Sewing with the Right Needle for Denim!

In this post, I discuss in detail WHY a denim (or jeans) needle is the best needle for sewing with denim. I also mention some alternatives (in case you don’t have one handy!). This information is intended for sewing machine needles, not hand sewing needles.

Just a warning upfront, if you’re using a UNIVERSAL needle with denim, you’re probably not getting very good results! (Scroll down for a detailed explanation.)

BTW…If you want to get STRAIGHT to the advice on what needle to use and skip the background info, keep scrolling until you get to the section called “What makes a Denim Needle special?”

WHY bother using a Denim Needle?

In order to understand why using a Denim Needle is important (and why it even matters!), you need to understand why denim is different from other fabrics. On the surface, they seem much the same, denim is made like all woven fabrics, by interlacing warp and weft yarns.

Plain Weave

Courtesy of BBC Bitesize


Here is an example of what your traditional quilting fabric looks like close up. See how each yarn is fed over and under the other. There are no variations. It does this over and over to create a regular pattern!

Warp = yarns that run parallel to the selvage (Pink)

Weft = yarns that run across the fabric, between selvages (Blue)


So how is Denim different? Good Question!

Twill Weave

Courtesy of BBC Bitesize


In Denim (or all fabrics called “Twill”), the warp and weft yarns do not criss cross over a single thread like they do in quilting cotton.

The yarns are woven so that they cross over or under more than one yarn at a time. In this example, two pieces of yarn are crossed at a time before crossing under two other threads. It’s still over and under but more yards are skipped each time.

If you look at the example to the left, you can see how doing this results in a diagonal pattern.


back of blue jeans

Real Men, Real Style: Blue Jeans Construction


In this photo, the denim is facing WRONG SIDE UP.

Notice the familiar diagonal pattern made with the white yarn? if you own a pair of jeans, you’ve seen this before!




 What makes a Denim Needle special?

A Denim needle has been designed to penetrate a tightly woven diagonal weave (like denim) and still create the optimal stitch. Their very sharp points and strong blades are the secret to their success!

What happens if I DON’T use a Denim Needle? You might end up with skipped stitches or you might be fine. The point I’m making is that a Denim Needle is the optimal needle for sewing with denim.

Okay, so you don’t have a denim needle on hand and you want to sew right now? Try a topstitching needle. Topstitching needles have a lot of the same qualities as denim needles including a very sharp point.

Why SHOULDN’T I use a Universal Needle?

This information I can credit directly to Sue Green-Baker!

A Universal Needle has the properties of both a sharp and rounded needle. What??

In other words, it’s a little sharp and a little dull… As Sue Green-Baker says, you can expect it to work 50% of the time. Sue tells a story in her classes about contacting one of the needle companies and asking them about the intended purpose of a universal needle. She says they told her that they are for folks who never sew.

She was a bit confused by this response but they further clarified that they are for people who RARELY sew. For example, people who are doing a quick repair or who use their machine once in a great while. They are NOT for people who sew on a regular basis. Stay away from Universal needles. They are not designed to work with any type of fabric.

What SIZE needle should you buy when sewing on denim?

The quick and dirty answer is: 90/14 or 100/16.

Want to know why and which one you should use? Read on!

As many of you probably know, the number on the left (90) is based on the European or metric system and the number on the right (14) is based on the American system.

What is most important to know about these numbers is that they represent needle blade DIAMETER. The larger the number, the thicker the needle blade.

needle-anatomy by Schmetz

Courtesy of Schmetz Needles

What is a blade?? The Shank is the part of the needle that is clamped into your sewing machine. The BLADE diameter is essentially the width of the needle. (see photo to left)



If you’re sewing with a light – medium weight denim, use a 90/14 sized needle.

If you’re sewing with a medium – heavy weight denim, use a 100/16.

Remember as the numbers increase (90 t0 100) the diameter of the needle INCREASES in size as well. A size 100 needle is thicker than a size 90 needle.

What do I do? I typically just use a 100/16 no matter what. Works for me but see what works for you!!

What have we learned?

  • Denim is more densely woven than traditional quilters cotton making it harder to penetrate with a regular needle.
  • Denim has a special weave (a diagonal) that requires a very sharp needle to penetrate.
  • Without a Denim Needle, you’ll probably end up with skipped stitches.
  • Needle sizes have to do with the diameter (or width) of your needle. The heavier the denim, the larger the size needed.

Has this been helpful? Leave me a comment and let me know!


I would like to credit Sue Green-Baker and Bob Purcell from Superior Threads for educating me so well on the proper usage of needles and thread! A lot of what you have read here, I learned from them.




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  1. Very good info. I want to make a denim bedspread and will definitely use the info to make sure I do a good job.

  2. Thank you for a concise and informative blog entry. The pictures of the weaves make it very clear why the correct needle is needed.

  3. raquel villarreal says:

    I would like to see pictures of tote bag and purses. I love denim.

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