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Embroidery Tips & Techniques

Needle, Needle, What Size Needle?

I’m the first to admit, I sometime (ok, too often!) skim over the recommendations for proper sewing and embroidery.  You know, like changing the stitch length when sewing specific fabrics. Or choosing the right needle for the job. And yes, I’m often (too often!), disappointed in my initial results. My personality profile is I’m a starter; I like to jump right into a project without reading directions (good thing, cause the directions don’t often exist until I write them). But even when designing and creating an entirely new project, there are steps that I could take that would ensure success. And eliminate some frustration on my part.  You know, it’s hard to change your personality. It’s just my first instinct to jump in and get going. When in reality, I should, ahem, exhale, evaluate, gather the necessary supplies and then start.

Those lessons were reinforced this summer when I was making the wedding dress. If you remember, I couldn’t drive during that time, so my fabric trips were scarce and I really had to have my supply list complete.  Also, satin and rayon were not fabrics that I typically worked with in my sewing room.  So I did my research and made a list, and another list and another list. You know, I was laid up for six weeks, there was lots of list making!

The smartest addition I made to my sewing room during that time was Schmetz’s Needle Chart. At a glance, it told me what needles I needed for the massive (I mean, memorable) project and, once secured and lightly used, the chart told me what needle I was holding in my hand.  Its colorful rainbow is a welcome addition to an unused shelf in my studio.

Unused shelf? You’re astonished, I’m sure! But remember, my Stitching Sister Marie Zinno purged my sewing room a couple of years ago and I’m proud to say, it still looks that way! Back to the needle chart: it also happens to be the last thing I see when I walk out of my studio – a great reminder when I’m need of a new pack of needles.

The wedding dress required three types of needles: Stretch for the satin (it had 10% Lcyra), Microtex for the Bemberg rayon lining and Embroidery for the embroidered ribbon and label. Eileen's Machine Embroidery Blog

Since I worked on the fabrics at different times, it was easy to switch them out. That’s when the color coding really helped! Needl2BL

You can download the chart for your sewing room.  Just click here and scroll down the page a bit to locate the chart.  The arrow in the illustration below is pointing to the download link – you have two sizes to choose from – one for your sewing room and one for your handbag. SchmetzBL


Here’s your assignment this week:

Schmetz needles are available at retailers nationwide. Whenever I’m in my local sewing machine dealer, I make sure I pick up a new pack of needles.  I’m building my stash so that I’m prepared for future projects. How about you? Do you have trouble planning properly? Do you jump right in and then regret it later? Or do you approach projects with caution and prepare accordingly?

Leave a comment and one lucky winner will win a SCHMETZ Sew Essential Combo Pack.  That’s three packs of SCHMETZ Embroidery needles with the ever popular Grabbit® Magnetic Pincushion and the free SCHMETZ Info card.  $24.95 US Retail.Eileen's Machine Embroidery Blog


The winner of the last assignment answered the following question:

Have you ever felt a moment of relief like this? Leave us a comment telling us how you celebrated a big accomplishment and one of you will be randomly selected to win a $20 gift card to Designs in Machine Embroidery!

The winner is:  

Darlene Bares: “I have a problem saying no. So when someone asks me to do something whether its sewing or an embroidery project. I’m burning daylight because most of the time it’s last minute. I just enjoy the feeling of accomplishment and seeing their faces when its done. That’s enough for me.”




  • Linda Pratt

    I do approach projects with caution……way too much caution! Bought a purse pattern 1 year ago and have pondered how to get started…..finally tackled it and finished. I am very organized, but I love love love the needle idea ! It would really help on my machine embroidery !

  • Kelly Wyatt

    It depends on the project, sometimes I jump right in and sometimes I actually plan every thing out. Needless to say, when I plan I usually have fewer surprises to deal with.

