When you get past the beginner stages of using a sewing machine
(see my post on first steps in using a sewing machine),
you will want to use the best needle, thread, pins for the task.
Here are useful links full of information about the possibilities.

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Use quality needles and thread

A sewing machine needle has grooves and indents which are part of how it works. Make sure the needle is the right way round, and fully into the holder.
A surprisingly complex device, which needs to match the thread being used (as well as the fabric and technique, see below).
Here’s a diagram of a needle with some explanations of the parts.

It really does give easier sewing and better results to use quality needles and thread. It’s a poor economy to use cheap bargains unless you really have to.

I once bought a box of sewing machine needles from a named though modest manufacturer. Only about 1 in 10 was usable, the rest were either blunt or bent. They caused all sorts of problems, which magically disappeared when I put in a Schmetz needle instead. Even if it’s not that dramatically wrong, a poor quality or worn-out needle can cause skipped stitches and problems with tension.

I’ve also had all sorts of thread nest and tension problems when using old thread (thought I could use it up for making some technique samples, but definitely no).

Cheap thread breaks easily, can cause sewing problems, and clogs up the machine with fluff.
If you’re interested in such details, here’s an article on thread quality.

Needles and thread for beyond-beginner sewers

For an idea of the variety of choices available, here are guides to what is available from some well-known manufacturers :

Schmetz sewing machine needles
John James hand sewing needles

Gutermann sewing threads
Madeira decorative threads

Here’s a chart on machine needle selection, from Sewing Parts Online.
See also Sandra Betzina’s book More Fabric Savvy for much useful information.
Test your choice of needle size and type, thread size and type, stitch length, by sewing samples on your fabric.

And here’s a piece from Sewing Mastery with many links to information about sewing machine needles.

[Hmm, sewing machine needle sizes have larger numbers for larger sizes, hand sewing needles have larger numbers for smaller sizes – aargh.
Threads have larger numbers for thinner threads. That’s because thread is measured by the length you get for a given weight – thinner thread, longer length.]


Pins are used to hold fabric or patterns in place. To hold something stable they need to be pushed down through the fabric, and back up out of it again.
Here’s a piece from Threads magazine on using pins for many purposes.

There’s a big choice of types and sizes of pin. Here’s a Threads magazine article on types of pins.

People have different preferences. Personally I like long thin easy-to-grab pins, so I choose Clover flower head pins. Not cheap, and they’re not heat-proof, but they give me pleasure to use. I also have some ‘appliqué’ pins, about 1/2″ long and useful for doll clothes.

All these alternatives can be a bit overwhelming to start with. Then when you get more experienced it’s a pleasure to find exactly the right tool for the task in hand. Using a sewing machine to its full potential is definitely not a trivial skill.
Enjoy the process !

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Originally written January 2014, links revised June 2019

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