Posts Tagged ‘needles’

Thread Magic Summer School: Machine Needles

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

We’ve got two more class days for summer school ad I want to oput in just a bit about needles, because they really affect how our thread works for us.


The hardest working part of  your sewing machine is your needle. Think about it. It’s the contact point, the point to the exercise, the.heart of the issue. So it’s worth knowing  what needle you’re using and why. Because I want to do machine free motion work with my machine, I want a needle that’s going to help me do that best.

Are needles all the same?

Yes and no.

Yes, they have a shaft and a hole for the thread to go in.

No, there are huge differences in what that shaft and hole look like, that make them act very very differently.

We are, to be clear, talking strictly about home sewing machine needles. These always have a flat side in back, and that’s one way to identify them.

Within that group there are several possibilities.

There are a bunch of specialty needles for certain things. I’m not going to touch on those, because they’re labeled for those purposes.

Needle Brands

You can get needles that have every kind of sewing machine branded on the front. Basically Schmetz makes all of those needles. They are identical. Schmetz needles are an industry standard and well worth looking for. The only difference is Singer needles. Singer has it’s own style and I recommend you use Singer needles only with Singer Machines. You can use a Schmetz needle on a Singer. But don’t use a Singer needle on any other kind of machine. It may scar the hook.

Organ needles come in huge boxes and are suggested for free motion. They work quite well and are inexpensive. I don’t think they come in topstitch, so you lose the possibility of the bigger eye.

Point Styles 

Sharp Point Needle

These needles have a sharp point.  That means they have a clean punching power and create a smooth stitch line.They’re set up for woven fabric. I always use a sharp needle for all free motion embroidery. 

Ball Point Needles

These needles have a ball point at the edge. They wiggle through the fabric. They’re set up to sew knitted goods without snagging. Because of how they’re built, they don’t really create a smooth  stitch line. Although I don’t use them with my Bernina’s and Pfaffs, they are recommended for Janome/ New Home Machines for freemotion.

The Universal Needle

If you go into a shop and ask for needles and don’t tell them what you want, this is what they’ll give you. It’ s a general multi purpose needle that does nothing really well.This is a combination of sharp and ball point needles. It’s a horse designed by a committee. It kind-of sort-of works all the time, sort-of. It has a sharp needle shape with a gently balled end. Again, it doesn’t leave a clean stitch line. I would avoid it for free motion. Better to use the right tool, than the almost right tool.

Needle Sizes

Needles are labeled with  European and American Sizes. European sizes are,100,110. The American sizes are Larger numbers mean larger needles.

For most embroidery I like a #90/14. If it’s leaving too large a hole try a size smaller. If it’s breaking constantly, try a size larger.

Topstitching vs. Regular Eye

A topstitching needle has a special big eye. This is so helpful. You can see it to thread it. But it reduces thread breakage massively as well. 

There’s a brilliant little book called A Point Well Taken that goes through all the needles and what they do. It’s available at

Wrapping it up

My favorite needle is a 90 Topstitching needle. I find it reduces breakage and gives me a fabulous straight line to draw with. Try it yourself. I find it makes such a difference.

For more information about needles Schmetz has a great flier you can download at their web site

Also check out this earlier post called Busted Needles and Other Disasters for more needle info.

Packing the &*()(*&&^%%$ Box: What to Bring to Class

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

We’ve estabilished that I have a stuff problem. That gets magnified when I start to pack for class. What do I bring? What do I ask them to bring? What will the airport finally freak out on? In a broader safer time once had a box full of bobbins. I can’t imagine what they thought these were but it brought out the big dogs. They had to see it all after that.

When we went to the fifty pound bag it got much worse. I remember the day. I was in Seattle at 5 AM. The lady at the counter grabbed my bag that was perfectly legal when I left Chicago and growled” This bag is overweight!” Like it was a triumph against ugly fat and too much underwear. I looked at her and said that my bag, unlike her, had had enough breakfast to be relatively civilized. It didn’t help. The age of measured baggage had arrived. I paid the extra bounty and knew a new world had come.

It only gets more stringent. And yet, students need you to bring things. They need the right stabilizers, the right threads and the toys you play with to have a good day.

How do you do that as a teacher? I’m still trying to figure that out thirty years later. But I have a theory.

  • Bring what you want to play with.
  • I’ll bring what you really need.

