You have chosen your design, fabric, stabilizer, and thread. Do you need to think about what needle to use? Yes! You do! Your needle is just as important as all other factors involved in stitching out an embroidery design.

What makes an embroidery machine needle different from your regular machine needle? The point of an embroidery needle is slightly rounded to go through fabrics and stabilizers easily. A ball point embroidery needle has the most rounded point, but all embroidery needles have some degree of a round point. Embroidery needles have a larger, longer eye and a longer scarf- the groove on the back of the needle. This is important because it puts less stress on your embroidery thread. If your thread is shredding and you changed to a new embroidery needle, maybe you need a size larger. 

Sometimes, a little trial and error is involved, but if you have re-threaded your machine, changed the needle, and still have a shredding issue, go to a larger needle.

Embroidery Machine Needle Sizes 101

Let's talk about embroidery needle sizes. The larger the number of machine needles, the bigger or heavier the needle. Choosing a needle size is usually based on the thread you plan to use. A 75/11 is a nice, fine needle for most machine embroidery needs and is the one I use almost exclusively for Juju designs. The '75' is the European needle measurement, and the '11' is the American equivalent. A 75/11 embroidery needle works great with 40-weight polyester or rayon embroidery threads and cotton fabrics. An 80/12 is heavier and can be used with 40-weight or 30-weight threads. 

Thread weight is the opposite of needle size. The higher the thread weight number, the finer the thread. A 90/14, or even larger 100/16, needle is used when embroidering with heavier specialty threads, like metallic or 12-weight threads. 

Topstitch and Jean Needles  

Topstitch needles have a large eye for thicker threads. Jeans needles also have a larger eye, but they have a longer point to penetrate heavier denim fabrics. Jeans needles are available in sizes up to 110/18, which is the largest sewing machine needle. You should consider using the heavier 100/16 or 110/18 when using a specialty/heavy thread or when your fabric needs a longer point. Materials that a heavier needle would work well on are heavy denim or ball caps made of a tightly woven twill.  
You will also find the needle point important when choosing a needle. Below is a photo of a topstitch needle on the left and a jeans needle on the right. While it is hard to see a difference in the points, the difference in the eye is quite evident. The larger eye in a Topstitch needle is definitely needed for the heavier, decorative embroidery threads.

What is the Difference Between a Ball Point Embroidery Needle and a Regular Embroidery Needle? 

The ball point embroidery needle has a more rounded point. Generally, you will choose your needle point based on the fabric you are using. An embroidery needle labeled as a ‘ball point needle’ is made for a specific purpose, to separate the fabric threads without cutting or piercing the fabric. You definitely want to use a ball point needle when embroidering on t-shirts, tricots, or any knit fabric. A 75/11 ballpoint needle is great for my grandkids' t-shirts.

Can you use a regular sewing machine needle on your embroidery machine? The short answer is 'yes,' with a small caveat. It will help the thread feed smoother if you go up to a size larger than your embroidery needle size. This is because the regular machine needle has a smaller eye, and you want extra room. For instance, I use a 75/11 embroidery needle, but if I run out of needles at a retreat, I know my machine will embroider nicely with an 80/12 sewing needle.

I hope I have helped you choose the right needle for your project. The most important factor in choosing needle size is your thread size. Secondly, the needle point is based on the fabric you have chosen. There are several specialty embroidery needles that you might also need. If you use a lot of spray adhesive or sticky stabilizers, you may want to try the anti-stick coated needles. Sharp embroidery needles are used in freestanding lace projects. The sharp point will keep the needle from overly perforating your wash-away stabilizer. Finally, don't be afraid to experiment with needles! Find the best combination for you and your project, and have fun!