I am not a couturier, I am a craftsman, a maker of happiness. Yves Saint-Laurent (1936-2008).
According to one of the greatest fashion designers in history, learning to sew, provided one has a good sewing machine, is just the ticket to well-being and happiness.
Acquiring all the essentials for sewing - making a jersey garment, a chiffon dress, or sewing upholstery - requires a bit of spending money and a lot of know-how.
In addition to choosing a sewing machine, it's also important to buy a variety of sewing accessories for your sewing box:
Sewing thread, lining, a satin tape measure, a bobbin or several, cutting tools (like sewing scissors), are some examples of the essential elements of your sewing box.
While sewing and embroidering is now considered a mixed, non-gendered skill - in the sense that even men learn to repair a zipper or sew a hem by hand - this remains an activity mostly performed by seamstresses.
Alas, men are often the big names in haute couture, like Yves Saint-Laurent, while it is mostly women who slave away on their mechanical or industrial sewing machine.
This would explain why we often talk about the tricks of the seamstress and not that of the seamster...
Nevertheless, neither male nor female sewer cannot assemble their fabrics if they do not have the sewing Holy Grail: good sewing needles.
You'll often find a sewer cursing his/her Singer or Pfaff sewing machine because it has jammed, or broken the sewing stitches (zigzag, straight stitch, etc.), without even thinking that it is because their needles are not the right ones.
Indeed acquiring the right needle, where the sewing thread fits perfectly through the eye, will make sewing much easier. Knowing which needle suits which fabric, however, can be like searching for a needle in a haystack.
Well, maybe not that bad. In this article, Superprof gives you everything you need to remember when choosing good sewing needles.
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Why Is the Sewing Machine Needle So Important?
The sewing needle is one of the key elements of the sewing machine: it gives great precision for a refined and meticulously crafted piece of work.
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A needle that is unsuitable for its purpose - a needle that is too thick on a thin fabric, or a fabric that is too thickly stitched with a needle that is too thin - can either damage the machine or leave visible stitching holes on the fabric.
You must therefore stick to this fundamental rule: there is a needle size for every fabric.
Before going to your favourite haberdashery shop or buying your haberdashery items online, you have to look at the type of needle that suits your machine, and remember that they do not fit all fabrics.
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The basic functions of a needle are fourfold:
- Create a passage for the sewing thread in its holder,
- Bring the thread of the needle in its holder,
- Make a loop with the hook,
- Pass the needle thread through the loop.
A sewing machine needle consists of 10 elements each of which has its own function:
- The butt: to fix onto the sewing machine,
- The shank: thick part of the needle, it can be flat or round,
- The shoulder: part between the heel and the wing,
- The blade: part where the thread passes, between the heel and the eye (subject to friction, it heats),
- The long groove,
- The short groove,
- The eye: it is the hole in which the sewing thread passes to be driven down,
- The scarf,
- The tip: it allows the penetration of the sewing thread into the fabric,
- The point.
A great article - on the blog Textile Learner - has detailed the anatomy of a sewing needle, and illustrates the importance of choosing a sewing needle for each sewing task.
It is ultimately the needle that determines the quality and finish of the garment.
Discover also how using the right pattern is crucial to your sewing projects...
The Different Types and Sizes of Sewing Needles
Whether you use a serger, an electronic or mechanical sewing machine, the sewing needles are numbered from 60 to 110: this is the diameter of the needle, in 100th of a millimetre.
The higher the number, the more the needle is suited for thick fabrics.
And vice versa, the lighter the fabric is, the finer the fibres are, and therefore the more a fine-tipped needle is needed so you don't pierce the fabric.
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In a haberdashery, the needle packaging will always indicate the type of needle and all the types of fabrics it suits.
Your sewing patterns are ready and waiting for you to get sewing.
Let's take a look at the types of needles and their different sizes: there are 7 types of sewing machines needles.
- Universal needle: With a so-called normal tip, it adapts to poplin, satin, natural (like cotton fabric) and synthetic fabrics. It is ideal for sewing shirts, dresses, suits, sheets, coats or making table linen. Aside from size 110, all sizes can be used (60, 70, 80, 90 and 100),
- Jersey/ballpoint needle: With a round tip, this needle will work well with jersey and lycra. Compatible sizes are 70, 80 and 90,
- Microtex/sharp needle: A needle with very fine tip, for very fine fabrics. Chiffon, taffeta, linen thread, voile, silk thread and microfibers. Use sizes 60 and 80,
- Stretch needle: Used for knitting, it has a ball point and is suitable for knitting yarn and curtains. Compatible sizes are 75 and 90,
- Leather needle: its triangular tip allows sewing thick leather and imitation leather, with sizes of 80, 90 and 100,
- Jeans and firm fabrics needle: this one has a rather fine and chrome tip. Suitable for seams on thick jeans and overalls, faux fur, gabardine, plastic and oilcloth, corduroy, denim. A thick size works well: 90, 100 and 110,
- Quilting needle: with a fine point, it is used to stitch fabric with padding. Choose an average size of 75 and 90.
What happens, when you're so eager to start sewing, is that you may fail to change out your needles.
Once you've got them out of their original packaging, identifying them can be time-consuming or tedious, at best: that's why we recommend that you adopt a colour coding system to identify them easily.
Gluing matching stickers to each type of needle (red for jersey, black for leather, blue for jeans, white for linen, for example), can be an incredible time saver for the messy sewer.
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Choose your Needles According to the Thread
You also need to think about the sewing thread when picking out the needles for your machine.
Because to sew a button, darn an origami dress or a helm a pair of trousers, we will, firstly, not be using the same fabric and the thread will be different as well.
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Gradually you realise that the texture of the fabric impacts the type of thread needed. Thick fabrics such as leather or jeans require strong, sturdy thread and for it to be the same colour obviously.
In fact, as the thickness of the fabric determines the thickness of the needle of the Pfaff or Brother sewing machine, the equivalent sewing thread thickness is also required.
When using light fabrics, a very fine thread to pass through the eye of the needle will help reduce wrinkles.
A trick to choosing your thread after buying a pack of needles:
The higher the reference number of the thread, the more fine it is. A size 100 needle is therefore much thinner than a size 30.
In summary: the bigger the needle, the thicker the sewing thread you need to buy, and vice versa.
And what about changing the needle when it's damaged?
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When and How to Change the Needle
If the needle that has been used for months - to sew quilting fabric, linen or jersey - is damaged, it may break, bend or make very irregular and disjointed seams.
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The needle should not be blunt or bent.
Each new sewing project requires a change of needle.
To change from a printed fabric stitch for tapestry to a decorative fabric seam, or to do cross stitch embroidery, the needle needs to be changed.
How, then, do I change my needle?
- Remove the needle bar by turning the sewing machine's handwheel (the part used to operate the needle, the clamps and the thread take-up).
- Lower the presser foot,
- Take the needle by hand, unscrew the screw of the needle clamp,
- Remove the needle,
- Insert the new needle by turning its flat side towards the back of the sewing machine,
- Insert it until you reach the needle bar and tighten the needle screw.
Here's some revision for you.
Discover what you could make out of leftover fabric!
Which needle for which fabric?
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Discover also how you can learn to sew yourself some new clothes...
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