Sewing Tips

Sewing Machine Needles 101

Sewing machine needles are the most changeable and inexpensive maintenance for your sewing machine and they can change how your machine performs to form stitches. Understanding the sizing information on the needle packages will help you purchase the correct size.

Needle Sizes:

What do those numbers mean?
The first thing you see on a needle package is the needle size. This will be shown as one number over another, such as: 70/10, 80/12 or 90/14. These numbers refer to the size of the needle.

There are two numbers because one is the American numbering system and one the European. The American system uses 8 to 19; 8 is a fine, thin needle and 19 is a thick, heavy needle. European sizes range from 60 to 120, 60 is a fine, thin needle and 120 is a thick, heavy needle. Some companies list American first, some list European first.

Here’s the rule: the lower the number the finer the needle and the smaller the eye.

For example, if you are going to sew a sheer window curtain, you would want a fine needle such as 60/8. Using a 110/18 would leave giant holes in your fabric. On the other hand, if you were to try to sew through upholstery fabric with a 60/8 needle, it would bend or break. Using a 110/18 would give you strength to penetrate your heavy home décor fabric and would have an eye large enough to carry the thicker thread you’ll need to use.

The small eye of the 60/8 will not allow the automatic needle threader on your Bernina to work properly.

When to change the needle:

Change your needle often, don’t wait until it breaks!

  • when it becomes dull (hitting a pin can dull the point of the needle)
  • when it becomes even slightly bent (hitting ‘too’ many layers of fabric with the wrong sized needle can bend a needle)
  • when the tip or point of the needle gets a nick or a snag (again easy to do if the needle was not the right size for the fabric being sewn)
  • after every eight hours of running the machine, sewing needle companies suggest that a needle when used properly, without running into any ‘non-desirables’ in a machine, has about 8 hours of life in its tip. (that might sound like a short time but if you consider the friction and the many miles/kilometers a needle travels by going through fabric up and down at an average setting of 10 -12 stitches per inch or 4 – 5stitches per centimeter approximately… that is quite a bit of time)
  • It is a good rule of thumb to change the needle after the completion of every project.

Types of needles:

Selecting the size and type of needle for your project will help insure success.

Needles come with three basic types of points: ballpoint for knits, sharp for tightly woven fabric, and wedge for leather or vinyl.

Each type has a different effect on fabric, so it’s important to think about the material you are using when choosing a needle.

From these three basic types of needle points, there are many variations that you might want to consider when choosing the right needle for your fabric.

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Denim/jeans needles have sharp points and stiff shanks that give them the strength to sew through thick and densely woven fabrics.
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Leather/vinyl needles have a wedge-shaped point to cut through materials without leaving a large hole behind.
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Sharp/Microtex needles are ideal for woven fabrics, heirloom quality sewing, quilt piercing, and fine fabrics that require delicate stitching.
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Universal needles are rounded enough to be compatible with knits, but sharp enough to pierce woven synthetic and natural fibers. They may not be sharp enough for some heavy woven fabrics like denim.
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Topstitch needles have very a sharp point, a large eye, and a deep groove to enable them to accommodate the thicker topstitch thread and sew through thick materials.

Some Friendly Advice

Vivien Leigh’s Professional Sewing Tips

Square corners: Getting professional results when sewing square corners on pillows, wallets, placemats or pockets is easy using a few of the following tips.


  1. Trim away the interfacing by cutting a square in the corner to be stitched. Sew the corner reduce the stitch length as you approach the corner and stitch 4 or 5 stitches, pivot and stitch 4 or 5 more small stitches then increase the stitch length for the rest of the seam.


  1. Now trim the corner diagonally, cut twice being careful not to cut too close to the seam or you will end up with a hole in the corner.
  2. Turn the fabric right side out.

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  1.  Using a point turner, carefully poke out the corner to a nice clean point.
  2. Press the corner well using Best Press.

Sewing Tips

Beginning Sewers

If you are new to sewing, here are a few tips toward success:

Keep It Simple
If you don’t have a lot of sewing experience, don’t try to tackle a wedding dress or that costume with over 100 pieces! Select a pattern that uses techniques you are familiar with, plus one or two you’d like to learn. Or better yet, take a class, and let us help you reach your sewing goals!

Use Quality Tools and Materials
No one does their best using cheap and/or poorly designed tools and materials. The best cooks don’t use inferior kitchen tools, and neither do the best seamstresses or quilters. Always choose the best you can afford, even if it means waiting.

Bernina USA offers Webinars that walk you through various projects. Great educational value!

Pattern Size

Expert Sewing Tip
First, ignore what size you buy in ready-to-wear. No standard sizing exists for clothing manufacturers. They typically use vanity sizing to help sell more clothing, and manufacturers know that, psychologically, women prefer wearing a smaller size. Thankfully, major pattern companies have collaborated on standardized measurements, and you will always buy the same size pattern (until your body changes).

