Sewing Needle Sizes

From Small to Tiny—What Is the Secretive Power of Sewing Needle Sizes?

With time, humanity gets better and better at 

    • discovering large entities like celestial bodies, and 
    • producing smaller and more efficient tools—sewing needle sizes are no exception. 

Initially, when we invented needles around 25,000 years ago, we used to make them out of bone or wood. Nowadays, we use a high carbon steel wire, and nickel- or 18K gold-plate needles for corrosion resistance. (Wikipedia)

Isn’t the sewing history fascinating? It’s one of our 10 reasons to start sewing clothes

What is yours?

Selecting a hand sewing needle
Image source: Sew4Home

In this article, we’ll discover the delightful world of needles. It’s engaging despite being so miniature!

We will discuss

    • their lengths, and
    • sizes;

We will also look at a sewing needle size chart, the key to understanding the meaning of sewing needle sizes. 

Get ready for a significant update of your sewing knowledge. We’re going to have loads of fun discovering needle sewing hacks

Learn to sew and choose the correct needle, and the universe of advanced sewing techniques is yours. 

Sewing needle sizes
Image source: Sewing Is Cool

Sewing needle sizes: the general idea

A sewing needle is one of the key sewing supplies

Its structure couldn’t be more straightforward:

    1. a long, slender shaft,
    2. a pointed tip at one end, and 
    3. a hole (or eye) at the other;

Yet, a sewing needle for machines is built slightly differently. 

t’s composed of:

    • a butt,
    • shank,
    • shoulder,
    • blade,
    • long groove,
    • short groove,
    • needle eye,
    • scarf,
    • point,
    • tip; 

Read descriptions of each element on Garments Merchandising

Needles vary in size and shape depending on the purpose for which they are to be used.

Parts of a hand sewing needle
Image source: Age Berry

Sewing machine needle sizes vs. hand sewing needle sizes

What is all that buzz with needle sizes about?

To confuse you from the start, we’ve got some news. First, the sizing numbers in hand sewing needles differ from those in machine needles. 

Luckily, the numeric designation of needles’ diameters serves the common goal. It’s there to help us best fit the needle for the project. 

Yet, the confusing part is:

In sewing machine needle sizes, the larger the number, the larger the needle. 

Comprehensible. But this is where the plot thickens.

In hand sewing needle sizes, it’s just the opposite!—the larger the number, the smaller the needle. 

Don’t worry; we’ll get through this.

Made to sew invisible stitch
Image source: Made to Sew

If it wasn’t enough, there are two sewing machine needle size systems: American and European. 

We would be right to be annoyed if every living manufacturer didn’t write both sizes on the box. But, fortunately, they never forget to add that life-saving note!

Let’s see the chart published on Best Sewing Machines For Beginners Today:

European

American 

For the lightest sewing projects

60

8

65

9

70

10

75

11

80

12

85

13

90

14

100

16

110

18

For the heaviest sewing projects

120

19

A couple of things that we should remember about sewing machine needle sizes: 

The higher the number, the thicker/heavier the needle, and the thicker the fabric you can sew. 

Typical sewing machine needle sizes are:

    • 60/8, 
    • 70/10, 
    • 75/11, 
    • 80/12, 
    • 90/14, and 
    • 100/16; 

(by Treasurie)

Check some other exciting tips on The Spruce Crafts.

Sewing machine needle sizes
Image source: You Sew and Sew

What should we know about hand sewing needle sizes?

Needles with a larger number are finer and shorter. Smaller numbers mean the needle is thicker and longer. (by Treasurie)

Hand sewing needle diameters use the Standard Wire Gauge system. A higher gauge number means a smaller needle diameter. 

For example, a 20-gauge needle’s diameter is less than a 10-gauge needle’s diameter. 

(By The Thread Exchange)

Let’s look at the table with some data for a better understanding of what gauge is a sewing needle:

Gauge

Inches

Millimeters

5.0

0.212

5.385

5.5

0.202

5.130

6.0

0.192

4.877

7.0

0.176

4.470

7.5

0.168

4.267

8.0

0.160

4.064

9.0

0.144

3.658

10.0

0.128

3.251

Can you see what happened here? 

An 18 gauge sewing needle is bigger than the 20 gauge sewing needle, and we have to accept that!

Gold cross stitch needles
Image source: Peacock & Fig

Another thing to remember with hand sewing needle sizes is that each needle type comes with a defined size range.

For example:

    1. Sharps, quilting/betweens, and embroidery/crewel needles are available in sizes 1 to 12,
    2. Cotton darners are available in sizes 1 to 9,
    3. Tapestry is available in sizes 13 to 28,
    4. Leather is available in sizes 2 to 10,
    5. Ballpoints are available in sizes 5 to 10, and so on;

Read more on Rocky Mountain Sewing.