  • Earlia Derringer

    This does relate to needles, when I take a used or broken needle out of my machine, I use an old medicine bottle to put them in for proper disposal so no one gets poked. Earlia Derringer

  • Sara Redner

    I usually jump right in too. I am learning if the embroidery design didn’t come from Embroidery Library, it is wise to do a practice stitch-out first! And I often use the needle in the machine without checking to be sure it is the right needle for the job!

  • sherri

    I would rather jump in and hope for the best. I do try and put the correct needle in but……that sometimes is questionable

  • Kay P

    My sewing confession is that I’m also terrible about not switching my needle to a new one with each project! When I do remember to behave, I store the needle in a medicine bottle and the use it to hang pictures in my home. The needle doesn’t make as large a hole as a nail and the shank is the perfect size for hanging pictures on it.

  • Tamra Botkin

    When I finally get to sew I am in a hurry! I am trying to not be hasty anymore because of all the mistakes and wasted sewing time. I want to be relaxed in my play time!! I do try to do tests with the fabric, thread and needle I think I need.

  • Holly

    Me, I jump right in and plan mostly as I go along. Having a good sized stash helps. 🙂 New needles are a MUST for starting any project I sew, whether it’s a mug rug, a queen sized quilt, or a complete medieval costume.

  • Chris

    I do a bit of both. Some projects are planned out to the nth degree and then others I just jump in and wing it.

  • Chris W

    I tend to skim through the directions and then I jump right in.

  • Cindy Amend

    i am ashamed to say, many times I become paralyzed trying to get started. I think awhile and then dig in after a moment of prayer.

    • eileenroche

      Pray has helped me get over sewing hurdles too!

  • Susan Hensel

    Oh my goodness! as an artist, I am such a process person! I collect tools, equipment and techniques. With the best of intentions, I begin following directions…test things out and all that. But, invariably, somewhere along the line the test-sew gives me an idea that I must digitize and try out NOW! sometimes it pays off. Sometimes it joins my box of “failures” that, little by little, find their way into other artwork.

  • Belinda germain

    I live 35 miles from the nearest sewing shop, so I have to plan things ahead of making things. However, if I do not have all I need for one project, I usually have many other projects I can work on, or finish some of those UFOs!

  • Mitzi Barker

    I like to line up all of my “gear” before tackling the project – needles, threads, extra bobbins, snips – so that once I jump into the project I can enjoy the best results, and not get bogged down by skipped stitches or tangled threads.

  • Fran C

    I tend to be a nudge. I have to have everything needed before I start a project and then I start and my needle breaks because I forget to change it!

  • Lee Officer

    I am a little of both, mostly jump right in, and as I am now learning more and the first thing would be to do more planning and test my designs, I’m getting older OMG and smarter. I do however, have a very good stash of needles and have never known how long to sew before you put in another, so I take them out early, so I’m probably wasting needles doing that. New Blog Discussion maybe would be how long we should sew on a needles? Love your Blog and Mag. Lee in Ocala, FL

  • Carol Keeler

    Like many of the others there are times when I am confident and just jump right in with the idea they are still making thread and fabric so go right ahead and learn something (this line of thinking is only if inexpensive fabrics and items are used in the project).
    Than there is the other me. I read the directions over and over again and plan my fabrics very carefully and listen to vdeos and read things on line making many more notations.
    I do try to watch my needle selections carefully!
    I love to try new things all the time. My way of trying to keep my mind sharp and life intresting!

  • Janie Mason

    I do a little of both. I will follow directions the first time hen make changes the second time around.

  • Paula Hendrickson

    I’m kinda a mixed bag, I want to get in and get things done, but I become frustrated very easily when things go not according to plan. So I try to do my research a head of time, sometimes this works and other times I just jump in with both feet and sometimes I forget to even hold my breath lol

  • Diane Osment Graham

    First of all, I only use Schmetz needles. I’m a just jump in and go person too. Sometimes I have to really stop and think when was the last time I changed my needle. I preach to our customers to change the needle after 8 hours of sewing, but then I will go months without changing my own. I have a stock pile of needles. Just about anytime I find them on sale, I’ll pick up a couple packs. I also have them stored in a small fishing lure box. This really makes it nice for when I do change a needle. Each type has it’s own little compartment. Universal, top stitch, denim, metallic, stretch, twin needles and even wing needles. I to have a print out from Schmetz regarding their needles and specific uses. Mine are not like the one you showed, but I will be printing both of those off. As soon as I get this little comment completed.

