Needle sizes, numbers from 1 to 24, refer to the needle's diameter. Within any given type, the higher the number the thinner and shorter the needle. These sizes were in use at least by the beginning of the nineteenth century.¹
The type also determines the size and shape of the eye and the style of the point. Several hundred different types of needles have been made, but a relative few are still manufactured.
|Sharps||1–10||The standard needle, sharp, small eyes.|
|Betweens||3–10||Shorter than sharps, not as short as blunts. Also called quilting needles.|
|Milliners||These needles are exceptionally long (about 1⅝ inches) with small round eyes. Sometimes called “milliner straw needles.”|
|Crewels||1–10||A sharp, medium long needle with larger eyes than those of sharps. Most embroidery is done with crewels and they are often called embroidery needles.|
|Chenilles||13–26||These thick, large-eyed needles resemble sharp tapestry needles, and are used for embroidery with heavy yarn.|
|Tapestry||13–26||These needles have blunt points, large eyes, and are thicker in proportion to their length than most needles. They are used for needlepoint and some types of embroidery.|
|Cotton Darners||1–5||Long needles with long eyes; besides darning, often used for basting.|
|Yarn Darners||14–18||Very long, large-eyed needles used with heavy yarn.|
|Glovers||Heavy sharp needles for sewing leather.|
The following special purpose needles are readily available, though usually in sets of “craft needles,” but have limited use:
Mattress needles. Heavy semicircular needles, several inches long.
Doll needles. Exceptionally long (3½ to 7 inches) needles for making stuffed animals.
“The sizes are from No. 1, the largest, to No 25, the smallest.”
The Book of Trades, or Library of Useful Arts. Vol. III
London, 1804 or early 1805.
The American edition (Philadelphia, 1897) was reprinted by Dover Publications in 1992. The quotation occurs on page 42.
Needles for sewing machines sport a lot of numbers.
Most packaging features a pair of numbers separated by a slash, for example, "80/12". These numbers are two different ways of describing the same thing: the diameter of the needle above the scarf. (The scarf is the indentation above the eye.) The bigger the number the thicker the needle. The smaller the number the finer the thread that should be used.
The metric designations are the actual needle diameter in hundreths of a millimeter (that is, a 110 needle is 1.1 mm in diameter). The singer designations are a carry over. They are mostly used in the U.S., but also in Asia. The table shows the most popular popular sizes, but there are others.
Another number often found on the packaging is “130/705 H”, which identifies the current system of sizes developed for home machines, a fairly recent development. You will sometimes see on packages a designation like “15×1”, which is part of previous systems and indicated a particular class of machines the needle would fit. (The equivalent size in the system used in Europe is “30/705”.)
If you are searching for needles for an older machine, the work of the International Sewing Machine Collectors Society (see the links below) may be very helpful to you.
A designation like “3.0/80” indicates the package contains twin or triple needles. The first number is the distance between the needles in millimeters.
Twin needles are made in 1.6/70, 1.6/80, 2.0/75, 2.0/80, 2.5/75, 2.5/80, 2.5/100, 3.0/75, 3.0/90, 4.0/75, 4.0/80, 4.0/90, 4.0/100, 6.0/100 and 8.0/100 sizes.
The size of the eye is proportional to the thickness of the needle, but certain needle styles (for example, for topstitching) have extra large eyes to accept large thread. The machine won't work properly if the thread doesn't match the needle size, because the mechanism assumes the fit of the thread in the eye creates a certain amount of drag–no more, no less.
Other characteristics of sewing machine needles have no standardized designations. Needle makers usually use a proprietary letter code to indicate the type of tip, which may be sharp, ballpoint for knits, wedge-shaped for leather and vinyl, and so on. And finally, there are characteristics which are not indicated at all–such as the length of the scarf–and can only be recognized through familiarity with that maker's product.
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Last revised: 25 January 2009.