All About Embroidery Needles
Understanding the different parts of a needle, sometimes referred to as needle anatomy, will help you better understand what type of needle is appropriate for your embroidery project.
There are several parts of the needle that are important to understand. The first is the needle shank. The shank is the portion of the needle that actually inserts into the embroidery machine.
The backside of the needle shank for a home embroidery machine is flat. Industrial machines use a round-shank needle.
The long center part of the needle is called the shaft, sometimes also referred to as the blade. The needle size is determined by the thickness of the needle shaft. Down the center of the shaft, there is a groove. The embroidery thread will actually fit into this groove as the stitches are formed.
The eye of the needle is the open portion that the thread passes through. Embroidery needles have an elongated eye to prevent shredding of the thicker embroidery thread.
The needle point is the portion of the needle that pierces the fabric. There are different needle points depending on your embroidery project. Sharp needles have a very precise point designed to pierce through woven fabrics. Ballpoint needles have a slightly rounded tip that pushes aside fibers in knit fabrics, preventing holes or runs in the knit fibers.
The scarf of the needle is the indentation on the backside of the needle, starting above the eye and ending slightly past the eye. The embroidery machine’s hook passes the bobbin thread through the needle thread within the scarf area of the needle.
The needle size refers to the diameter of the needle shaft. The lower the number, the smaller the shaft. There are two measuring systems, the American and the European measurement systems. The American needle size system uses the sizes 10, 11, 12, 14, 16, etc. the European system uses 70, 75, 80, 90, 100, etc. A size 70 needle is equivalent to a size 10, a size 75 is equivalent to an 11, a size 80 is equivalent to a 12, and so on. You will sometimes see measurements listed with both numbers, such as 75/11 or 80/12.
The European system is actually based on the measurement of the needle shaft in millimeters. The size in mm is multiplied by 100 to get the needle size. A size 80 needle is .8 mm wide, and a size 90 needle is .9 mm wide.
Choosing a needle size depends on the fabric, the thread, and the application. The most common size needle across all sewing applications is a size 80/12. For embroidery, the most common size is the slightly smaller 75/11.
Embroidery needles are typically available in 3 sizes: 75/11, 80/12, and 90/14. The lighter the weight of the fabric, the smaller needle should be used. The heavier the fabric, the larger the needle should be used.
Heavier threads may also require a larger needle. Heavier threads need a larger eye. Even with the elongated eye of an embroidery needle, the eye size will go up as you go larger in needle size. In addition, the shaft of the needle is larger, so it makes a larger hole to accommodate the larger thread, and the groove of the needle is larger, so it can hold the heavier thread as it stitches.
Selecting the proper size needle may seem challenging at first.
Choose the smallest size needle that is appropriate for the fabric. If unsure, err on the side of a smaller needle, and then move up as needed. Using a smaller needle will help you avoid holes in your fabrics and will help you keep the correct tension. Using too large of a needle makes too large of a hole in the fabric, and there becomes too much play of the thread which can cause looping or loose tension.
Consider both the fabric weight and the design density. A heavy design on a heavy fabric would require a larger needle. In general, a heavier design requires a larger needle.
The exception to this would be designs with many layers of stitching. Because shading or highlights have to stitch through existing stitches, a smaller size may help the needle to slide between the existing stitches.
Use this chart as a starting place when selecting a needle size:
The most common size for embroidery is a 75/11, which would be used for average-weight quilting cotton, satin, or similar weight fabric. An 80/12 would be used for heavier cottons or fabrics with a finish like batiks, linens, and other garment-weight fabrics. 90/14 would be used for heavier fabrics like denim and heavy sweatshirt fleece.
Needles come in a variety of types, such as denim, leather, or microtex. The needle type is not just the size, but also the needle point type as well as other features of the needle that help it perform for the particular type of application it was created for.
Embroidery needles are unique in a few ways. First, the embroidery needle’s eye is larger than the eye in the same-size regular needle. For embroidery, we are using a heavier (40 weight) thread, so the needle needs a larger eye to accommodate the heavier thread. This larger eye helps prevent shredding and breaking. If your embroidery thread is breaking more than usual, you may want to check to make sure your needle is an embroidery needle as opposed to a sewing needle.
Embroidery needles have other special features as well, including a specially shaped scarf that helps prevent shredding of embroidery thread and a slightly shorter distance from the point to the eye of the needle that helps to form clean stitches.
The needle tip varies depending on the type of fabric being stitched. For embroidery needles, there are three types of needle tips available.
Sharp embroidery needles are used for tightly woven fabrics like quilt cotton, or specialty applications like paper. A sharp needle will pierce the fabric precisely.
Ballpoint embroidery needles are used for knit fabrics and help to prevent holes in knit fabric. If a knit fiber breaks, you will see a run or hole in the fabric after washing or wearing. The tip of the ballpoint needle pushes the knit fibers aside rather than piercing them to prevent this.
A universal tip is somewhere between a sharp and a ballpoint. This can be used for either wovens or knits, but may not be sharp enough for some wovens to give a clean stitch, or may still cause a run in some knits.
Organ embroidery needles are available in 3 sizes – 75/11, 80/12, and 90/14. All three sizes are available in sharps or ballpoints.
In addition, Organ embroidery needles are also available with a titanium coating. Titanium needles have a high technology ceramic coating and are colored gold to make them easy to distinguish from regular needles. Titanium nitride is layered on the surface of the needle, which extends the life up to five times that of chromium needles. Titanium needles are stronger and run cooler than regular needles, reducing breakage of the needle and thread. Titanium needles are also less likely to bend or distort, and the tip maintains its shape for longer, improving the stitch quality. If using a specialty stabilizer, or stitching through spray adhesive, titanium needles are recommended, as the adhesive slides off the needle cleaner. Adhesives can also dull a needle faster, so using a titanium needle with these specialty products will ensure a more quality sewout.
Chromium (non-titanium) needles should be changed every 5 hours of sewing time. This is the actual sewing time of the needle in the fabric. If a design says it will take 1 hour to stitch, we could stitch 5 designs with a single needle. Titanium needles should be changed about every 25 hours of sewing time.
Embroidery asks a lot of a needle – there are many stitches per minute, and each stitch must pass through fabric, stabilizer, and sometimes adhesive, so it is important to change the needle frequently. If you are experiencing thread breakage, shredding, or less than optimal stitch quality, the first line of defense is to change the needle. Needles are one of the most important, yet overlooked tools for creating a quality stitchout.
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