Now, for a minute of relaxation, let’s get back to a less numeric and more humanistic approach!

Jellyfish, in her YouTube tutorial, reveals one secret method used by her grandma. How to choose the right machine needle size?

Check it here:

Check sewing threads types and tips to deepen your knowledge in this department. 

Made to Sew’s author adds: 

[…] a tell-tell sign that you are using a needle too large for the fabric is puckering, gathering, and snagging of the fabric. The puckering can be around the needle entry point or in an area parallel to the sewing line.” 

Universal sewing needles
Image source: Made to Sew

How can sewing needle sizes influence your project?

Despite all the confusion caused by crazy numbers, we still need to invest some time in understanding sewing needle sizes.

They will show us the right way to the best sewing performance, and this rule has no exceptions. 

As explained by the author of Treasurie blog: 

“Using the right sewing machine needle sizes and type for the project can mean the difference between broken threads, skipped stitches, and a perfect professional-looking seam.”

We couldn’t agree more! 

Small as it is, a needle can make a visible difference in our sewing endeavors. 

Check this selection of “The Best Sewing Machine Needles for Reliable Stitches,” by Art News:

    1. Euro-Notions Universal Machine Needles,
    2. Singer Heavy Duty Machine Needles,
    3. Organ Needles,
    4. Superior Threads Topstitch Needles,
    5. Janome Blue Tip Needles;

For the best hand sewing needles, there is this guide by The Sewing Directory.   

How to choose right size needle for sewing
Image source: Best Sewing Machines for Beginners Today

Talking about making a difference, one thing has the power to influence an outfit almost as much as a needle. 

Check out these:

Were you expecting anything more complicated? On the contrary, the best sewing tips and tricks are the simplest. 

Design your 100% custom label to turn your DIY garment into a chic and outstanding piece of clothing.

How can sewing needle sizes influence their performance?

The rule is simple: Different types of sewing fabric call for a different size of a needle.

For the best results, you need to know which sewing needle size is the best fit for your project. 

Or, as JJNeedles puts it:

“It’s all about having the right needle for the job/material in hand.“

You’ll get to know it using our secret key (aka the sewing needle chart). 

Think about it as a couple’s horoscope. It’s just as magical!

Check the sewing needle chart below (thanks to Treasurie):

Fabric weight

Sewing fabric type

Sewing needle size (American)

Sewing needle size (European)

Fine

    • fine silk, 
    • chiffon,
    • organza,
    • voile,
    • fine lace;

8/9/10

60/65/70

Light-weight

    • cotton voile,
    • silk, 
    • synthetics,
    • spandex,
    • lycra;

11/12

75/80

Medium-weight

    • quilting fabrics,
    • cotton,
    • velvet,
    • fine corduroy,
    • linen,
    • muslin,
    • jersey,
    • tricot, 
    • knits,
    • light wool,
    • sweatshirt knit,
    • fleece;

14

90

Heavy-weight

    • denim,
    • corduroy,
    • canvas, 
    • duck,
    • suiting,
    • leather;

16

100

Very heavy

    • heavy denim,
    • heavy canvas,
    • upholstery fabric,
    • faux fur;

18

110

Extremely heavy

other

20

120

Now, if somebody asks you:

    1. What is the best sewing needle for cotton fabric?
    2. What is the best needle for sewing wool?
    3. What is the gauge of a sewing needle?

You’ll know what to say!

In “When is it time to ditch the 24 size needle?,” a talented UK cross stitch designer, Lord Libidan, shares some tips on the type and weight of sewing needles. 

You’ll find his train of thought in a guest post on a Peacock & Fig

Reading is helpful to learn how to sew. It will take you from easy beginner sewing projects to 35 intermediate sewing projects in no time!

Sewing needles guide
Image source: Pinterest

We started with an ancient history, so let’s end this article with the more recent one with Lord Libidan.

Until the 1940s, we didn’t size needles at all.

Each brand had its own size guides.

They based some of them on width, others on length.

Imagine the hell that people had to go through then!

When we invented sewing machines, manufacturers standardized the needles’ sizing. Yet, they did it inside their own production systems. 

It means that the standardization was there but multiplied by many brands. 

Not much help for a customer that doesn’t stick to the one and only machine forever. Enough to say, people still weren’t happy. 

Suddenly, a group of needle-makers made a system. Since there was a burning need for that, it quickly became popular. 

Other manufacturers had to adapt.

The system was based on the machine sewing needle. It has a hole right by the tip (which is not the case with hand sewing needles). 

The end of the needle constitutes its largest point. 

The width of a needle in hundredths of a millimeter is its size, in NM or Number Metric. 

An NM 130 needle has a width of 1.3 millimeters.

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