So before each class I pack the &**(()*&^&^%^%$%$ box. And ship it ahead. It’s full of hand dyed threads,sewing machine needles, stabilizers, commercial threads and fabrics, kits, books, patterns, toys and my dreams for you. And I always hope for it to come home to me empty.

I’m leaving Tuesday to Maryland to teach at the  Nimble Fingers Quilt Guild, June 6-7th  and at the Bears Paw in Baltimore on June 9th. See you there. I brought everything!

Busted Needles and Other Disasters

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

Beetles in Blossom

I don’t ever  have a class where someone asks the question, “What happens if I break a needle?” Or the much more useful question, “Why did my needle break?” What is the trick for that?

If you ever saw this scene from Lawrence of Arabia, you know the trick already. The trick is not minding that your needle broke.

What makes your needle break is the fact that it is, by it’s nature, fragile. Metal fatigue is usually the cause. It’s the most fragile part of your machine and it has to work the hardest. That is why your needle broke. So every day, ” New Day, New Needle. New Project, New Needle.” It was never meant to last forever. And a needle about to break is a world of sewing misery. Broken thread, skipped stitches, and in my case, inevitable balding from pulling out my hair in hanks.

But there are some good sewing machine hygiene practices that make the world a better place.

  • Use the right needle for the right job. There’s a whole other post to talk about needles. I’ll do that soon, promise. What I use for almost all free motion embroidery is a 90 topstitching. That’s a sharp needle with a really big eye.
  • Make sure your thread is feeding smoothly. A cone holder can help with older machines. Most new machines can feed either vertically or horizontally. In theory you use a vertical pin for straight wound spools and a horizontal pin for cross wound spools. But if one isn’t working try the other.
  • Make sure nothing is catching the thread. I know it sounds dumb but it will break thread and needles every time. Check to see it isn’t catching on the spool or on something else on your sewing table.
  • Stop whenever you hear a bad sewing noise. Trust me on this. It won’t get better until you fix it.
  • Make sure you have your foot up to thread your machine and your foot down to sew. Putting the foot down closes the tension mechanism. If it’s down you can’t thread the machine properly. If it’s up you can’t sew without making a bird’s nest underneath. Once that  happens, again, nothing good will happen until you intervene.
  • If you break a needle, clean your sewing machine. You want to make sure there isn’t a bit of broken needle in there, scratching your hook.

Do I break needles? Bless your heart! I plan on breaking at least 5 needles on a six hour sewing day. I purchase them in that kind of quantity. Do I mind? No. That’s the trick

Taping at Quilt It! with Jodi Davis

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

I just got home from taping a session of Quilt It! with Jodi Davis!

Jodi is a love! She keeps horses and has done a gazillion books on all kinds of needle craft. She’s famous for her rubber duckie books. She helped me keep on track and not babble.

What a wild day! We had three quilters tape that day, including myself. I went first or they would have had to fold me in the end like a quilt and put me in my suitcase to get me home.

Quilt It! is part of QNN, Quilter’s News Network. It’s a great site with numerous available quilt shows you can watch any time on your computer or any other streaming electric gadget. How cool is that? Quilt It! focuses on working with long arm machines.

The other two women couldn’t have been more different from me if they tried. Judy Allen was making incredible digitized and drawn feather patterns and Leslie Main from Country Traditions Quilt Store in Freemont, NE pieced a place mat on a long arm. Who knew? They were both awesome!

seed pod

I showed off the Zentangle Inspired Flowers I’ve been doing on the Handi Quilter Sweet Sixteen. I’ve loved doing these quick and flashy pieces.  Because the long arm accommodates a 20 needle, I could stitch these with yummy extra thick #12 weight pearl cotton thread through the needle. We’ll be offering this as a class! I also showed off some quilts from my new book, Thread Magic Garden.

We also got a tour of Handi Quilter. I had, of course, known about Handi Quilter’s commitment to quality. It wasn’t until I saw the HQ Sweet Sixteen that I realized there was a way for me with my really bad knees to sit and sew at a long arm. What a neat new open door! But it was when I saw room after room of the company decorated in every kind of quilt that I understood how deep their commitment is to quilters of all kinds. The walls are covered with quilts and statements and sayings of quilters. They are an amazing support to the quilt community, as well as the manufacturer of an amazing machine.

My segment will be featured in August. Make sure to watch it there and then!

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