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.
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.
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.
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.
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