The needle in your sewing machine can make  all the difference when sewing your next project. How do you know what  needle to use for what fabric? It is actually much simpler than you  think! 

A dull or incorrect needle can cause  skipped stitches, pulls and snags or cause the seam to scrunch up. These  problems are so frustrating but can easily be diminished or even  eliminated by changing your needle. 

To determine what kind of needle you  require for the fabric you are using you first need to look at the size  of your needle. If you only have a pack of "universal needles" than this  is the only step you need to take. Universal needles usually come with  the sewing machine and can be used for nearly every fabric IF you choose the correct size. 

Exhibit A: The Universal needle. You can use this needle for nearly any type of fabric but wait...what are those numbers for!? 

The needle size is indicated by the 2  numbers (60/8 for example). These numbers tell you exactly the same  thing but one is the metric size (60, on the first needle case) and one  is the imperial size (8, on the same case).  I have no idea why they  have to list the metric and imperial sizes, but all needles do.  

Choosing what size you need to easy.  Needles range from 60/8 to 120/20. The bigger then number, the larger  the diameter of the needle. The larger diameter means that these needles  are stronger but obviously bigger. If you are sewing very sheer or  netted fabrics choose the smallest diameter needle you have. If you are  sewing heavy denim, upholstery, or vinyl then choose the largest  diameter needle you have. It is just that easy. If you only have money  to purchase one universal needle then go for the 80/12 which is good for  cottons and most other medium weight fabrics.  

Now that you are a pro at picking a needle size let us move on to specialty needles. 

Exhibit B: Needles for specific fabrics. 

What?! Have you never tried one of  these? Then you are missing out. These needles are designed just to make  your life easier (really). Most everyone has probably seen the  ubiquitous Jersey (or stretch, or ball point) needle. However, there are  needles for silks and other fine fabrics (microtex or sharps), Jeans,  embroidery and quilting. 

I want to stop for a moment and point  out the 130/705 H on the bottom of the schmetz needle cases. This number  indicates that this needle is for a sewing machine that has a needle  system of 130/705 H. Basically every home sewing machine uses this  system so some companies don't even place it on their needle cases  anymore. 

The letter after the H is important though as this indicates the needle type. 

SUK = knitted fabric needles 

S = Stretch fabric needles 

*I use these interchangeably however SUK is for lycra and knitted fabrics and S if for elastic, t shirt knits and jersey. 

M = microfiber and silks 

J = jeans 

E = Embroidery 

Q = quilting. 

Each of these types of needle have a  specific design to help you sew certain types of fabrics. Stretch  needles have ball points to prevent snagging. Microtex (sharps) have  very sharp and pointy tips to help with sewing silks and microfibers. 

Some of these specialty needles are  harder to find but they are very useful. I primarily sew fine silks and  can not do this without my microtex needle. The silks will get pulls and  puckers in them if I use a universal needle. I also change out my  needle often as a dull needle will cause similar problems. Remember to  choose a needle size that works with the weight of the fabric you are  sewing. These specialty needles also come in a range of sizes. 

Finally we have the twin needle: Exhibit C: Twin needles

These needles are often elusive. If you  find one at a chain fabric store you will not have many sizes to choose  from. Both these are size 80 needles but the first has the needle  points 3mm apart and the second has them 2mm apart. The "ZWI" on the  Schmetz needle case indicates it is a double needle. A "Drei" indicates a  triple needle, although I have never seen one of these. 

Double needles are perfect for  finishing seams on knits and accessories, such as pillows or bags. This  double stich seam makes these items look very professional. I prefer at  least a 3mm gap between the two needles but sometimes you just have to  go with what you find in the store.  

I hope that this makes it easier to  understand the markations you see on needle cases and helps you choose  the correct needle next time you begin a project.