Tip of the Week: Start With Your Needle

Notice your sewing is wonky? Getting snarls in the bobbin thread? To improve your quilting projects and get the best possible results, start with the needle!

Choose the right needle for your project

For most quilting projects, a universal 80/20 works just fine. But there are times to make a change.

  • Denim or jeans needle has a more slender tip than a universal and the shaft is stronger, made for punching through tough fabrics. These characteristics are helpful if sewing a quilt with multiple layers of fabric or many overlapping seams.
  • Topstitching needle has an extra-large eye and deeper groove for use with heavier topstitching thread, when using multiple threads through the needle, or using decorative threads. The larger eye also helps if you are using polyester trilobal threads, such as Superior Rainbows.
  • Topstitching needle  is also very useful for free motion quilting. Use a 90 or 100 needle with a slightly looser top tension on your machine.
  • Ballpoint or Jersey Needle has a rounded tip and is designed for working with stretch or knit fabrics. The rounded tip is less likely to cause snags.
  • Stretch needles are ideal if you are using Minky in your quilt. Since Minky is a stretch knit fabric, a 90/14 ballpoint needle or stretch needle will help prevent skipped stitches and is less likely to pull holes in your fabric.

Keep your needle sharp

Any needle will dull with use. But how do you know when to change it out? One way to know if your needle is getting dull or bent is that your machine will start skipping stitches, or getting bobbin snarls. Since you can’t see it happening, develop a routing: regular changing. Some recommend that you change your needle at the start of each project. Another rule of thumb is to change out your needle every three bobbins. Or, put in a new needle every 6-10 hours of sewing time. For sure, if you hear a pop or thud sound when you sew, chances are your needle is dull.

Check out new needles before installing

Just because your needle is fresh out of the pack, doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Before you insert a new needle in your machine, gently run you finger over the shaft feeling for burrs which will cause problems as you sew. Touch the tip of the needle to see if it’s sharp. If you’re using a rounded tip needle, is the tip smooth without any sharp edges. Also peak through the eye; if there’s a burr or snag it will wreak havoc with your thread.

Avoid sewing over pins

Yes, we know you can sew over pins but it’s not a good idea. Grazing a pin can lead to your needle being slightly bent or dulled. If you do hit a pin (it happens to the best of us) change your needle right away.

Stock up

Keep an eye out for a sale at your local quilt shop or fabric store. Keep a stock on hand of the sizes and types of needles you use most often.

Use a pincushion to house used needles

If you’re switching out a needle with more life in it, store it in a pincushion instead of putting it back into the plastic case.

Dispose of used needles safely

Your used needles might not be sharp enough to sew with, but they are still plenty sharp to puncture skin! Keep an empty container like a pill bottle on hand and put your discarded needle in there the minute you take it out of the machine. When it is full, wrap up the container with duct tape to keep the top during garbage pick up and dispose of it — container and all.