct wings and is commonly used for borders, on the hem and for some decorative flourishes.
Leather – These needles have a triangular point to help them make a large enough hole in materials that are not woven together such as leather and PVC.
Quilting – Extra strong, featuring a tapered point and able to penetrate several layers without either shredding the multiple layers, the thread or snapping.
Sharps – Slimmer and sharper than the universal needle, designed with quilting and finely woven textiles in mind.
Twin/Triple – Only usable on specialist machines, these needles can sew several threads at once and are often used for decorative finishes.