Universal Needles… Are They Really Universal?

Universal-Needles

I remember when I got my first sewing machine and I thought I was instantly Martha Stewart. I had never heard of universal needles, but I was still pretty sure I knew everything there was to know about quilting and sewing and life. I was 15, so I had that endearing (nope), untested teenage confidence. 

Because I was a teenage prodigy (nope) who never wanted help or advice, I thought that I could just use the sewing needle that came in my machine forever and ever. Like, I didn’t even know it was removable. 

Then, one day, it broke.

And that’s the day I quit sewing.

JKjk. I didn’t quit, but I did have to start learning about the wide world of sewing needles. So don’t be 15 year old Suzy. Instead, listen to 31 year old Suzy, and know your needles.

For starters, here’s a few rules:

Universal-Needles-Quilting
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Universal Needles Rulebook:

  1. Change your needle after every 4 to 8 hours of sewing (or, get to know how a dull needle feels.) It depends on how high quality your needle was in the first place, of course, but you’ll be much happier with your finished products if you change your needle frequently. If you notice that your needle is skipping stitches, snagging, bunching up, making a "punching sounds" or basically ruining your life, just give it a rest. Do unto your needle what you wish your overbearing boss would do unto you – let it retire. 
  2. Get to know needle types (or, make sure you know how to read, since most of them are labeled.) There are a ton of different kinds of needles out there, all with slightly different properties that can help with certain fabrics or projects. There’s ballpoint needles for heavy knits, tapered points for quilting thick layers, super sharp needles for finely woven fabric, denim needles, leather needles, stretch needles, embroidery needles… there’s like a million. And then, there’s the UNIVERSAL NEEDLE.
universal-sewing-needles

You may have run across the UNIVERSAL NEEDLE and thought it was the only needle you were ever going to need ever again. After all, it’s rounded enough for knits, sharp enough for wovens, and it makes you feel drunk with power whenever you’re wielding it.

I get it. I feel the same way. But drink a glass of water and keep reading… we’re going to talk more about universal needles in a second, and why you might want to keep it real about how great they actually are.

Universal Needles Breakdown:

Heads up, you should bookmark this. Even though there are quite a few different universal needle sizes, there are three main sizes that you should be familiar with. Click the links to buy.

  • 70/10: This baby is your representative in the featherweight division. It’s great for polyester or silk.
  • 80/12: Your go-to, everyday size. Gets along well with cotton, rayon, and blended fabric.
  • 90/14: The big(ger) guns. Use with heavier fabrics like corduroy or bottom weight fabric.

If you’re familiar with these universal needles, and know when to swap them out, you will have a higher success rate with your varied projects.

Now that you have the top three basics down, let’s talk about the age-old question (that is covered in elvish writing and burning a hole in your pocket):

WHY CAN’T I JUST USE A UNIVERSAL 80/12 NEEDLE FOREVER AND EVER?

Quilting-Needles

I mean… you can. But, like, why would you wear just one pair of shoes for the rest of your life because, hey, they work okay? There are different needles and sizes for a reason, so break out the Nikes when you’re going to the gym, and save the stilettos for your next night out. (Okay, so I might not actually be the best person to ask about appropriate footwear, but I do know what I’m talking about when it comes to universal needles.)

My Quilty Adventure series will give you more detailed information on which fabric pairs with what needle, but as a general rule, use a stronger, thicker needle with stronger, thicker fabric. The great thing about needles is they come with labeled packaging, so if you want to make extra sure that you’re getting the best needle for, let’s say, denim… look for a denim needle.

Check out this series on how to sew with different substrates!

Universal-Quilting-needle-information

Not every single fabric has it’s own needle (I bet they wish they did. I bet it’s a huge status symbol in the fabric world.) but there are needles for each fabric category, like knits, wovens, thick nonwovens, or even different kinds of threads, like metallic.

Needles custom-designed for your project will make sewing easier. Be good to yourself, and make your project as easy as possible! Do you use universal needles? Do you have a favorite brand or type? Let me know in the comments!

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fabric-sewing-needle

Suzy Quilts

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15 thoughts on “Universal Needles… Are They Really Universal?

