What is the difference between a hand sewing needle and a machine needle?

Sewing is a skill that requires a lot of precision and focus. Like any craft, you need to have a good understanding of the basics before you can start. 

Sewing can be done either by hand or using a machine. The needles used in both instances differ completely in their appearance and function. This article will explain what these differences are.

Without a doubt, the needle is the key to sewing. Needles come in a lot of different shapes and sizes. The type to use will depend on the kind of work you need to do as well as the techniques you’ll be using.

Machine needle

The manner in which your machine needle pierces the fabric as you stitch will have a direct influence on how strong the seam becomes, as well as the final appearance of the garment. The needle performs three main roles during the sewing process:

  • Making a hole in the fabric to allow the sewing thread to pass through and form a stitch, causing no damage to the fabric in the process.
  • Carrying the needle thread through the fabric so that a loop is formed. This loop is then taken up by the hook in the lockstitch machine, or in the case of chain-stitch machines, the looper will do this.
  • Passing the thread through the loop that has been created on the chain-stitch machine.

Before we look at the various machine needle types, you first need to have a good understanding of all the parts that make up a machine sewing needle:

  • The shank: This is the top part of the needle. It is placed inside the needle bar. It could either have a cylindrical shape or a flat side, depending on the method used to hold it onto the needle bar. It supports the entire needle. Its diameter is also larger than that of the rest of the needle to give it strength.
  • Shoulder: This part is found between the shank and the blade, which forms the longest portion of the needle to the eye.
  • Blade: This is the part that experiences all the friction from the fabric as the needle passes through it. For needles that are designed specifically for high-speed sewing, the shoulder is usually extended into the blade’s upper part to form a thicker cross-section.
  • Long groove: The long groove gives the sewing thread a shielding channel as it is being carried into the fabric for the formation of stitches. This reduces friction with the fabric.
  • Short groove: Found on the reverse side of the long groove, the short groove extends a little above and below the eye of the needle. It helps in the formation of the needle thread loop.
  • The eye: This is the opening in the sewing needle that is lengthened through the blade along the short and long grooves. The eye’s profile on its inside part at the top is important in reducing damage to the sewing thread and also to produce good formation of a loop.
  • The scarf: Also known as the clearance cut, the scarf is a kind of corner that is cut across the face of the needle just above the eye. It makes it possible for the bobbin hook to be set closer to the needle so that the thread loop could easily be entered by the point of the needle.
  • Point:
    is the tapering end of the needle, which is made to ensure better penetration of the needle on a variety of fabric. If you want to avoid damaging your fabric, you need to select it carefully.
  • The tip: This is the last end of the point, which defines the performance of the needle in penetration.

Types of machine needles

Now that you have a good understanding of the various parts of a machine needle, here are the different types available:

· Universal needles

These are used on domestic sewing machines, with the term “universal” referring to the shape of the shank and length of the needle. These needles have a flat face on the shank, which ensured the needle is correctly inserted.

· Embroidery needles

These come with an extra-large eye and a scarf that is specially shaped to prevent the thread from shredding.

· Ballpoint needles

These are similar to universal needles but have round edges that are not tapered in the same way. They are used for closely-knit fabrics because the rounded tip pushes the weave out of the way instead of cutting through it.

· Denim needles

These are meant for tightly-woven cottons like canvas. They are characterized by strong, sharp points and very slender eyes.

· Leather needles

They feature a triangular point that makes a big, neat hole in non-woven materials like vinyl and leather.

· Metallic needles

They are similar to embroidery needles with large eyes and extra-long scarves but include a Teflon coating to the eyes. This prevents prevent metallic threads from shredding when being used.

· Quilting needles

They are styled with an extra-long shaft and a tapered point that helps them to penetrate numerous layers of woven fabrics without shredding or breaking either the fabric or the thread being used.

· Serger/industrial needles

These are needles that have been designed to be used only in Serger and overlocking machines. An overlock refers to a type of stitch that sews over the edges of one or even two pieces of cloth for hemming, edging, or seaming. Although Serger machines cuts the edges of the cloth as they are being put through, some machines are made without cutters.

· Microtext/sharps needles

These are sharper and more slender than universal needles and are ideal for fine woven fabrics. They are also compatible with quilting projects.

· Stretch needles

They are meant to be used on fabrics that have a significant amount of Spandex or any other similar material in their fabric content. They are characterized by a specialized eye and scarf to prevent skipping.

·  Topstitching needles

These needles are usually very shard with large eyes to fit thick topstitching threads. They are also quite similar to leather needles.

· Twin/triple needles

This type features needles that are set in groups of twos or threes on a single shaft to sew multiple threads at once. The threads are usually decorative. They need special equipment and machinery to accommodate not only the extra needles but also the thread feeds. Their designs usually also feature another type of needle specialization, such as denim or stretch.

· Wing needles

These needles have distinct wings on either side to help hold the fabric open. Often, these needles are used on hems, borders, as well as decorative finishing. The larger the size of the needle, the larger the hole that will be left in the finished piece of sewn fabric.

Hand-sewing needles

The design of hand-sewing needles is much simpler than that of machine needles. Hand-sewing needles have an eye on one end and a point on the other. Their length varies depending on their size and type. Typically, larger needles are longer than smaller needles. The shape and size of the eye also varies between types.

Types of hand-sewing needles

Here are some of the types of hand-sewing needles:

· Sharps

These are often referred to as general-purpose hand needles. They are of medium length with a sharp point and a round eye. When using them, you need to be extra careful with delicate and thin fabrics because the points are usually very sharp. Sharps are good general sewing needles that can be used for various sewing tasks. They are also among the thinnest hand-sewing needles and are available from sizes 1 to 12.

· Quilting/Betweens

As the name suggests, these needles are designed specifically for quilting. Even though they are similar to sharps, they are shorter and have a smaller, round eye. They are ideal for quick, precise stitches. They also work well for detailed work, particularly on heavier fabric.

· Ballpoint

These are good for knit fabrics, thanks to their rounded, smooth point, which protects knit fabrics by preventing damage or runs. Ballpoint needles are of medium length and are available in sizes 5 to 10.

· Cotton darners

These needles are designed for darning. They are long with a long eye and sharp points. This makes them great at repairing woven fabrics. Cotton darners are available in sizes 1 to 9.

· Crewel/embroidery needles

They are similar to sharps in length and points. However, because they need to fit thicker thread and embroidery floss, they have elongated eyes. They can also be used in place of sharps for stitching that needs thicker thread. They are available in size 1 to 12.


One of the main differences between hand-sewing needles and machine needles is the sizing numbers on them. In both cases, this size usually indicates the needle diameter. However, with hand-sewing needles, the larger the number, the smaller the needle. With machine needles, the reverse is true. This means that a machine needle of size 12 is smaller than a hand-sewing needle of size 5.

With this guide, choosing the perfect needle for your purposes should be a little easier. Happy sewing!

Zoltan Szatmari

Zoltan is a test and industrial engineer from Europe who loves learning anything new and working on small projects. When he is not working, he is usually hiking or going to the cinema.

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