Thursday, August 23, 2012

Best Practices: Changing Your Needle (Secret Tip!)


UGH! Changing out your sewing machine needle can be a total pain.  Once you pop that little lance out of the package, it's tough to tell what size or type it is.  That's no problem if you slide a new one in for every new project, as many experts recommend, but some projects are small and don't put much wear on a needle.  I try to get somewhere between 6-8 hours sewing time out of my needles.  (No, I don't keep a stopwatch by my machine.)

Inevitably, guys and gals new to sewing don't want to take the time to change out a needle.  They usually have no idea what's in their machine or how long it's been there.  Oh, and if you're planning on identifying that needle after the fact, I hope you have a nice magnifying glass and 20/20 vision.  (Ask me how I know...)

Half the time, newbies don't know what kind of needle to put in for the project at hand, and the other half they get nervous about running out of needles in a pinch.  (Seriously, folks, the 5 measley needles that came with your machine aren't meant to last a lifetime.  It's a starter pack for heaven's sake!)

Let's not detail the plethora of needle possibilities available right now, but I'll share some needle basics and introduce you to my sanity-saving needle identification tip.  First things first:

1.  There are lots of needle types, but universal and ball point are the two most commonly used.  Universal needles are meant for multiple uses, but ball point needles are intended specifically for knits/stretch fabrics.

2.  Needles have a size number associated with them.  The higher the number, the bigger the shaft of the needle.  Bigger needles are for heavier fabrics while smaller numbers are more forgiving on very light-weight and silky fabrics. 

An old, worn needle can cause all kinds of problems, including causing your machine to knot and lock up more often, as well as damage your fabric.  You should keep a variety of sizes in both universal and ball point.  I like Schmetz brand.

Here's my happy little secret to make it easier to track your needle size and use: 

Every time you change your machine needle, put a sticky note on the end of your machine under the handwheel with the date, needle type and size.  If you do smaller projects and want to get more time out of your needle, document the projects you've done on the sticky note until you think you've gotten enough sewing time out of your needle. 

What if you do a tiny woven job using a universal needle and then need to make a quick swap to ball point?  Remove the needle along with the sticky note and fold the note in half around the needle (sticky to sticky) to keep it snug.  Store the needle until you're ready to use it again. 

And when you're done with that needle...?  Folding it in your sticky note keeps it from puncturing your garbage bag, falling to the floor and hurting someone. 

Un-impaled feet = happy feet.  :)  Have a great sewing weekend!