How to not get stuck with the wrong machine embroidery needle.

7 different sewing needle packages setting around a question mark.

Is there really a wrong kind of machine embroidery needle?

Yes, no, maybe. 
Yes, if your design isn’t embroidering out properly and ruining your project. 
No, if your design is looking beautiful.

So the best answer is…
maybe – sometimes and it depends. 

By understand the following points to a needle allows you to choose the right needle for your design.

Is there really a difference between each type of machine embroidery needle?

The machine embroidery industry tells you there are specific needles for specific fabrics and threads. There are “rules of thumb” when it comes to needle usage. Remember machine embroidery is both an art and science and there is no one size fits all.

Always sew out a practice design onto similar fabric prior to your final project. You will see any issues with fabric, backing, design and needles. A test run saves lots of “real” fabric projects and items.

Also remember embroidery machine needles do not last forever. You have to change them, even before they break.

When I first started machine embroidery I thought once my sharp needle dulled, I could use it in place of a rounded or ball point needle. It didn’t work out as I had intended.

Learning the Anatomy of the Machine Embroidery Needle helps with your needle choices

Directional orientation: The butt is the top of your needle closest to your machine. The point is the bottom of the needle, closest to the bobbin.

By the numbers

  1. Butt: The butt is the top of your needle. It fits into the top of your machine’s needle area.
  2. Shank: The shank inserts into the machine’s needle area. Your machine holds onto the shank keeping the needle stable.
    Shanks are either round or flat depending upon your embroidery machine make and model. You must use the specific type of needle shank for your machine. The wrong shank back won’t fit properly.
  3. Shoulder: The shoulder is the thinning area of the needle that leads to the Blade or the Shaft.
  4. The Blade or the Shaft: The shaft is the length of the needle. It includes the needle from the Shoulder to the Point.
  5. Eye: The eye is the hole at the bottom of the needle. The thread passes through the eye from the front to back. The eye determines the size of the needle.
  6. Point: The point penetrates the fabric carrying the top thread into the bobbin thread, creating a stitch. The type of point is how the needle penetrates into the fabric. Embroidery needles generally come in ballpoint and sharp-point.
  7. Scarf:  The scarf is an indentation on the back of the needle between the eye and the point. The scarf allows the bobbin case hook to intersect with the upper thread forming stitches.
  8. Groove: The groove is located on the front of the needle, right below the eye.

What does the needle size mean?

Your embroidery needle can have two numbers on it. For example your needle may have 80/12 for the size. 80 is the European needle number or size. 12 is the American needle number or size. The smaller the number the finer the needle. As the needle size gets bigger, so does the size of the eye of the needle.  

The bigger the eye of the needle the larger the hole in the fabric. The size and point type of the needle must work for both the thread and fabric you’re using. 

Machine Embroidery Needle Point Options – Pick the Best One for Your Projects

There are three types of needle points available: sharp, ball point, and universal.

Sharp Needle:

  • Sharp needles are pointy and sharp to cut through fabric as it sews.
  • The sharp needle works great for thicker projects like denim, vinyl, and canvas.
  • The needle can also work well with knits and weaves depending on the size for the needle and density of the embroidery pattern.
  • A bigger needle means a bigger hole being penetrated into the fabric.

Ballpoint Needles:

  • The point of the needle is rounded allowing the needle to slip between the fabric’s weave. The ballpoint needle pushes the fabric apart, instead of cutting through it.
  • Ballpoint needles are recommended for knits such as t-shirts, pique, sweatshirts, etc.

Universal Needles:

  • The universal needle is a hybrid of the ballpoint and the sharp
  • The point of the universal needle is slightly rounded at the end to work with knits.
  • The end is sharp enough to use with a weave fabric.

Different Needle Finishes

The sewing machine industry has created different finishes such as aluminum, steel etc. Some manufacturers say the different finishes make for stronger needles or smoother running.

The difference is in your preference.

Needles with Names – Are They Better Than Numbers?

