A V50 Guide to Needles for Long Arm Quilting Machines

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When you start your journey on the road to long arm quilting there are a few things that can seem very daunting.

After doing the research and buying the right machine for your needs, you then have to learn how to properly use it. If that wasn’t enough, simply picking the correct components can be a minefield.

Take the long arm needle for instance. It won’t be long before you realize that these are very different when compared to the needles you have used for quilting in the past.

Longarm needles come in myriad sizes and configurations in line with the various types of long arm quilting machines available. That being said, there is some method to the madness.

There are four standard components that identify a needle:
  • the needle system;
  • point style;
  • needle size;
  • and coating.

Understanding which is the right needle for your machine can be difficult, especially for beginners.

In this short guide, we hope to clear up some of the confusion.

Selecting the right needle

It is clearly essential that you select the right kind of needle that is designed to be used with your particular model of machine.

The way to do this with the least amount of headache is to buy them directly from your machine manufacturer (if that is not possible an authorized dealer will be just as reliable).

When buying from a universal vendor or an online store, you should make efforts to get confirmation that the needle pack you are interested in will fit your machine.

As you become more experienced you will be able to understand any compatibility issues by the information provided on the packaging of the needle, (more on that below).

To begin with, however, those specifications will seem like an incomprehensible new language.

To help you get your head around all of this, let’s take a look at some of those needle attributes in greater detail.

Needlepoint style

long arm needlesLongarm needles use different point styles and these are designated by either an R or FFG on the label.

An R needle is classed as a sharp point. Meanwhile, an FFG needle is a light ballpoint needle.

Because the R needle features a sharp point, it will be able to penetrate the layers of the quilting fabric with greater precision and impact. R needles are recommended with the most modern high powered long arm machines.

The benefit of R tip needles is that they are able to pierce multiple layers of fabric without snagging.

If you are working with T-shirt quilts and alternative, thin weave knit fabrics the FFG tip is the better choice.

Needle size

It is standard practice to match the size of your needle to the size of the thread you are running. This makes things easy to remember; the smaller the thread, the smaller the number needle.

However, to confuse things a little for the beginner, needle sizes can be listed as two different numbers according to what the system manufacturers use to label their needle packages.

In the context of thread thickness, we will provide an example to help you gauge needle sizes for your machine.

A common long arm quilting thread size is 40-weight and 50-weight threads. Appropriate needle size for these would be an 18/ 4.0 needle.

For finer threads such as 60-weight and 100-weight, a smaller 16/ 3.5 size needle could be used.

At the other end of the scale, larger threads and tough cotton would require a needle in the 19/4.5 range.

Quick tips on needle size
  • Use the smallest, appropriate needle possible for each thread so that you create smaller holes and more attractive stitches.
  • If the top thread begins to shred as you begin working, it’s a sign that the needle size should be larger
  • If the shredding happens later in the project it is indicative of a dull needle.
  • You should change needles as you work to match the density of your fabrics and thread.
  • Always begin a new project by using a fresh new needle

Needle coating

long arm needles

Another needle attribute that you need to be aware of is the coating.

Some come with a chrome coating others may have a titanium tipped coating. When buying the latter you will find that the packaging designates the needle as “Gebedur”.

The benefits of titanium coated tips are that they stay sharper for longer. (They will also break higher on the shaft due to the increased durability of the tip)

However, when working with that larger piece of metal, burrs can occur on the hook causing thread break problems until the burr is removed.

Because of these issues, standard Chrome MR needles remain popular and are available for most longarm machines in a broad range of sizes.

When starting out it is a good idea to get advice (or read the guidance notes for your specific machine) in order to buy the right type of needle for your long arm.

Understanding the packaging

We have covered some of the numbers and letters that are used on long arm needle packaging above; however, here’s a more concise explanation of the terms you need to be aware of:

Long Arm Needle Designations
  • MR” needles – means multi-directional. They resist bending and have a deep, extended scarf. MR needles are good for tighter hook placement and superior stitches.
  • Point Style is indicated by “R” & “FFG” [R = regular round point, FFG = light ball point].
        • R tip is good for lockstitch sewing as they pierce the multiple layers more effectively. They are also recommended for woven and coated fabrics.
        • FFG tip is the better choice for thin weave knit fabrics.
  • Titanium needles are stronger than chrome coated needles and are becoming more popular. They last longer, however, their added strength can cause issues in your machine if you continue to use them after the tip is broken.
  • Chrome coated needles are universally available and are recommended for beginners due to the fact they will not harm your machine; a broken tip is easier to detect.
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