Sunday, January 27, 2008

Quit Needling Me!

There has been more than the usual chatter on the sewing forums lately about needles. It seems that very few sewers know
anything about needles and the few who think they do are merely repeating urban myths that they heard from some questionable
source. I decided to perform some research and publish my results here. Before sewing machine and sewing forums sprang up on
the internet, I had a very limited knowledge of sewing machine needles. Thanks to folks like Bill Holman, who are willing to
share their years of experience, I learned enough to be dangerous, but still keep hearing stories about one brand of needle
being better than another, or one brand being longer than another so they won't work in certain machines. I dug through my
needle stash and pulled out samples of widely-used needles and put them on my scanner at high resolution to see what the
difference really is. I started this exercise with the preconceived notion that standard 15x1 needles are all manufactured to
the same specification, so they all had to be identical, and all the hype about one brand being better than another was just so much hogwash. I do know that there are different styles of needles - sharp, ball point, leather, etc., and some needles are manufactured a little off-center to aid in sewing knits, but a ball-point Schmetz should be identical to a ball point Singer, right?.

The usual argument is that Singer needles are a bit longer than Schmetz and, for some reason, that makes the Schmetz needles sew better. I took needles made by Schmetz and Singer and carefully lined them up on the glass of my scanner. I tossed in an Organ needle, too, because that's the brand I use most and wanted to see how Organ compares to the other brands. I also
have a box of very old Singer needles and tossed one of them in the mix to see how needles have changed over the years.

In the photo, the Schmetz and new Singer are the two center needles, the Singer being identified by the red shaft. The Organ needle is on the left, and the vintage Singer needle is on the right. I used a straight edge to align the shafts and found that all the stories I had heard about Singer needles being longer than Schmetz are all hot air - both modern needles are the same length. Additionally, the distance from the top of the shaft to the top of the eye (the critical distance for timing) is the same on all four. The distance from the eye to the point of the Organ needle was just a tad shorter than both the Singer and Schmetz, as was the vintage Singer needle. The eye of the vintage Singer needle is roughly half the size of the eye of all the modern needles, and the vintage Singer needle has no scarf.

Here are my conclusions:

- Modern Singer and Schmetz needles are identical.
- Of the three brands, no one modern needle appears to be better than another.
- Organ needles appear to be identical to Schmetz and Singer, except that the distance from the eye to the point is shorter. If you like Schmetz, try Organ at one-third the price and see if you can tell the difference.
- If you still have some old needles in the drawers of Grandma's treadle, you might be better off replacing them with modern needles. At least, save them to use with the older machine and don't "borrow" them for your new, computerized machine.


Pamela Erny said...

Thanks SO much for validating what I always tell my students about sewing machine needles...."Organ needles perform as well as the expensive Schmetz ones"!

Pam, from ~Off The Cuff Style~
...who loves her Singer 503 "Rocketeer" !

Ed Lamoureux said...

I use Organ needles almost exclusively, unless I happen to get a good deal on some other brand on eBay. I try to convince folks to buy needles in bulk and change them often to avoid the many problems that dull and bent needles can cause. 100 Organ needles cost around $12, a 12-cent needle is cheap insurance against sewing machine problems.

marigold said...

Ed...what is up with the Organ needles? I am suddenly hearing about them and never did before. I saw some at the quilt shop here and they were very expensive. The woman told me that they could not be used on a Singer 301. Is this true? Are the Organ needles good, can they be used on Singer and Necchi machines, and if so, where do you buy them in bulk? At the store they had about ten for $7.

Ed Lamoureux said...

Quilt shops notoriuosly charge premium prices for everything they sell. Even though my wife is a quilter, I rarely buy anything when I go to a quilt shop with her. I buy my Organ needles online in packs of 100, since just about every home sewing machine (including your 301) can use the same needles. They are so cheap, I change them often and probably have fewer sewing machine problems because of that. Without recommending any particular source, Discount Embroidery Supply, Atlanta Thread, and CTS USA all sell bulk Organ needles in the $10-$12 price range for 100. I suppose the quilt shop could have had Titanium needles, they are more expensive, but still nowhere near the price you mentioned.


marigold said...

Thanks for telling me about these and I am anxious to give them a try. I like to change out my needles with every project and find that it makes a real difference with the older machines. When I bought that Singer 99 the owner told me that she had not changed the needle in years!! I was so appalled. She also never oiled or cleaned her machine and my husband could not believe how filthy with lint and crap it was.

I will go to the sites you mentioned and order some of the Organ needles. I always use the Singer red band ones but only buy them when JoAnns has a half price sale and they still are pricy little things. I can't even imagine getting 100 needles for such a reasonable price!! It boggles the mind.

The quilt shop I was in tends to be just extremely expensive and very snooty. I was there just buying some contemporary blues and greens for this quilt I was dying to make and because I was not one of their "regulars" I got the cold shoulder. I should have just walked out but I wanted those cuts of fabric so badly.... I have decided to just not go in there because I can find the same fabrics online and not have to pay sales tax or deal with the snooty women who were turning up their noses when they asked me what I was making...(a quilt that I saw in a book...just blue and green squares but it was just so wonderful I HAD to make one for myself....sometimes it is so relaxing to sew a simple project just to enjoy the color and not have to worry about anything complicated...)

Kate said...

Hi Ed - here's my needle question - can I use my round-shank Organ needles (which I bought eons ago, online, for my now-deceased industrial Pfaff machine) on my home-sewing Singer machine which calls for needles with that flat plane?

Kate said...

I alos bought a tiny box of 100 Schmetz needles for around $30 from this ebay seller: Gone Sewing Company.

Anonymous said...

Needle question....
I just purchased a vintage industrial Singer 31-15 that had a existing needle in it...which I broke quickly when testing the I purchased some vintage needles on eBay that stated they were for a 31-15..but when I received them...they couldn't pick up the bobbin thread???? I used a new needle from my house machine and it works but isn't strong enough..I'm looking for a #18 or #20....why wouldn't the needle I purchased pull the bobbin thread up....too short???

mrmrdean said...

hi ya iam selling a necchi 544 (italian) sewing machine on e-bay for my old aunt who no longer uses it and doesnt use a computer,it is listed as (necchi 544 sewing machine) on e-bay,we are genuine people selling a genuine item,we are not dealers.we live in the uk (plymouth) and can deliver and even let you try before you buy to make sure you are happy,it is in very good cond and is sold with everything you see on e-bay pics. many thanks,martyn plymouth,uk.

Anonymous said...

Ed Lamorouex. Thanks for the write-up on needles. The picture was also illustrative about the lack of differences in brands of needles.
Commenting on the picture -- the center needles appear to about a millimeter longer than the two outside needles. That shouldn't make any difference in how vintage and contemporary SMs sew with different brands of needles.

Thanks again, Jim DeLapp

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know how I can e-mail Bill Holman?

Thanks, Jim DeLapp

Paul Cooley said...

I received an old Betsy Ross Treadle machine for Christmas. It was made for the Charles William Stores in NYC, and seems to be identical to the Damascus Grand Rotary. The needle that was in the machine seems identical to the Schmetz needles I've been using with our modern Singer. I'm guessing those are 15x1 needles. (And I readily admit I don't know anything about needles. The Damascus Grand is supposed to take the 20x1 needles. However, so far, the Schmetz needles seem to work fine. I'm looking all over the internet to see if there is any harm in using a 15x1 instead of a 20x1 if it seems to be working. The treadle is really a pleasure to use. I'm surprised the conversion to electric models seems to be so complete, (except for that one model in the Lehman's catalogue).