    I also want to say Thank you for the wonderful articles you put out. They are very helpful.

  • Bernadette

    I like to think I’ve read everything, and end up some times missing a crucial piece of information! Typically, there’s a way to save the project, but there’s been complete duds. Once in awhile, there are ‘happy accidents’ that result in a cool, slightly different version of what I started on!

  • Linda

    Usually read directions until I feel I understand them. Unfortunately, I just relied on my memory and cut before double checking! Now I’m having to use creative thinking to salvage the project!

  • Barbara

    When I learned to sew as a kid, you just set up the machine and wound a bobbin to match. We never thought about the needle unless it broke. (How much mileage do you think was on those needles?) It is hard for me to remember to change the needle. Now you tell me that there are special needles for each thing?

  • J K

    A year or so ago I decided to begin sewing and machine embroidering.
    I have been attending classes live and online, reading extensively, collecting fabric, notions and other needed items.
    Alas I have spent a lot more time studying than I have sewing.
    I do have a beginning collection of machine needles. The variety of sizes and brands mystify me.
    Thank you so much for posting this link! Hopefully the table will bring some clarity.

  • Karen Poole

    A great way to make sure you put in a new needle for your project is to actually remove the needle from your machine when you are finished with your project. That way even if you DO try to “dive right in” you CANT do any sewing until you install a needle!!! So that way, it’s an automatic reminder to get the proper needle in your machine for your new project!! It’s a good method that has worked for me!

  • Sharon R

    I tend to over-plan upcoming projects, but once I start, I find myself rushing through the steps. This has resulted in more than one rip-out and re sewn seam.

  • Karen Poole

    Oh I forgot to add that I have a chart from Schmetz in three different and prominent places in my sewing areas! One is on the bull item board next to my computer- so it reminds me when I’m getting my embroidery designs, one is on the wall just next to the light switch in my sewing room, and the third is on a bull item board that is directly across from the door to my sewing room. That is the first thing I see entering or leaving the room!!

  • Ellen

    I prepare and think about a project for awhile, but then I jump right in and improvise when I can’t find what I want, know I have, but can’t find. And I roll right along and sometimes, forget a step and then have to rip. I need to stop and think before each step, not just at the start of a project.

  • Maga

    I used to be a jump-in person but now I’ve (almost) taught myself to be a slow sewer and I’ve found that I enjoy the process much more when I have all the materials to hand and have researched the techniques possible for the project.
    I’ve a vaste collection of machine needles because you never know what will work best for the fabric and the thread you’ve chosen. I recently out found that an embroidery needle was the best solution for problems I had when trying to sew a knit fabric.

  • Joyce Collins

    I’m alittle of one & more of another….ha…..Before I got my embroidery machine I started reading about everything to do with embroidery…started buying supplies…everything I thought I would need…reading all kinds of tips…so excited. Once I got my machine…couldn’t wait to start…so bought designs online…figured out how to download them….then started test embroidering them….which I keep in my designs file….then just jumped into “All in the Hoop” purses, embroidering on my clothes, making gifts…..almost all of them turned out perfectly for me. Every day I couldn’t wait to start in again….. I only went back to read instructions if something messed up & I usually saved them somehow. I always think whatever I make will turn out & thank goodness they usually do or I can creatively make it work…..I usually don’t change needles unless I’m using metallic thread then I use the Schmetz Metallic Needle….or one breaks or if I have any kind of problem with the thread….I first change the needle, check the bobbin then the top thread……Learning how to make my machine go back stitches to redo an area has helped me not panic when I do have a problem with needles or thread……I have all sorts of Schmetz because I use them with my Pfaff sewing machine & have for years & years….they’re fantastic needles…I’m never without them. I just found your Blog & I’m looking forward to following you. I love reading all about sewing & machine embroidery & all the supplies & new ways to do things…..Machine embroidery has opened up a whole new exciting world for me…..I’m looking forward to learning all the wonderful information & tips on this new venture. Thank you so much. Joyce

