Beginning Quilting

Things I Wish I Knew – Needles

January 13, 2024


Continuing our series about “things I wish I knew” when I got started longarm quilting. Last week was loading the frame. This week I’ll share 4 things to know about needles.

1. Needle System

The most important piece of information to know, is which needle system your machine uses. All Handi Quilter longarm machines use the needle system 134. A needle system defines the dimensions of a needle to suit the machine type. Depending on the machine and its stitch type, the needle is designed with variations in length, shank thickness, type of eye, length from tip to eye, etc. It is best to purchase needles either from Handi Quilter or an authorized Handi Quilter retailer. That way you are sure to get the right needles for your machine.

2. Parts of a needle

Here is a diagram of the parts of a machine needle from Wikipedia:

This is a domestic sewing machine needle. Our longarm needles do not have the flat side on the shank. The shank is perfectly round.

Why round shanks?

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! So the shaft is round. That makes it more of a challenge to get the needle in properly.

The 3 parts you need to know

All you need to know to make sure your needle is in correctly 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 already a third of 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.

3. How to put the needle in

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.  If needed, 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, at the top, where the needle goes in and you can see when the needle is all the way to the top. Tighten the thumb screw securely, but do not over tighten. It is possible to strip the threads on the screw, so finger tighten, then if needed, give it a tiny tweak with the hex tool.

4. When to change the 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 and/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. So make it a point (haha, get it? point?) to change your needle each time you start a new quilt.


Four more bits of information about needles coming next week. Be sure to click in and read!

Quilt Every Day!

by Mary Beth Krapil




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January 13th, 2024

Continuing our series about “things I wish I knew” when I got started longarm quilting. Last week was loading the frame. This week I’ll share 4 things to know about […]

10 responses to “Things I Wish I Knew – Needles”

  1. I wish you would give info about different needle types, eg ballpoint, etc and when to select them and also cover thread weight determines needle size, fabric determines needle type (at least I think that’s correct!)

    • Hi Liz, If you take a look at this blog post by Schmetz Needles It has photos of a dull needle as seen under a microscope. When you see the blunt end and burr on the needle, think about the increased effort needed to push through the 3 layers using a needle like this. Yes, the increase in effort is miniscule, but with the millions of stitches we expect from our machines, it all adds up. Also, depending on how tight your timing is set, burrs can cause damage to the hook with rubbing and friction.
      I find I get the best results with a R (regular sharp) needle when quilting with batiks. As always, test with your own combo of fabrics and batting to see what works best for you.

    • Lynn, it depends on the look you want for the back of the quilt. You can use a blending solid color thread. Or you can go with the same variegated. Using the variegated means you’ll have to have a good tension. As the stitch forms, multiple color combos of top and bottom thread will be happening.

  2. Thank you! Since you are so experienced, I will just wait for your new topics. I really appreciate you reviewing/teaching this topic here because it is easier to find in a blog and save a copy vs. scanning through videos.

    • Hi Shari! Thanks for your kind words. You can sign up for the Handi Quilter newsletter where you;ll find a link to the blog each week. Go to and scroll down to the bottom. On the left you’ll see “Contact and Connect” Enter your email address and click the subscribe button.

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