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Four Common Machine Needle and Thread Combinations

When you’re standing at the great wall of notions in the store, how do you know which needle and thread to pick for your project? Here are four of the most common combinations, plus a few tips to help you decipher the product labels.


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Having the right tools in the kitchen helps make cooking easier, right? The perfect scoop and cookie sheet help you turn dough into awesome cookies. The same is true for sewing—the right needle in your machine and a proper thread choice can help you turn fabric pieces into a successful project.


Deciphering Labels

When you are beginning to sew, the number of needle and thread options can feel overwhelming. How are you supposed to choose when there are multiple variations, each designed for a different task? When trying to figure out what’s best for you, package labels are a good first reference. 


Machine-needle packages are marked with two key pieces of information:

1. TYPE (referring to the point of the needle)—such as sharp, denim, universal, ball point, jersey, etc.

2. SIZE—such as 70/10, 80/12, 90/14, etc.


The two numbers separated by a slash indicates needle size. The number on the left of the slash is the European size; the number on the right is the American size. Regardless of which number you reference, the important thing to remember is that the larger the numbers, the larger the needle. Lower numbers indicate finer needles. (This is true only of needles for sewing machines; hand-sewing needles are the opposite.) The type of fabric and the type of thread you will be using should guide your choice of needle size. A good rule of thumb is to choose the smallest size needle that pierces your fabric easily. A needle that is too big can leave holes in delicate fabrics. A needle that is too small can shred the thread or cause the needle to break.


The misstep most beginners make when choosing thread is thinking that the only consideration is color when fiber content and thread weight also are important. In a store, thread often is sorted first by manufacturer, then by type or usage. Sometimes different types are in different displays, and sometimes they’re in the same display sorted by row. Confusing? Yes. The thing to do is to check the top or bottom of a spool for the thread fiber content —polyester, cotton, or all-purpose (usually a cotton-polyester blend).


The thickness or weight of threads also varies widely. There are lots of details you could learn, but for starters keep this in mind: For most assembly sewing, an all-purpose-weight thread is desirable. Avoid using rayon (shiny) or hand-glazed (heavyweight) threads in your sewing machine. They aren’t meant for constructing seams.