How to avoid breaking sewing machine needles

I was talking to a friend a while back, who used a sewing machine for the first time in her life and promptly broke two needles. ‘Obviously me and sewing machines don’t go together‘ she commented. Hang in there! breaking needles is common and there are things you can do to prevent it. I too broke a fair share of sewing machine needles in the past decades and I know how frustrating it is to be in the middle of a seam and break a needle. In high school one of my teacher said that a sewing machine is heavy machinery and users should wear glasses at all times to protect against needles flying around. I took that with a grain of salt: once you get the hang of it, you’ll experience less and less breaking needles.

It just takes a bit of time to understand your machine and why it’s acting up. This blog names a couple of common causes, plus solutions. If you happen to break needle (I just broke one yesterday), remember that it’s a great way to figure out what went wrong and improve your skills. Even the most expierenced people break a needle every now and then!

Thread your machine correctly

This is one of the most common mistakes and also the cause of uneven stitching, the thread looping while sewing or even breaking. The first step of trouble shooting is rethreading the machine, taking a fabric scrap and testing to see if the stitches improved. This includes threading the upper thread and the lower thread. Also check if the spool is correctly spinning on the spool pin: if the thread is getting stuck or the spool is jumping up and down, secure the little holder on the top so it spins evenly.

Pushing or pulling the fabric while sewing

Every machine has a little transport system right underneath the foot. Those tiny moving teeth transport the fabric at the correct speed. When pushing or pulling at the fabric while sewing the needle is dragged out of position, causing it to break. Use your hands to guide the fabric so it is fed through your machine, but don’t push or pull. As an example, use a scrap of fabric and sew a couple of stitches without using your hand to guide the fabric. The seam might get a bit wonky if the fabric happens to turn or angle but the stitches will be neat and even. Use your hands to guide hte fabric through at the correct angle while sewing to make sure your follow the edge of the seam, nothing more, nothing less. Let the machine do the work for you!

Different needles for different fabrics

A universal sewing needle can get you a long way but it might have trouble with difficult fabric like denim, multiple layers, reinforced fabric, sequinned fabric, leather, pleather and tightly woven fabric. That’s why there is a huge selection of needles available, suitable for different fabrics. Your gut feeling might be to buy the biggest, strongest needle available when you’ve broken a needle. Don’t! Take a bit of your fabric with you to the store and ask someone to help you select the correct needle for your project. A slim needle might punch through your heavy fabric without any trouble, while big needles break.

As a sewing staple, I always keep the following needles in my stash:

  • Standard sewing machine needles 70-100 – There are various brands out there, use whatever feels good. When you have no clue what needle to use for your project, start with these. 70-100 refers to the size: play safe and start with a size in the middle. Use the smaller ones  for light fabric, and the bigger ones for heavier fabric. For the record, size refers to the width of the needle: all needles are a standard length.
  • Jersey or stretch needles – They have a ballpoint shaped tip, that won’t damage stretch fabrics when sewing. Useful for sewing tricot/jersey/lycra/stretch velvet
  • Denim/jeans needles – It’s sharper and is modified to create better stitches on denim, canvas, upholstery, leather and vinyl

The needle is damaged or flawed

When dutting down a tree, the axe dulls. The same goes for needles: if a needle has been used for a while, it dulls. As a result, it will no longer punch the fabric with easy, miss a couple of stitches, create uneven stitches or break. The needle might also be bend or damaged, either because it’s used or because the needle is a cheaper kind and is flawed during the production proces. Test a needle before starting on your project on a scrap of fabric, or replace your needle after every three projects and throw the old one away.

Broken needle

Sewing over pins

It makes sense that a sewing machine is not desinged to sew through pins. When I’ve pinned fabric into place, I always carefully remoe the pins while sewing, right before the fabric is sewn. A missed pin can cause a broken needle, but it can also bring your needle out of position, which is a Bad Thing.

Your needle is out of position

Sit behind your machine, put a needle in and bring the needle down by hand. The needle should go neatly into the designated slot. If it doesn’t match up, use the controls on your machine to reposition the needle. Use google to find the manual that belongs to your machine if you don’t know where the controls are. I prefer to bring my machine in for a check up every one or two years or so, at the store. Consider it a MOT test for your machine 🙂

That’s all for now. I’ve reached the last month of my pregnancy and get increasingy tired, so the freequency of my posts is going down. I am still sewing though and have plenty of inspiration for new posts.

Read more:

Needle classification

Why does my sewing machine needle keep on breaking?

I am  a professional bellydancer and costume-a-holic living in the Netherlands. I’ve been sewing and crafting stuff for over twenty years, for theaters, dance costumes, historic costumes and regular clothes.. If you enjoyed this post and like to kept in the loop, please like Kyria Bellydance on Facebook or follow me on Twitter. Leave your questions or comments in the box below, or let me know through Facebook and I might write a blog post to answer your costuming question.

Thanks for reading and see you soon!


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