Tip Monday: Needles for FMQ
When I started my free motion quilting (FMQ) journey back in 2017 I didn't know much about needles or thread and I used what I had in hand. I experienced skipped stitches, thread fraying and breaking. I thought it was totally my fault because of the lack of experience. Slowly I gained experience and realized that the right supplies are the key to the success of machine quilting. If you are looking for the tips to improve your free motion skills, it might be worth reading what needles are the best for FMQ and why.
Free motion quilting is different from piecing. First, we work with a quilt sandwich that has 3 layers (top, batting and backing), second, we move it in different directions and third, the needle passes through all the layers at quite a high speed most of the time.
What characteristics of a needle are important for FMQ?
1. TYPE of Needle
The point is the primary distinguishing feature in needles. This is why there are so many different types of needles for sewing.
Points can be sharp or ball, or a hybrid of both (image from Wikipedia).
Universal needle, as the name suggests, is a multi-purpose needle that is good for a variety of projects. However this is not the right one to handle lots of layers. The point of a universal needle is sharp yet also slightly rounded, giving it the characteristics of a sharp and a ballpoint needle. This is why it is not suitable for FMQ.
FMQ requires sharp needles.
Quilting needles are designed for piecing and machine quilting through the quilt sandwich. The point style is slightly rounded with a tapered shaft that pierces through several layers of fabric at one time without damaging them.
Microtex Sharp Needles have a thin slender shaft and sharp point that makes them perfect for fine fabrics like poplins or Tana Lawn. They stitch through cotton fabric beautifully and are great for piecing as well.
Top stitch needles have an extra large eye and deeper exaggerated groove down the shaft that is designed to protect the thread when sewing on particularly dense fabric or at high speeds. The point style is quite sharp and pointed. These needles are ideal for use with heavier fabrics or threads.
So these three needles Quilting, Microtex Sharp and Top stitch needles are the ones a quilter should consider using for FMQ. I use mostly Titanium coated Top stitch needles and I will explain why.
There is another factor that is important for the quality of your stitching but often neglected.
Needles wear and need to be replaced regularly. According to the manufacturers`s tests, a regular needle lasts for up to only 8 hours of actual working time (when a thread passes through the needle at high speed, and the point of the needle goes up and down through fabric or a quilt sandwich). After that, the needle is worn out, the point is blunt, the needle can be even bent. That could be the reason why the thread on top of your machine frays or breaks.
Titanium-coated Topstitch needles have a thin layer of Titanium-nitride, a very tough substance with excellent abrasion resistance, which makes the needle stronger and keeps the point sharper for a longer time. This is why these needles last longer than regular needles up to 6 times. They are not cheap, but definitely worth the price.
Titanium Topstitch needles manufactured by both Superior and Organ. I have been using both brands for a few years. I must say that they perform equally well.
Here is a photo of the Quilting and Topstitch needle of the same size.
As you can see the eye of a Top stitch needle is more elongated compared with a Quilting needle. It means that the thread has more space to move freely when being stitched. Distance from eye to point is shorter with a Top stitch needle than with a Quilting needle. It means that less stress is put on the thread in the place where a stitch is formed. That is particularly important when working with cotton threads (for example, Aurifil) or an easy fraying metallic thread. Top stitch needle has a longer eye, which means more room for your thread to move with less friction. You can also use thicker threads with topstitch needles.
I came to the similar conclusion when using a fine 80wt Aurifil thread for EPP. It is very important to use a needle with a larger eye to avoid thread breaking.
Not only will the titanium coating make the needles better for their job, but also the shape of the needle will assure you that the threads and stitches will give smoother results.
Now you understand why the Titanium Topstitch needle is better for FMQ than any other kind of needle.
2. SIZE of Needle
Size of the needle refers to the diameter of the needle. It defines what type or thickness of fabric it should be used with as well as the weight of thread being used. It ranges from 60/8 to 120/20. The first number is the European size and refers to the needle shaft diameter in hundredths of a millimeter; the second number is the American size, using an arbitrary numbering system. The higher the number is, the thicker/heavier the needle is.
The general rule: the thicker thread is the bigger number of the needle you need to use:
- 60/8 and 70/10 needles are for very fine threads (100wt, 80wt or 60wt);
- 80/12 needles are for fine 50wt threads,
- 90/14 needles are for medium weight threads (40wt or metallic)
- 100/16 needles are for heavier threads such as 28 wt. and 12 wt.
If the needle is too fine for the size of thread used it will result in inconsistent stitches and broken threads.
The thinner needle is more prone to breaking and should be changed more often.
It is VERY important to experiment with different needles to find your favorite!