Navigating Machine Embroidery Needles

Get a professional finish with less problems by using the right needle for the job.

An Eye for Designs

Thread travels through the eye. Universal needles have a much smaller eye than either embroidery or metallic needles, whose elongated eyes help prevent thread from shredding. The eye of a topstitch needle is even larger, which is why many machine embroiderers use them instead of metallic needles and some use them exclusively for machine embroidery.

We normally embroider with 40 wt. thread. Stitching with heavier thread, like 12 wt., means using needles with larger eyes.

Size and Type Matter

Use the smallest needle possible for the job. The larger the needle, as in the larger the number (80/12, 90/14), the bigger the hole that it makes.

Picture of Santa Buddy machine applique design from Sew Inspired by Bonnie

Santa Buddies

Some fabrics are forgiving and return to their original form after stitching, like knits and many cottons. Others, like leather and vinyl, do not. Jess from OklaRoots used an 80/12 needle when embroidering on vinyl.

One Needle Does Not Fit All

Needles come in a variety of shapes and sizes for a reason.

Quilting needles are also wonderful for piecing. Their tapered shape works particularly well when quilting through several layers of fabrics, batting and stabilizers. Sharps are great for woven fabrics and work beautifully when piecing. Many embroiderers use them for crisp applique.

A ballpoint needle gently pushes knit fibers apart rather than cutting through them. Use stretch needles when stitching on items like swimsuits and active wear. For denim, a jeans needle is designed specifically for thicker fabrics.

This is a picture of a machine embroidered butterfly with wing needle work.

Some needles are particularly useful when creating beautiful heirloom embroidery, like the background fill on Bonnie’s Wing Needle Butterflies.

Needle Lifespan

The frequency of changing out needles is as varied as the types. Some say change the needle after every eight hours of use, while others say stitch until you notice a problem. Either way, needles are relatively inexpensive when compared to damaging the item you are stitching.

Picture of Needle Keeper in-the-hoop project at Sew Inspired by Bonnie

Bonnie’s Needle Keeper lets you know which needle is in the machine as well as how long it has been used.

Often, it is trial and error. See what works for you and keep an embroidery diary so you can get the same results the next time.

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  • Linda Minette - March 18, 2024

    This is on my bucket to do list…I started it once and then realized I needed to analyze my needle collection and plan it out! It’s on my schedule to take on my next travel trip!

  • Darlean Woods - December 20, 2021

    Thank you for the info

  • Carlyn Prince - December 18, 2021

    Great info about needles, thanks 🙂

  • Peggy - December 14, 2021

    Great needle information 🎄🎄

  • Debbie Henry - March 21, 2021

    Thank you for reading, Jane!

  • Jane - March 17, 2021

    Very good information- thank you

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