  1. Cindy says:

    Would love to know what needle you use for batik? I use a microtex, but it still skips stitches. Do you have a cure? FYI I only buy Schmetz.

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      hmmm…Could it be the needle size and not the type of needle? The only batiks I sew with are cotton weight and purchased from a quilt shop. I’ve technically never sewn with handmade batiks, which could be different than what I’m thinking of and need a 90/14 needle. An 80/12 Universal Schmetz needle has always worked great for me, though. If that is still not working, I’d run down the list: Are you using good, strong thread? Has your machine been oiled and brushed of lint recently? Here’s an article on machine maintenance.

      • Gayle says:

        I use batiks frequently and use a Schmetz universal 80/12 needle. I change my needle and clean my machine of lint after each project. I have found with Batiks that for a king size quilt I have had to change my needle once or twice per project. I have not had success with microtex needles. I have had problems with needle brands other than Schmetz. With other brands or with microtex my machine will start skipping stitches. I have not found much different with batiks whether I use a 80/12 or a 90/14 so I go with the 80/12 as it leaves a smaller hole in the cloth. Hope this info helps.

  2. Cindy says:

    Thanks! I have aurifil 40 or 50 in my machine. The first time it happened I took it to the sewing repair man. He adjusted the bobbin tension, but it still happened. Then I found that other people had the same problem and suggested the microtex needle. The batik is from a quilt shop so it should be good quality. I’ll check to see if I need to do some cleaning. Thanks so much for your prompt reply!

    • Anne Beier says:

      I need to weigh in here about the thread. I use Prescencia thread for the most of my projects. That brand is excellent. Why? Because the coloring never fades and I don’t get dust bunnies above my needle shaft while using it. Have you ever noticed the Ralph Lauren logo on shirts and other products? That’s Prescencia and after 50 washings of a miner’s jacket, it didn’t fade. And, I make my quilts to be used and that means visits to washers and dryers.

  3. Jessika says:

    This is good info. You are funny. Sounds like me at 15 also. I knew all things. Never changed needle unless it broke. Always ran over pins though so they broke often lol.

  4. Shannon says:

    Needles confused me for the LONGEST time!! I used them for far too long too! And then one day I sat down and did the painful research on the different needle types (I resisted this for way too long too!). I used to use Schmetz Universal needles, but I switched to Schmetz quilting needles a little over a year ago. I keep both 75/11 and 90/14 on hand, for piecing and quilting respectively.

  5. Maggie Drafts says:

    Suzy, I looooove you!!! And your HUMOR!!!! I also use Schmetz, and right now, I’m using the “quilting” needle to piece with also…….your thoughts on that, please, and thank you.
    What do you think of the ORGAN needles? I also have a commercial embroidery and at an embroidery conference, “she” said to use NOTHING but ORGAN sz 11…….hmmmmmmm?

  6. Hannah Hunt says:

    Thank you so much for this article! It was the blog post I didn’t even know I needed 😂 Maybe this is why with my tshirt quilts it’s been skipping stitches with free motion! The front of the quilt is tshirt, no batting, and the flannel backing. Would you say 80/12? (Bc I’m pretty sure I haven’t been using that… and pretty sure it’s been over a month since I’ve changed the needle😳)

  7. Kayley says:

    Hi Suzy! Thank you for this informative blog post! I recently was given a quilt to finish. All the fabric is from the 1950’s (WOAH!) and seems very delicate. I was told that the original quilter used a treadle sewing machine to work on this quilt. Short of hand sewing it, do you have a needle suggestion for the sewing machine?

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Hmmm…it all depends on the type of fabric that it is. A lot of vintage quilts actually use heavier-weight fabric than regular quilt-weight cotton because quilters would typically cut up old clothes rather than buy fabric from a store. If any of the fabric is as heavy as denim or corduroy, I would try a 90/14 Universal. However, if the fabric seems frail and thin, you could go down to a 70/10. Maybe try a universal 80/12 first and see how that goes. Also make sure you are using the right thread for the job. Check out this blog post to see – https://suzyquilts.com/best-quality-sewing-thread/

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