    • eileenroche

      Glad you found us, Joyce!

  • Janet Rettig

    Oh I am a jumper for sure. But I am working on doing better and trying to plan. I have wasted to much material and supplies jumping. So I am getting better.

  • Sarah

    Your supposed to change your needle????? LOL I do…just not as often as I probably should! Reading directions is the same…I’d much rather wing it and pray for the best! I’ll be downloading the chart… But would love a link to the chart someone posted about earlier about when to use which needle and the differences is sizes. Thanks!!

  • Sheila

    I like to take my time to gather my supplies and read through the directions but then I just jump right in. Making sure I have everything I need is one of my favorite parts of a project, it adds to the anticipation.

  • Linda Lee

    I have to admit i do not always approach with caution. Yes, i also have had disappointments. And yes, oh yes, i really could use Marie to get me cleaned up and organized. You have the right approach…build a needle stash… I a. Going to clean my room today and get organized more. I also am going to start building a needle stash!

  • Shaton

    I usually gather all my project supplies in advance of starting, but I must say checking for the correct needle is sometimes forgotten.

  • Jeannie Chesling

    I go for the gusto and get into the project … I do need to evaluate first, I’m sure.
    Thanks for sharing this information on needles.

  • Shelor

    I tend to study the pattern before I begin. Then, I usually make some mistakes because I don’t go back to it often enough! Or, I decide to use a specialty ruler that I need to “bone-up” on and . . . .

  • Nancy Weber

    I love the planning stage of projects. I read somewhere that the way a woman’s mind works, once we decide on a project and gather all the necessary supplies, in our mind we are DONE! That is my problem-not even to the UFO stage, but total project instructions and supplies all waiting for me to begin.

  • Dianne

    I have been sewing all my life and just now getting into embroidery…and LOVE IT!! I am a definite jump right in and get started kind of girl. But that has proven to be problematic. I am trying to do better in pre-planning just a bit. With embroidery it’s easier for me because I usually stitch it out first but sewing not so much. Most of my needles are not color coded so I will definitely will be checking this out.

  • Pam

    I do plan for the project in the area of fabrics, threads, stabilizers/interfacings, patterns/designs but always forget the needles until it is time to do a certain part of the project. I am trying to do better in this area as I progress thru projects.

  • Sue Cleek

    I keep the chart in my sewing box, where I also keep all my needles. Once I discovered te
    heir color coding system, I only buy this brand needle. As you said, it helps you see what needle you have in your machine. And they do a super great job stitching!!

  • Pam

    I am too cautious – in fact a chicken to start a project. I re-read the instructions many, many times. I try to visual how it is going to work. I do not start until I understand completely which means my sewing room is filled with “unstarted” projects. When I finally get the courage to go my needle does not get changed until I have problems. Then I grab the first needle I find. Oops!

  • Kati

    I love Shmetz needles and always keep extras on hand. When the fabric store has sales on the notion wall it makes it more economical to pick up the extras!

  • Linda

    I usually jump in with what I have on hand while I make the list of what I need.

  • Donna Fecteau

    I usually jump right in. Sometimes it works out great, sometimes not so good. This chart will be great to have in the sewing room because I never know which needle to use. A lot of the needles I have do not have their size written on them, (or else it is so small I can’t read it) so I try to put a post it note somewhere on the machine as I put the needle in so I remember what size it is.