Some companies named their needles specifically for the type of thread or fabric you’ll be using them on. Such as for metallic thread, leather, quilting, denim etc. The list goes on and on.

Look at the size of needle and eye not just the name. Plus look at the type of needle such as universal, ball point or sharp. Both the 80/12 and 75/11 needles are the most common.

If you’re not sure about different needles, a needle specific to “embroidery” should always work, but that doesn’t mean it will.

If you’re using metallic thread either a 75/11 or 80/12 sharp needle works well.

Needle Care and Changing Your Needle for Optimal Use

A needle isn’t like a car where you change the oil every 3,000 miles or three months like clock work. There is no perfect rule of thumb when to change your needle. When to change your needle depends on what fabrics you’re embroidering on. 

The following needle care and mindfulness will save your project and a few broken needles in your project.

  • If you use sticky back, glue, or spray adhesive wipe your needle off with rubbing alcohol to remove the glunk and stickiness.
  • Before starting to embroider each day or after long run outs make sure the needle is still being held in place where it is supposed to. The movement of a single needle machine can loosen parts. On a multi-needle machine checking the needles periodically is a good idea too, though they don’t usually move as much.
  • Check the foot of your machine daily or after long runs, making sure it is still tight. A loose foot causes havoc on the needle and design. This is especially important on a home one needle machine. Multi-needle machines have a different type of foot that doesn’t loosen very often.
  • Make sure there is nothing in the bobbin case area when you change your bobbins.
  • Make sure there’s nothing in the way of the needle running the design, such as pins.
  • Make sure your needle is straight before starting to embroider. When you get used to looking at your needle you will notice immediately if it is bent even the slightest.

The type of fabric you use will depend on how long your needles will last.

Trouble shooting: Possible needle related issues

  • Sharp Needle: Creating holes in the fabric
    • If embroidering on a knit try a ballpoint needle
    • Use a smaller needle eye
    • If the design was working fine with the needle then started creating holes, try a new needle. The needle might be flattening.
  • When embroidering there is a flat tire sound, thump thump thump. Change the needle, it’s getting to the end of its life
  • If your design runs fine then the thread starts to fray – change the needle immediately.
  • Bobbin thread skipping: This is normally a tension issue on the bobbin or top thread. However, I have seen the scarf of a needle become flat or chipped. Check the needle out to see if there is a needle issue first.
  • Needle moving in the machine.
    • Check to make sure the needle is still whole. I’ve seen the butt of the needle break completely or just get chipped without the needle falling out.
    • Check the tightness of the screw holding the needle. Make sure the shaft area is tightened according to your machine’s instruction.
  • Bent needle: Make sure nothing in your machine is causing it to bend.
    • Tight thread tension can cause bending. 
    • Make sure the thread isn’t caught on anything. 
    • Make sure the needle lines up with the bobbin area by slowly turning the hand wheel lowering the needle into the bobbin area. 
    • A needle plate slightly off may cause bending, if not breaking. 
    • DO NOT use a bent needle! It is a definite way to ruin your design and possibly your machine.
    • Round Shank Needles not sewing correctly.
      • Make sure you put them in according to your machine’s manufacturers instructions. 
        Normally the groove faces forward.
      • On my multi needle machine I put my round needles in with the eye slightly to the right. 
      • If you put the needle in backwards the bobbin and top thread will not meet correctly in order to intertwine. 

Understanding machine embroidery needles lets you choose the right one for ever project. 

The right needle for your machine embroidery project is important, but don’t get too hung up on it.

If you want to stray away from the name game of the needle world, start with a 75/11 or 80/12 sharp needle. Move to a ball point if you’re not getting the results you want for knits.

Remember your thread must be able to move through the needle eye with ease. A 40-weight thread should work fine with the 75/11 or 80/12 sharp needle. Metallic, twist, and organic thread might need a larger eye.

Always do a test run on similar fabric with the thread and needle you want to use for your project. Not only will you make sure everything works perfectly, but you’ll have run-offs you can use for different projects down the line.

Happy Embroidering!

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