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!