All About Needles

June 1, 2019



I’ve been seeing a lot of chatter on social media lately about needles. How to choose the right one? How to choose the right size? How to insert them into your machine properly? I thought it a good time to explain all about needles.

The question I hear most often is:

How often should I change my needle?

A good rule of thumb is “every quilt deserves a new needle.” Needles are inexpensive compared to the damage a worn or bent needle can do to a quilt or to your machine. Not to mention the frustration and time suck of breaking thread, shredding thread, batting pokeys, poor tension, or skipped stitches because of a worn needle.

Why is the top (shaft) of the needle round on my longarm needle?

Longarm needles need to be super strong to withstand all the flexing that happens when we quilt. Think about it; you are moving that machine (or the fabric in the case of sit-down quilters) all the time, whether the needle is down in the quilt or up out of the quilt. On your domestic machine, the movement of the feed-dogs and the cycle of the needle are timed such that when the needle is up, the fabric moves. But when the needle is down, the fabric is stationary. Not so on a longarm machine. When the needle is down and you move the machine, the needle has to flex, so that it does not break. Flattening the side of the shaft slightly weakens the needle. We don’t want weak needles!


But that makes it hard to know I’ve got the needle in correctly!

All you need to know to make sure your needle is in right are three parts of a needle.  Let’s start with the eye. That’s the hole that the thread goes through. (I’m sure you knew that one. See you’re 1/3rd the way there!) Then there’s the groove. If you take a needle and look at it closely, you’ll see a long groove down one side. That’s the front of the needle. On the opposite side to the groove, you’ll see a scooped out part right above the eye. That’s called the scarf. The scarf is in the back.

Stand directly in front of your machine. Place the needle into your machine so that the scarf is in the back and the groove is in the front (facing you). The eye should be lined up so that you can see directly through it.  You can use a small pin placed through the eye of the needle and line it up so that the pin is pointing straight at you. Make sure you have pushed the needle all the way up. There is a sight hole where the needle goes in and you can see when the needle is all the way to the top. Tighten the thumb screw securely.


What kind of needle should I use?

First and foremost, be sure to purchase the correct needle system for your machine.  The easiest thing to do to ensure you’re getting the correct needle system is to simply purchase your needles from Handi Quilter or a Handi Quilter retailer. That way you can’t go wrong. If you purchase needles from another vendor, verify the needle system. All Handi Quilter longarm machines use needle system 134. You will find the number right on the front of the package.

Handi Quilter offers 3 different options.

Standard Needles

These needles have a sharp point which penetrates the layers effectively and should be used for most quilting. You will find the designation R on the package indicating sharp point.

Ball Point needles

These needles have a rounded or ball point. They can be used on knits like the plush fabrics that are popular for quilt backs or T-shirt quilts. If your T-shirts have a lot of coated images on them however, you may want to stick with sharps to penetrate the coating and avoid skipped stitches. The letters FG or FFG will be on ball point needle packages.

High-speed Needles

These needles have a different scarf configuration that makes them especially suited to high speed quilting. If you quilt fast and find that you break a lot of needles, switch to a high-speed needle and it may solve your problem. The designation for high-speed needles is MR on the package.

Broken needles

While we are talking about needles breaking….

It can happen for lots of reasons. When it does, make sure you find all the pieces of the broken needle. If a small piece is wedged in your bobbin race it can do a lot of expensive damage.

And dispose of broken or used needles safely. I use this small Tums container. It is just a bit taller than a needle and it has an easy flip top and a small opening to put the needles in.

Once it is full, I will tape it shut securely and toss it in the trash. It’s also a good place for bent or damaged pins.

You cannot un-bend a pin!

What about size? Does size matter?

On the front of the package in the upper right corner you will see the size.

The needles in the photo above are Needle system 134 MR, which means I can use them in my Handi Quilter longarms and they are High- Speed (MR). They are size 80/12.

Yes, size matters. You should match the needle size to the thread you are using. Superior Threads has a great Thread Reference Guide that will match the thread you are using to the right size needle.

The reason it matters, is that the groove (remember the groove, in the front) guides the thread to the eye and protects the thread as it passes through the layers of the quilt. Thread will pass through the sandwich multiple times before it forms a stitch.

The thread has to lie IN the groove in order for it to be protected. If the needle is too small for the thread, the groove cannot do its job and you will get shredding and breakage. When the needle is too big for the thread, the thread wobbles around in the groove and although is is protected, it is not guided straight to the eye and you will get poorly formed stitches.