  • Carla

    I jump right in and usually have issues. I am so new to my machine that I am still very excited about what potential there is. I have 3 grandsons and a granddaughter on the way who I want to make things for and get over excited when I think about starting a project.

  • Delores

    Love this chart. It was so good I shared this email with a sewing friend.

  • Erin Murphy

    My husband and I live off-grid in a canyon, and we are 38 miles from the nearest Walmart and wonderful local quilting/craft store, plus several hundred miles from the nearest JoAnns or Michaels. So, yes, I have to plan ahead and even keep a stash and stock of needed sewing, embroidery, and quilting supplies. There are no “quick trips” to any store for any reason (unless it is broken plumbing or needed electrical part!). I always like to read the patterns first, trying to understand each step ahead of time. Of course, there are times that I don’t understand correctly the first reading, so I need to puzzle my way through the directions. When I am too tired to sewing, embroider, or quilt, I will read and my husband calls this my “virtual sewing.” There are so many projects I want to try. I applaud your sewing your daughter’s wedding dress! That was beautiful!

  • Diane W

    I usually just jump in using a universal needle. Need more needles I think.

  • Amy

    I only use Schmetz needles and have a needle stash! I also don’t leave the store without picking up a new pack but I find I buy the same ones all the time. This chart will be of great help to making my stash more of a complete selection. I long ago decided the frustration of an old needle isn’t worth it so I change my needle often. I also keep old needles in a small plastic bottle-they make great “nails” to hang pictures or I’ve even used them to hang up a quilt temporarily.

  • Nancy Stansbury

    I haave always used their needles. And, like you, I always make sure I have a variety. And, if I run out of one, I put the empty needle case in my purse to remind me that I need to replace this needle.

  • Barbara McKenzie

    I also tend to “jump right in”, but I have built up a fairly good supply of needles and try to use the correct one for fabric and project. Of course, I also tend to have just run out of the exact needle I want…

  • Lou Ann

    I’m impulsive and believe instructions should be read as a last resort! That is my nature. However, with embroidery and sewing projects, my need for speed is tempered with the experience of knowing I’ll regret it if I don’t take my time.

  • Saundra Romanus

    I jump right in! After I press the start button for an embroidery design, I start to think of all kinds of things I should have thought of before I pressed START BUTTON!

  • Barb Grant

    I do approach my projects with caution and much preparation. I’m returning to sewing after a long lapse with retirement so I need to review sewing techniques as I tackle projects. Sometimes I think I spend TOO much time checking all the internet resources.

  • Linda kwolek

    I jump in with all my determination and eagerness. This behavior often rewards me with bad results. Thus, I am notorious for re-reading the instructions and and reworking my project.

  • Joanne

    I usually jump right in as I am anxious to complete the project and see the results. I will not do this again but will read the tutorials first. My last project was an 8 block wall hanging with dense stitches, so I added batting which most of their designs call for except this one, uh oh, now the blocks are thicker and I am not sure that they will go together and look as good as they would have if I had read the directions first. Keep your fingers crossed in luck for me. Yes, lesson learned, Read the Directions First.

  • Joanne Hudson

    I usually jump right in as I am anxious to complete the project and see the results. I will not do this again but will read the tutorials first. My last project was an 8 block wall hanging with dense stitches, so I added batting which most of their designs call for except this one, uh oh, now the blocks are thicker and I am not sure that they will go together and look as good as they would have if I had read the directions first. Keep your fingers crossed in luck for me. Yes, lesson learned, Read the Directions First.

  • lynda case

    I always have projects going and try to half-way plan ahead but I have a good supply of things in my room so can usually just start on something without much thought.
    Needles —- I hate to change them if there isn’t a very good reason to but know that one should change needles with each new project so trying to do better. Love the needle chart and would like have one.

  • Kathryn Sweigart

    I use too just use whatever was in machine. As I have gotten older I realized taking just a couple seconds longer makes a large difference in the completion of the job. I also was always afraid of double needles and now I just love too sew with double needles. So my items do look better just taking my time a little bit.

