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Using the wrong needles when sewing knits can result in skipped stitches and even holes in the fabric if one is unlucky. Hence why I recommend that you use needles that are made especially for knit fabrics, especially if you work with Spandex/Lycra and delicate knit fabrics.
In general, a ballpoint needle is recommended for knits, but did you know that a universal needle also has a, albeit smaller, ballpoint tip? So let’s start by sorting out that confusion.
Ballpoint needles for knits
They have a rounded point that pushes the fibres aside instead of piercing holes in the fabric, which makes them great for knit fabrics. The needle has a medium ballpoint tip and works for most knit fabrics, and can also help prevent skipped stitches and snags. They are usually labelled as ballpoint, overlock or jersey needles.
Universal needles usually have a slight ballpoint tip, which is why these needles also can work for stitching knit fabrics, but they are not optimised for knits like true ballpoint stretch needles.
Picking the right needle size for sewing knits
On lighter knits, a size 70/10 or even 75/11 is a great choice. Size 80/12 will also work on most knits, so it’s a good standard size to have in your collection too. Size 90/14 is best when sewing over bulky seams on thicker knit fabrics. On my coverstitch machine I often have to switch to 90/14 when stitching over bulky layers to avoid skipped stitches, and seldom have problems with holes that won’t heal. But always test on a scrap first to make sure your fabric can handle a larger needle
Important note about sizes: Machines are often be optimised of a certain size range, so check that and don’t go outside that range to be on the safe side.
Which are the best stretch needle brands?
I like, use and trust the Schmetz/Euro Needles and Organ brand the most (Amazon affiliate links). But I’m sure there are more good brands out there, so please share your recommendations in the comment section!
Best needles when sewing knits on a sewing machine
I’d say in most cases a regular ballpoint will serve you great. They are usually labelled overlock, stretch or jersey needles. If you are sewing a lot of Lycra fabrics (swimwear, activewear etc) I recommend using a ballpoint needle optimized for those fabrics (often labelled something like “stretch” or “super stretch”). If you are unsure on what to pick, check the needle company website for guides on picking the right needle.
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Best needles when sewing knits on a serger
Check the manual for your model, it should be stated there. Otherwise, check with the seller or lock at the machine brand website. Some will be optimised for the ELX-system, and other for domestic needles. If the machine is an industrial, you should probably use industrial needles. As for type, a ballpoint is great, but I personally find that a universal needle often works fine too on a serger when sewing knits. It’s not as finicky as a sewing machine or a coverstitch machine in my experience.
Best needles for sewing knits on a coverstitch machine?
Again follow the recommendations from the manufacturer. In general, a ballpoint performs better than a universal when coverstitching knits and all needle systems offer both.
If your machine uses ELX, I highly recommend the SUK overlock needles from Schmetz (Amazon affiliate link).
A primer to needle systems
There are basically three different systems for sewing machine needles and it’s important that you check the manual on your machine to see which system that should be
Sewing machine needles
Common domestic sewing machine systems are 130/705H, 15×1, and HAX1. Normally, these can be used interchangeably and the codes are just brand variations for the same needle type.
There are several needle systems for sergers, including Elx705 and DCX1 and DBX1. Serger needles are generally more durable and usually have grooves on both the front and back of the needle. This helps reduce skipped stitches and facilitates the formation of chainstitches, such as coverstitch stitches.
Important note about serger needles: Some sergers and coverstitch machines use regular sewing machine needles and not the serger system, hence why you need to check what the manufacturer recommends!
If you own or are considering buying an industrial machine, you need to use an industrial needle system. Most domestic needle brands also make needles for industrial machines. Common coverstitch needle systems are TVx3SES and UYX128GAS.
“I read in a Facebook group that one should use the XYZ-system needles for my machine instead of what the manufacturer recommends. Should I follow that advice?”
The simple answer is no. Sewing machine manufactures optimises their machines for a particular needle system. Hence why you shouldn’t use industrial needles on a domestic sewing machine or use regular sewing machine needles on a machine that is configured for the ELX-system. In the worst case, you might damage the machine! I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule, but why risk it? (Added: For a different point of view, check out Nancy K’s comment below, she gives some great insight into her experimentation with using different needles than the manufacturer recommends).
Bonus tip for needle success
It’s crucial that the needles sit all the way up in the needle clamp before you tighten the screws. Otherwise, you will end up with skipped and uneven stitches, or even worse having the needle drop and get caught in the feed dogs!
So push the needle up as far as possible into the needle clamp. Make sure the screw is loose enough while inserting the needle. Then tighten the needle clamp screw. Make sure the needle stays put and doesn’t drop slightly.
So this was my guide to needles for sewing knit fabrics, I hope you found this needle info useful! I think we don’t talk about the role the needle play in the overall sewing success, and why it’s so important to make an informed choice. Plus never skimp on quality, the difference between bad and good needle brands is huge!
Are you curious to learn more about needles and the role they play when sewing with knits? Check out my book Sewing Activewear and my upcoming book Master the Coverstitch Machine (which has an entire chapter dedicated to needles, because it such an important topic methinks!).