How to Choose a Needle for Free Motion Quilting


Needle Choices for Free Motion Quilting

 Are you confused about the myriad of needles available today?  Do you have a system for choosing your needle for each project?  Or, do you use whichever needle is already in your sewing machine?

If you are confused about needle selection, YOU ARE NOT ALONE!  Today, on Open Line Friday, we will begin our discussion of needles.  We are looking for everyone’s input on this important topic-so please tell us what works (and doesn’t work) for you!

Let’s start with two guidelines:

  1.  Choose the size of the needle by the weight of the thread  A general rule of thumb is 40 wt thread requires a size 75 needle.  If your thread is heavier (smaller number), increase your needle size (larger number)–and vice versa.
  2.  Choose the type of needle by the type of thread and the type of fabric.  Here is where things get a bit more complicated.

First–What type of thread are you using?  If it is a specialty thread of any kind, consider a Topstitch or Embroidery Needle-The both have larger eyes.

Second–Do you want a sharp point or a slightly rounded needle point.  A slightly rounded point allows the needle to stitch between the thread fibers, and doesn’t damage the fiber.  A sharp needle is necessary to penetrate fabrics with high thread counts such as batik, some hand dyed fabrics and fabrics that have any coated design on them–like white on white fabrics.  The downside .. this needle penetrates the fiber causing micro-tears to the textile.

The sharp needles:

  • Topstitch
  • Microtex

The slightly rounded needles: 

  • Universal
  • Embroidery
  • Quilting

Needle Choices for Free Motion Quilting

 My Choice for FMQ and Why

When I free motion quilt, I most frequently use Aurifil 50wt and Sulky 45 wt threads and I have found the Universal 80 to work quite well most of the time.  I like the rounded point of the Universal needle because it does not stitch through the fibers, but rather it  stitches between them.  That means the fibers are not damaged.  I also like the Universal needle because it is the least expensive.  (Though the needle is the least expensive part of any quilting project and we should not be penny-wise and pound-foolish!)

If I am stitching on tightly woven fabrics such as batik or hand dyed or if I am experiencing any problems, I switch to the Topstitch needle.

My two favorite needles are The Universal and The Topstitch (usually size 80).  

Needle Choices for Free Motion Quilting

We will be discussing a lot more about needles in the weeks ahead.  There is a great deal of information available on the web about needles and needle selection.  Schmetz Needles has a great deal of educational information available.  I particularly like their iPhone app which has a trouble shooting guide and a needle type guide--look for that on your smartphone.  Schmetz has a very succinct needle guide  PDF HERE.

Also, Superior Threads offers a great YouTube Video HERE--Thank you to Melody for bringing this to my attention.

Finally, we have a reader that is really struggling with monofilament thread and needles breaking–Can anyone recommend a monofilament thread--and does anyone have trouble with the thread breaking their needles?  I open this up to the group as I have little experience with this thread type.

What are YOUR favorite needles and WHY?  Do you have any needle tips you’d like to share?

Stitching safely,



52 thoughts on “How to Choose a Needle for Free Motion Quilting

  1. Thanks for the Schmetz app tip–I’ve already downloaded it! As for monofilament, use Aurifil. Works like a charm. I don’t remember using any specific needle w/ this–just whatever was in my machine. I’ve been using the Microtex 80/12 w/ Gutermann 50 wt 100% cotton for free-motion quilting. And I change the needle frequently, as recommended by everybody.

  2. I use the Schmetz “quilting” needles for most of my free-motion work because the scarf and groove are designed to protect the thread as it goes through 3 layers (not just 2 as in other sewing). I also use the “microtex/sharp” for batiks and “metallica” for metallic or “finicky” threads. I use the “topstitch”or “jeans” for heavier threads.

  3. If monofilament thread is invisible thread then Superior make some, one is clear and the other is smoky. I used it a lot for quilting in the ditch and it never breaks (that can’t be true but I don’t remember it breaking). The secret is in the fact that it is some kind of Superior polyester and not nylon. Lots of explanation on the Superior web site.

  4. After watching the video, I plan to try the 90/14 metallic needle with the 50 wt thread I bought a ton of and want to use up!

  5. I like to use either Superior or YLI for a monofilament. Good luck with both so far. I also lower the top tension a bit.

  6. I would recommend going to the Schmetz Needle site also. There is so much educational information, troubleshooting guide, needle charts, thread sizing guide. They will have new color coding on their needles early in 2014. They have a chart you can download in 8.5×11 or postcard size with the new color coding. I have the big one printer for my sewing room and the little one for my purse for when they make the change.

  7. When I quilt with MonoPoly (clear or smoke polyester from Superior Threads), I use So Fine thread (best to match threads as close in weight as possible if not using same top and bottom). I never use the MonoPoly in the bobbin and I dial WAAAY back on the top tension. I dial back so far…I get bobbin thread peeking thru..then I increase the tension a bit at a time until I get a stitch I’m happy with. Hearing about threads breaking leads me to think something is off with a tension. One time my invisible thread had wound itself ALL over the place!! Sneaky thread! I use long arm needles, so I’m off the grid for FMQ with a DSM.

