June 24, 2024

When I'm teaching a class of new free-motion quilters, the question of what size  type of needle sometimes comes up. I'm always surprised at how few people actually understand the basics of needles and thread. So, this series of blog posts is a tutorial on the basics of choosing needles and thread for free-motion quilting.

To be clear, when you're starting out, this is NOT the time to get into the nitty-gritty of all the different types of needles and thread. The best answer at the beginning of the learning process is simple: Use what you already know works well on your machine.  In other words, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"

Beyond this, the second thing you need to know is that needle size is determined by thread size. 

The thing to know about needle size is simple: match the size of the needle to the thread size.The reason for this is that the needle has a groove down the front of the shaft, and the purpose of that groove is to let the thread sink back into it while the needle goes through the bobbin race. This protects the thread from chafing on the bobbin assembly, which would cause it to shred. 

That groove on the needle needs to be big enough for the thread to tuck back into it. If the thread is too large for the groove, it will bulge out and wear through.

A lot of people don't give much thought to thread size. They just buy what's on the shelf. But understanding a few basics about thread size will make your whole sewing life a little easier.

A "standard" size thread is 50-weight. A 50-weight thread can have 2 plies -- 50/2 (Aurifil or Superior's Masterpiece are examples of this) -- or 3 plies -- 50/3 (Gutermann and Mettler are examples of this). Obviously, the 50/3 thread will be a bit heavier than the 50/2 thread.

Typicaly the best needle size for a 50-weight thread is an 80/12. Sometimes a 50/3-weight thread might do better with a 90/14 needle. Test and see which works better for you.

With thread, the bigger the number, the finer the thread. So, if you're using a 60- or 70-weight thread, a 75/11 needle is probably the right choice. For 100-weight silk or polyester thread, a 70/10 will probably be your best choice.

Coming next time: Part 2: Why the type of needle matters.

Happy Quilting! ~ RaNae
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