Photo Credit: Courtesy of C.H. Holderby Co.
Recently I have been getting enquiries about troubleshooting with regards to machine-stitching, so I thought this may be a good opportunity to discuss creating the perfect stitch.
Sewing-machine manufacturers want their machines to consistently produce a perfect stitch. Machine needles are the most changeable part of your sewing machine and they can control how your machine performs stitches. Understanding how the sewing machine needle contributes to the assembly process will help you choose the correct size for the fabric and thread you are using. Its configuration is engineered to manage thread and fabric to reduce the likelihood of skipped or flawed stitches. When constructing the perfect stitch, select the needle type by the task at hand. Each needle type produces a stitch by using a uniquely designed groove, scarf, eye, and/or point to enable the needle and bobbin hook to meet perfectly (see the diagram below). How smoothly the thread draws though the needle’s eye is also a factor in producing even, regular stitches. Thread should pass easily through eye of needle, so if you have trouble threading the needle and problems with the stitches, the thread and needle are not matched correctly. Lay your thread in the needle’s front groove; it should “snuggle” in.
The needle selection, its point and size, depends primarily on the characteristics of the fabric being used in the handbag construction, as well as the thread, seam type and stitch type.
The needle point is determined by the fabric weight and its structure.
Micro point needles have come to be with the invention of microfiber fabrics and coated materials. These are built with sharper points and more slender shafts to pierce the yarns of finer woven fabrics. Perfect to use with lightweight faux suede, neoprene, and other such synthetic microfibers, etc. Micro points will also work well on slick materials such as plastics, and will create nice even stitches for edgestitching.
Cutting points have sharp cutting edges; they are used to slice through the material such as natural leathers, suedes, and vinyls.
The needle size can be as small as 60 (0.6 mm) or as large as 250 (2.5 mm). The metric size (Nm) describes the diameter of the needle blade in hundredths of a millimetre. The needle size is determined by the the thread size (thickness).
If the needle is too fine, it will abrade the thread, bend, break, affect the loop formation, and cause skipped stitches. If it is too coarse, it will damage the fabric, produce an unattractive seam, cause the seam to pucker, affect the loop formation, and cause skipped stitches.
Generally the best choice is the smallest size that will accommodate the thread being used without skipping stitches.
Changing the machine needle is the first step to solving most sewing machine problems. Know about the choices there are in needles and solve your stitching problems faster than you ever dreamed possible!
(A) Ideal needle choice for most fabric handbag styles.
- Use: Sharp or Universal needle
- Medium to Heavy-weight Fabrics: 16/100 or 18/110
- Configuration: Has slightly rounded point and elongated scarf to enable almost fool-proof meeting of needle and bobbin hook.
- Troubleshooting: When fabric is not medium-weight woven, consider needle specifically suited to fabric. For example, size 18 universal needle works on heavy denim, but size 18 denim needle works better.
(B) Sewing microfiber, neoprene, synthetic leather; and precisely-stitched edges on plastic/vinyl fabrics.
- Use: Microtex needle
- Medium to Heavy-weight Fabrics: 16/100 or 18/110
- Configuration: Has an acute point.
- Troubleshooting: Essentially trouble-free, but fabric may require a roller, or even/dual-feed presser foot.
(C) Ideal for sewing natural leather, suede, buckskin
- Use: Leather needle / Wedge Point 14/90 or 16/100
- Configuration: Has slight cutting point (almost like an arrowhead).
- Troubleshooting: Use a longer stitch length to prevent perforation and heavy-duty synthetic thread to sew leather. On synthetic leather, unless it’s very heavy synthetic, cuts rather than pierces stitch hole and can tear leather. Most synthetic leathers require a Microtex or Sharps needle. A Teflon foot may help to prevent drag.
(D) For heavyweight upholstery fabrics, denim, duck, canvas, faux fur, artificial leather, and vinyl.
- Use: Denim (jeans) needle 16/100
- Configuration: Has deeper scarf, acute point, and modified shaft to sew without pushing fabric down into needle-plate hole. Goes through fabric and meets bobbin hook better on dense woven fabrics.
- Troubleshooting: If stitches skip when sewing very heavy fabrics, try larger needle and sew more slowly or use a even/dual-feed presser foot attachment, often known as a “walking foot”.
In the end, most sewers just want to get professional-looking results. Knowing more about needles brings you closer to that goal, since needle choice greatly affects your outcome. For every correctly chosen, new needle you put into your machine, you should have eight to 12 continuous hours of trouble-free sewing.