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 Rulebook:
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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?
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!
Above is the Sew Mojo #3 mini quilt pattern. Get it here in the shop!
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!
38 thoughts on “Universal Needles… Are They Really Universal?”
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.
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.
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.
Cindy have you tried a denim needle? They are great for thicker fabrics and would work well dealing with the Batiks. They are also great for quilting!
I have a pack of universals with a couple missing but tbh I dont remember what I used them for. I like all the needles for all the fabrics. And my schmetz guide lol.
Try a topstitch or denim needle. It will make a slightly larger hole in the fabric but that disappears after using the quilt. I found it helped me a ton when getting skipped stitches. And those needles generally last a lot longer than universal needles.
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!
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.
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.
Ok well, that still sounds a little bit like me. hahaha!
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.
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?
Very informative! I needed this about a week ago, haha! Now to check on which needles I just bought… 😉
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😳)
I’m so happy you found it helpful! Definitely use at least an 80/12 and maybe even a 90/14. Check out this article on quilting with flannel and this one on quilting with jersey for more tips!
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?
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/
I’ve been using sharp needles on my quilts, should I switch to a universal?
If you’ve been having success with your current needles, why switch? I say stick with whatever works for you.
I stopped using universal. Have gone to several quilt symposiums and they have all said to use top stitch 90/14 for free motion quilting,80/12 piecing.(said universal good for nothing.Seems a bit harsh) Use what your machine and you like. I use all types of thread and needles.Also like Organ needles.
So I am assuming if it says “Quilt Machine” needles, since they are heavy needles, they are made just for the quilting through all the layers of a quilt. I have never bought them and just use 80 Universals…, so I was wondering.
Similar question for Serger needles. What is different about them? I generally use the universal needles, unless I have a lightweight fabric, or am using a special thread that would require a special needle. Thank you.
If your needle is labeled as a Quilting needle, that is referring to its shape and what it should be used for – quilting. Quilting needles have a tapered point that is sharp enough to pierce through multiple layers without punching through the fabric and leaving excessively large holes. If you are looking for a needle that is extra tough and sturdy for machine quilting through all of your layers, look for either a Quilting or a Universal needle, size 90/14 . I have found 80/12 to work just fine, but they are a little bit finer. So just to recap if that wasn’t clear – “Quilting Needles” are specifically made for piecing and quilting, 70/10, 80/12, 90/14, etc…are the sizes, with 90/14 being the largest.
I have always used 90/14 needles for piecing, would it be best to switch to an 80/12? Also, universal versus quilting needles? Are quilting needles just for free motion or machine quilting or should I use these for piecing too?
If sewing with regular quilt-weight cotton, 80/12 Universal needles are a great fit. Your 90/14 are probably working well, just punching a slightly larger hole than necessary through the fabric. Quilting needles are a step between 70/10 and 80/12. I think they are actually 75/11 – so very similar. As those numbers get smaller, the needle gets finer and smaller. Make sense?
Again NO…Quilting needles have a specific taper to accommodate the air space between the top and backing…yes, they do come in 75/12 but that is not what designates them as Quilting needles.
They are completely appropriate for piecing.
Really…you need to learn about needles before you give inaccurate advice
Your recommendation of Universal needles for everything is way off…Perhaps you should contact Schmetz and learn a bit about needles not just say what you use is appropriate. Universal needles are a Jack of all trades and master of none. A needle from the Sharp family is correct for woven fabrics as it cleanly pierces the fabric.
Ummmm. The way you said this is rather harsh.
Seamstresses are always learning…. generally from trial & error and most definitely from other’s experiences. Depending on your machine, your level of expertise, your fabrics, etc. the needle will probably be the detail that is most temperamental. Lots of variables in a sewing project, but conversation about your knowledge can be helpful, if given in a less inflammatory manner.
Seamstresses & quilters learn from a “collaborative community” of a variety of sources,
I want to know more about the quilt used in this blog post! I’m in love with the hand quilting on it. I would love to see a bigger picture of it!!
Great article, Suzy! Thanks! Since most of my sewing is quilting related, I almost exclusively use a top-stitch needle in my machines. I like the larger eye and find that the thread doesn’t break or shred when I use it. I also finish the edges of my fabric postcards with a tight zig-zag stitch using rayon thread, and again, the top-stitch needle is a winner for me. And on a more personal note, I began sewing on my mother’s Singer 403 when I was an early teen. I’m 63 now. The machines have changed, as have the threads, needles, and other accoutrements of sewing, but the life lessons keep coming every time I sew.
I find it amusing when people try to throw these rocks on your quilting 🎉 party with their ugly comments. Keep up these posts- so many of us learn and laugh .
Sending quilty love 💕
Thank you very much for this article! I learned so much!
I’ve been sewing and quilting for decades. Lately having various problems likely due to needles. I’d use a needle til problems arose and sometimes put a needle back into its pack instead of throwing it away! Change every four hours – Who knew?!
I’ve ordered a supply of needles, tossed out the old and anticipate better luck soon.
I’ve been sewing for years and I use 90/14 needles for piecing, should I switch to 80/12? So much to learn, thanks for the tips!
A 90/14 is more punch than you need for piecing, but I’m a believer in doing what works best for you. 😉