Start by taking your body measurements wearing only undergarments. Include your chest (under arms, above full bust, and across upper back keeping tape measure level), full bust, waist, and full hip. See example to the right.

Next, compare your measurements to the standard measurements provided on the pattern envelope as shown below. Use your chest measurement rather than full bust, especially if you wear a B-cup or larger bra size.

For example, comparing my waist, hip, and full bust measurement exclusively, I should purchase a size 14, but using my chest measurement, I am between a 12 and 14. The next step is to consider personal preferences. I like a closer fit and have a slightly smaller bone structure, so I decide to purchase a size 12 pattern. Also, prior sewing projects using a size 14 looked a little big and sloppy, and I almost always took in the side seams. I find it easier to start with a good fit around the neck, shoulder, and armholes, and increase the full bust, waist and hip area with a multi-size pattern. Selecting the correct size pattern involves personal preferences as well as actual body measurements.

Finally, realize that you will make mistakes. After all, are you happy with every garment you’ve purchased and have hanging in your closet? Not every pattern and fabric will be right for you just as not every style in a clothing store is suitable. An understanding of how to select your pattern size, an appreciation of your unique body shape, and a knowledge of your personal style will set you on the path to sewing more garments successfully. It is also important to select the correct pattern style.

Pattern Style

Are you tired of sewing garments that don’t turn out? Do you want to learn how to achieve better results? This article will discuss some reasons why we continue to experience disappointments with garment sewing, and provide some steps toward sewing clothes successfully.

The most common complaint with garment sewing is fit, but many times the main problem is an inadequate marriage between garment style, fabric, and our individual body shape. Most of us have difficulty determining if a dress will look good on us without first trying it on. Unfortunately, this is impossible when we sew. Therefore, we try to guess or imagine the latest pattern styles on our body, and the pattern books don’t help as we look at the garments displayed on perfectly shaped models. we begin to think that maybe, if we sew the particular dress pattern exactly as pictured, we well look just as beautiful and thin. Oh, if only that were true.

The best formula for discovering which patterns will work for you involves becoming aware of your own unique style and shape. Examine your favorite clothes, notice the shape and cut of styles you prefer, try on different styles in stores. Enlist a trusted and honest friend for their opinion. Notice what others wear that you like and what you are wearing when you receive complements. Keep a picture file of your preferred styles collected from catalogs and magazines. As you browse the patterns, you will be looking for patterns that have similar shapes and styles as those kept in you picture file.

As you examine your picture file, take into account several different factors including, color, shape, and proportion. Proportions are measured with your head (top to chin), with the average woman’s total height being about 7 head lengths. However, if you measure the proportions of most models, you find their height equals about 8 or 9 head lengths. Notice how your proportions differ (including width), and how this might affect the overall look. Sometimes I find it helps to do a rough sketch (and I do mean rough as I am not an artist), but your goal is to get a feel for what your proposed garment might look like on your body. You can even trace the sketches from the pattern envelope onto a sketch of a person with your personal stature. Once you get a feel for what looks good on you, this process becomes much easier and faster as you can easily eliminate what you know won’t work.

Know thyself is the first maxim, and remember that this process does involve some experimenting and of course, making mistakes. It is also important to select the correct pattern size.

Thread Care

Thread has always been an important component of home sewing, but until relatively recently home sewers have had only a limited selection to choose from. The availability of more manufactured and natural fiber types, and the surge in home embroidery machine sales, has created the need for stitchers to create a variety of “thread stashes” — spools for embroidery, for heirloom stitching, for serging, for embellishment, for garment sewing. etc.

Take proper care to prolong the usefulness of your thread collection. The following storage guidelines will help you care for your thread in the best possible way:

  • Optimum temperature for thread storage is 68 degrees F.
  • Humidity of the storage area should not exceed 65%.
  • Thread should not be stored in direct sunlight or near a direct heat source, as even colorfast thread can weaken under these conditions.
  • Thread should be used in a timely manner; if stored for a long period of time, it can lose its strength. Very old thread should be discarded and replaced. If you can’t bear to part with Grandmother’s old wooden spools, display them in a Mason jar or antique bowl where you can enjoy them — just don’t use them!
  • Natural fiber threads such as cotton, rayon, and linen will disintegrate more rapidly than synthetic fibers such as polyester, nylon, and acrylic.
  • Sort thread by fiber content and weight to make it easy to organize what is needed for your current projects. Keep each type in a separate clear plastic bag or drawer.
  • Store “slippery” thread, such as rayon, upright with a thread net (or Amazing Tape) slipped over it to keep the thread from becoming entangled with other spools.
  • Keep in mind that “bargain” thread is usually not a bargain, and that even with the best storage conditions, inferior thread will not produce good results.


