Machine Quilting Needles and Thread

We have selected our machine quilting designs and figured out how to mark – or not mark – them on the quilt top. We have chosen our batting and backing fabric and basted the three layers together. But before we begin machine quilting, we still have some decisions to make. This week, we will talk about machine quilting needles and thread.

The humble sewing machine needle is often taken for granted, but it plays a significant role in the success of our machine quilting. In my machine quilting class, I often joke that the needle may need to be changed even if it hasn’t broken yet! In fact, when trouble-shooting tension or thread breakage problems, a fresh needle may be the solution.


There are different types of needles for different fabrics and threads. While we may be most familiar with the Universal needle, there are other types that work well for machine quilting. I am a big fan of Microtex needles. They are sharper than the Universal with a more slender shaft, and they stitch through cotton fabric beautifully. Many machine quilters prefer Topstitch needles for the extra large eye and deeper groove, making them ideal for use with heavier fabrics or threads. Metallic needles are specifically designed for metallic threads and have a larger eye and groove to protect the more fragile metallic threads during stitching.

Then there’s the needle size to consider. The size refers to the diameter of the needle and ranges from 60/8 to 120/19. The first number is the European size, representing the needle shaft diameter in hundredths of a millimeter; the second number is the American size, using an arbitrary numbering system. The smaller the numbers, the smaller the needle. The needle size should be chosen based on the weight of the fabric and thread. 80/12 would be the largest size needle I would use for machine quilting, but I often use 70/10 and 60/8 for fine threads and tight stitching.

I have written about my thread preferences for machine quilting before, and I invite you to read the posts Machine Quilting Threads Part 1 and Part 2. Here are some of the highlights from these articles.

My goal with machine quilting is to add texture.  As such, I am looking for threads that blend almost invisibly with the fabrics in the quilt. One of my preferred threads to achieve this effect is invisible thread.  The beauty of this clear (or smoke) nylon monofilament thread is its ability to blend with any color of fabric.  This is particularly helpful when the quilting lines cross over different hues and shades or to disguise any “slips” when quilting in the ditch.  As for brands, I have had good success with Sew-Art Invisible Nylon Thread and Unique Ultra Fine Invisible Thread.

My bobbin thread of choice for many of my recent projects has been Aurifil Mako 50-weight cotton.  It is available in a large spool of 1,422 yards or a cone of 6,452 yards.  There are 182 colors to choose from which is important because I also like my bobbin thread to blend with my backing fabric!

More recently, I have enjoyed machine quilting with fine polyester threads. The Bottom Line, by Superior Threads, is a 60-weight polyester thread. I was able to execute very fine, closely-spaced quilting stitches on my quilt Flourish on the Vine using it in both the 60/8 Microtex needle and the bobbin.

Choosing thread for machine quilting is a design decision, just like selecting pattern and fabric. The thread will have a huge impact on the look and feel of the completed quilt so it is worth careful consideration. You may even want to audition your thread choices. Next week, we will talk about making a practice quilt sandwich and doing just that.

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  1. kkwylie says:

    You’re welcome! So glad you are finding the articles helpful – I really appreciate the encouragement. 🙂
    All the best,

  2. I can not begin to tell you how much I have been learning from you since I read your article in the Quilters’ Newsletter and started to follow you each week on this site. I am very new into quilting and I have started to learn hand applique and love it. I was taught the templateless applique and I love it. I do hope you keep up your wonderful informative site and I must say that your Flourish on the Vine is by far the most beautiful quilt I have ever seen. Thank you for sharing all your years of information with everyone.

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