  • Shirley Clark

    I try to plan, but many times, I spend too much time planning and deciding how I want to do something. I usually make a sketch in my notebook which helps me to get started. Then it may take a long time to find the fabrics I want to use, and sometimes I have to “settle” for something else so that sort of changes my whole vision.

  • Judy

    I jump in with both feet, then go back and figure out what went wrong or I should done to make it better. I love the idea of the color coded needles, you can never see the little numbers in some of them. I will have to buy some the next time I am shopping, and have a supply for my next project.

  • Mary Michaud

    I used to only use universals for everything, but now am slowly building a stock of different types so I always have the appropriate one on hand.

  • Wendy Ryan

    I have a stash of needles in different types a sizes that would probably cover almost any fabric or project. I collect then like I collect fabric!

  • beth

    i usually plan ahead of time. I get my sewing machine ready ahead of time, that way I can jump right in to my project.

  • Sandy McCallum

    I procrastinate. I blame it on my depression but I really know that I just plain old procrastinate. I think, rethink, plan, replan and get no where. I go to the local fabric store, tell myself “next time I’ll buy it”. Then go home empty handed.

  • Doreen Linehan

    I have told myself to leave the embroidery needle package out by my machine and when I finish a project to take the needle out and put it back in the pack. That way I don’t have to figure out what the last project I did was and try and figure out if it’s the same type of needle that I need for my current project. Unfortunately I don’t always do that. Often times I use whatever needle is in there for multiple types of sewing.

  • Karen McDonner

    Like many other, depends on the project. Sewing projects I plan more than I do for perhaps my embroidery or quilting projects. Of course, I’ve had some regrets.


    I have been a “Type A” personality for years and that always carried into my sewing and having to be perfect, but now that I am about to be 70, I have decided to really enjoy my wonderful embroidery and sewing machine and adopt the saying that “Finished is Better than Perfect” so I am going to Join the Dive Right In Folks.

  • Patricia Phaiah

    I approach each project with organization. I look over the pattern, make a list of supplies, check off what I have and shop for what I need before i start any project.

  • Sue C

    So much to learn about needled. I was taught to use topstitch needles for most of my quilting projects. Now that I will be embroidering more, will need to build my stash of needles.

  • debe

    I am 1/2 of each. If I’m creating a project I will plan, if doing a repeat project I usually jump in & then forget a step or an easier way I’d thought of doing the 1st time, THEN I waste time ripping or having to start over. But have learned to put the right needle in (I have built a needle stash) for the fabric & thread.

  • Barb

    I do some of each. If I find something I really am excited to try–I jump right in. Other times I may have a pattern that I am “scared” of and I try to plan it out the best I can so hopefully I won’t have too much trouble.

  • Cissy

    Wow!!! What a great article about purchasing needles! This summer I took my time and went through my sewing machine needle stash to see what sizes I needed to purchase to complete the list of projects that I decided to take on. I learned a lot not only about my sewing habits, but also about the type of fabrics I use when making accessories or garments. Majority of the time I use Schmetz Needles when completing projects; therefore, I decided to look on the Schmetz Web site to see which needles would best fit the projects that I needed to complete. Yes, and what a world of difference did the correct needle make during the sewing process and the finished look.

  • Sandy P

    I think I understand and know what to do but so many times I mess up and go “I should have known that”.

  • Pat

    Noticed the colour on the Leather needle that I found in my machine last weekend. Eye sight is failing, can no longer read the writing on the needle.
    Love the colour code system, saves pulling out the magnifying glass to figure out if I have the correct needle. Been using Schmetz’s needles since the early 80s as my first zig zag machine only liked that brand of needle.
    I have a large collection of them as the local stores do not carrying them.
    I plan my projects to death and sometimes, I even follow the plan as the execution occasionally shows that the plan is not the best to go with.