Sewing Machine Needle Quality

The Bernina factory recently conducted a test of needle performance using different needle brands in sewing and embroidery. The top performers are as follows:


  1. Bachmann
  2. Schmetz
  3. Organ Embroidery

Machine Embroidery

  1. Organ
  2. Bachmann
  3. Schmetz

The conclusions by the testers were that Bachmann was the best for sewing and Organ was the best for embroidery. So where are the Bernina sewing machine needles you know and love? Well, Bachmann makes Bernina brand needles!

Sewing Machine Tips

Thread Near Handwheel
Don’t let thread dangle close to the handwheel. It can become caught on the wheel and get sucked into the motor. Keep extra spools wrapped or away from that side of the machine.

Removing Lint
It’s very important to keep an eye out for lint build-up in your machine and remove it. We can’t say it any better than Lyn Lackey in “10 Ways to Love Your Machine”:

Brush It Off
Along with oiling, it is important to keep the machine as free of lint as possible. Refer to your manual for instructions on removing the needle plate to clean lint from the feed dogs, under the needle plate, and in the shuttle area of the bobbin. A make-up brush or a soft brush from the hardware store works well for this. Do not use”canned air” to clean your machine as this may push debris further into the machine.

If you’ve lost or worn out the lint brush that came with your machine, we carry replacements for a minimal cost. And don’t ignore Lyn’s warning about canned air as it really can force the lint somewhere it shouldn’t be, especially if your machine is computerized. A vacuum may be of some help if your lint brush doesn’t do the trick. If all else fails, bring it in for a checkup.

Oiling Sewing Machine
Don’t Feed Your Machine, Oil It!
Once Celia was servicing a machine and found the inside chock full of Chex Mix, raisins, and marshmallows!* Hey! Our sewing machines are our friends. So, even if they beg, please don’t feed them—just oil them with sewing machine oil. So, we’re sharing some good advice from Lyn Lackey about how to oil your machine properly in her “10 Ways to Love Your Machine”.

Keep your machine well oiled. Oil it every 8-10 hours of actual sewing or once a month or when you are sewing after your machine has not been used for a few months. Refer to your machine manual in order to know where to oil and be sure not to over oil. After oiling, sew a few stitches on a small swatch of fabric to absorb any excess before beginning your project.

Older machines need oil in several places as outlined in your manual. The newer machines only need oil on the hook race. If you’ve lost your manual, don’t be embarrassed—just call us and ask. Make sure you know where to oil your machine and do it faithfully—or you’ll be seeing us sooner than you want!

*In all fairness, this incident involved a machine in a high school classroom. Go figure, somebody there didn’t want to sew!

Storing Your Machine
If You’re Comfortable, Your Machine’s Comfortable!
Be sure to take care of your machine while you’re not using it just as well as when you are. Your sewing machine is most comfortable in the same environment that you are. Here is what Lyn Lackey has to say in Bernina’s “10 Ways to Love Your Machine”:

Storage Savvy
Avoid exposing your sewing machine to extreme temperatures. Do not store it in a room that is cold, hot, or humid. Never keep in a damp basement or an overheated attic. Cover your machine when not in use to keep dust and lint to a minimum.

Also, give your machine a break when you’re not using it and unplug it. This will keep it from getting fried from an electrical surge during a thunderstorm. In addition, as with all electrical devices, keeping them unplugged while not in use prevents odd mishaps from occurring. For instance, someone may trip over the power cord, your toddler may find pushing that small gadget (foot control) on the floor very interesting, or you might discover that you left your machine on while on a 2-week cruise and the light bulb burned out.

Surge Protection
Both under and over voltages are very hard on electronic circuits and can do some serious damage to your machine. Most surge protectors protect well against over voltages but very few also protect against under voltages. For computers, you usually use a UPS, or uninteruptable power source for this additional protection. A UPS has a battery to provide the extra voltage needed during a serious low voltage event. It also gives you warning and time to shut down your computer if the power goes off completely so that you don’t lose any data.

With your sewing machine, however, you aren’t at risk of losing the last two hours of the great American novel you’ve been writing to your friends. Simply turning your sewing machine off before a power outage or serious under voltage occurs is sufficient. So how do you anticipate this in time? Just plug your precious sewing machine into a high quality surge protector like the Tower Max 4 Tel that we carry. It not only prevents surges from getting to your machine, but it also shuts off the power to your machine in the event of a power outage or under voltage—effectively turning it off for you in the nick of time!

*This tech tip only applies to those with electronic or computerized sewing machines, embroidery machines, or sergers. You may prefer a UPS (uninteruptible power source) instead of a surge protector for embroidery machines so that you have time to save where you are stitching out a design before shutting down.

Bernina Warranty
Protect Your Investment
Only have your Bernina serviced by an authorized Bernina dealer. Service provided by unauthorized repair technicians voids your warranty. If you’re thinking that your machine is out of warranty, you may be mistaken. Bernina has very generous warranties on all its machines:

  • 2 year warranty on electrical
  • 5 year warranty on boards
  • 20 year warranty on parts (wow!)

Bernina requires regular training to keep techs up to date on all the new machines. We’re proud to be your authorized Bernina dealer!