  8. For my part, I am a HUGE Superior fan and only use their threads and longarm needles. I have a Baby Loc N’Joy machine (this is a HandiQuilter Sweet Sixteen but is marketed by Baby Loc in Europe). I use their needles on my domestic machine as well (Bernina 440).

  9. I wish the numbers on the threads and the numbers on the needles matched! I learned about Schmetz needles when I bought My new Janome Horizon in March. Thanks for sharing your know-how with us.

    • Does anyone use the Schmetz needles in their Janome 8900? I recently bought this machine and it was shredding my thread with the Serpentine stitch. I changed the needle and still did this. My local dealer told me it was due to using Schmetz needles and said they changed their needles and they are not as good. Now, my Janome 6600 I have uses the Schmetz without a problem… any input? Thanks

  10. It may be that the thread is old and nylon. Old nylon breaks. The newer polyester monofilament threads (Superior and others) do not break for me and they also don’t melt. Use a sharp or jeans needle in the machine, and do not “pull” the fabric. Also, check your tension. If you are using this to do surface applique, a “Bottom Line” or very thin thread (not monofilament) in the bobbin works well.

  11. My tried and true monofilament of choice is Superior MonoPoly. On my Bernina 440, I use it in both the needle AND the bobbin – top tension set at “0” and bobbin finger threaded. I use a Superior Titanium needle size 10, and I stitch slowly (no more than 1/3 speed). With this setup, I have never had a problem. No broken needles, no broken threads. (Previously, when I tried other brands of monofilament thread, I had no success and a lot of frustration!) I hope this helps!

    • I recently bought this thread at a reader’s suggestion–maybe yours? I can’t wait to give it a try I am going to order the Titanium needles. I keep hearing about them…

  12. Thanks for all the info!! I will try a quilting needle and also a topstitch needle for problems.

    What needle would you use on spandex or drifit lycra? (for a workout shirt) I think I bought needles that say Jersy.

    • You must use a ballpoint needle. I am sure a Jersey needle is ballpoint. If you use a “sharp” the needle will tear the fibers and cause runs in the lycra! You are so industrious to stitch workout gear!

  13. I loved reading everyone’s responses. But I have to ask, Lori, was this topic planned before your recent experience with a needle?? What went through your finger, sharp or rounded?
    Happy your finger is healing.

    • Thanks, Sis,
      I actually post-poned the post on needle selection from last Friday–in order to show the x-rays and “The Cautionary Tale”. I wasn’t ready to take a “stab” at needle selection until I was somewhat healed!

  14. I’ve been quilting a quilt using sulky’s monofilament, and a 90/14 titanium top stitch needle from superior. So fine in the bobbin. So far so good. With monofilament, you will want to loosen top tension a bit. Too tight tension can cause the monofilament to stretch, and that will cause breaks. Hope this helps!

  15. When using Superior threads monopoly ( THE best in the industry in my opinion) ,I often put the thread in a cup instead of on the thread spool. This allows the thread to reed smoother for some reason and fixed my breakage problem. I have also suggested this technique to several in my quilt guild and they have used it with success. Happy quilting!

  16. I was taught to thread the needle (while it was not on the machine) and tilt the thread at about a 45 degree angle (I think it was 45, but it might have been 60).

    If the needle slides down fairly quickly (but not too fast!) and at a constant speed, then you can use that size needle. Otherwise, you have to keep testing until you find one that works.

    Hard to describe, but I saw this demo’d in a class. I wish I remembered it more often when I choose my needles!

  17. Does anyone know anything about sewing jeans? I’m taking the plunge and shortening my new skinny jeans myself. Especially since the thread is as dark as the jean and not that gold color. What do any of you use to sew on denim, especially thick denim as in the hem? What kind of thread, and what kind of needle? Thank you anyone who responds.

    • Hi Claudia, When sewing jeans, you should definitely use a “Denim” needle. It is a sharp needle and is stronger than most needles. Also, you will probably need something to elevate the back of your presser foot as you approach the seam intersection–if you presser foot is angled, the stitch will not form properly. I have used upholstery thread for hemming jeans, or I double regular cotton thread. Use two spools of thread and thread both of them through the eye of your needle at the same time.

  18. I just got a Tiara. So far love this machine, can these needles you have been discussing be used on it or should I only use the kind that came with it?

  19. I’m a little slow at answering, but I love using monofilament when I only want the quilting to show, not the color, I use it in upper thread and bobbin, I loosen off the tension and I learned a really neat trick when threading because I was finding the monofilament would twist itself around the needle. When you go to thread the needle, do not put the thread through the last hook before the needle, which is usually just above the needle. Thread your needle, then put your thread into the thread hook, no twisting around the needle, which may be why you are breaking needles too.

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  22. Just found your website and am enjoying your tutes. Very informative. Learned a lot about needles in this one. Have pinned it to share.

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