Handi Quilter Needle sizes

Handi Quilter needles sizes are 80/12, 90/14, 100/16, 110/18, and 120/20. The bigger the number, the bigger the needle. We in the US usually refer to the second number when we talk about needle sizes. Size 16 and 18 will be the ones you use most often. Size 12 and 14 are for finer threads like 100 wt silk or 100 wt MicroQuilter thread.  20’s would be used for a thicker 12 wt thread. Check the size of your thread on the spool or cone label, then refer to the Thread Reference Guide. Pretty soon you’ll get to know your needle sizes without looking at the chart.

Any other questions?


by Mary Beth Krapil



Written by

June 1st, 2019

  I’ve been seeing a lot of chatter on social media lately about needles. How to choose the right one? How to choose the right size? How to insert them into your machine properly? I thought it a good time to explain all about needles. The question I hear most often is: How often should […]

32 responses to “All About Needles”

  1. This is very helpful information.. I’m going to pass it along to my Longarm Club as we have had many discussions regarding this topic. Thanks so much Handi Quilter and Mary Beth for always providing good information for us new quilters

  2. Great information and thank you for sharing. I’d love to see close-up pictures of the scarf, groove and eye.

  3. Thank you so much for this mail. It helped me a lot to understand why my thread was breaking so often!!!

  4. OMG Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! For 3 years I have been looking for an explanation of the hieroglyphics on the needle package as well as a better understanding of my quilting machine’s needles. This.was the best.

  5. Thank you! Very well worded. Great useful information. Really appreciate your efforts!

  6. As a beginning longarm this is very helpful. I have a HQ 16 that I bought used. It came with 1 needle. My thread is King Tut size 14. Does that mean I should use a 14 needle? Thank you!

    • Hello Mary, So glad the post was helpful to you. For King Tut thread the recommended longarm needle is a size 16.

  7. I am about to quilt my first quilt made of batiks, would a ball point be a good choice or stay with a sharp needle. Have read both suggestions on long arm quilting sites. Thanks.

  8. I read somewhere that you should only go up/down one needle size from factory recommended needle size. (for your machine) Something to do with the timing on your machine. Is this true?
    Thank you

    • Hi Anita, The reasoning for that statement is that machines are timed for the most often used needle size. But there is some tolerance and you can use any of the needle sizes Handi Quilter sells (12,14,16,18,20) safely.

    • Hi Pamela, You will always match your needle size to your thread. Sometimes, with tightly woven batiks, you can get shredding with the usual size needle. If that happens then go up a size.

  9. Great information in this article. I like how Superior Threads has a guide to needle size but I have not found that same info on Signature thread. I have a cone of Signature which says Tex 40 on the inside. I’m thinking this means 40 weight which I should use an 18 needle. Do u have any experience with Signature thread. Prior to this I have only used Superior.

    • Weight and TEX are different designations.You may want to contact the company that makes Signature to ask what needle they recommend.

  10. Hi, great information. Even with new needles at the size on the chart, my thread is shredding a lot. Is there someplace else I should look that could be shredding my thread?

    • Hi Brenda, First make sure you are using good quality thread. Poor quality thread can cause all kinds of issues like shredding. Then check the entire thread path from the spool or cone all the way to the needle. Check for burrs anywhere the thread contacts parts of the machine. You can do that using an old nylon stocking. Rub it over the area and see if it catches. If you do find a burr, you can buff it with emory cloth to smooth it out.

  11. I would love to see a chart telling me what size of needle to use with what thread. This information is good!

  12. Great info!

    I’ll pass along the link to this article to those who ask us questions about needles during our batting lectures.

    Thank you for mentioning the possibility of bearding (batting poking through the fabric) if the incorrect needle is used. We share that info during our batting lectures, and find most are surprised at the fact that this can be caused by using an incorrect (or dull or burred) needle.

    Needles and thread choices are just as important as which batting one uses – they can make or break a quilt and they can impact your quilting experience, either enhancing it or making it frustrating,

    Again, great info!


  13. Based on the Superior Threads article on thread weight found here: https://www.superiorthreads.com/education/thread-weight, it is possible to convert TEX to Weight. According to the link, Weight is the number of kilometers of thread that weighs 1 kilogram. TEX, on the other hand, is the number of grams that 1000 meters (1 kilometer) weighs. So to convert from TEX to Weight, Invert the TEX number and multiply the result by 1000. A TEX of 40 is (1/40) * 1000 or 25 wt. Conversely, to convert Weight to TEX, do the same thing. So a 100 wt. thread would be (1/100) * 1000 for a TEX of 10.
    A similar calculation can be made between Denier and Weight or TEX, again based on the article.

  14. Can I use MR needles on my Avante? I was told they are for bigger machines, like Gammill, Nolting, etc.

    • Hi Kathy, Yes you can use MR needles in your Avante as long as they are needle system 134.

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