What is a Universal Needle?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The universal needle is a sewing machine needle used for knit or woven fabric. It is similar in construction to the ballpoint needle. The universal needle has a slight rounding at the tip but is also tapered, so that the needle slips through the weave of knit fabrics without causing runs, but retains enough sharpness to pierce the cloth.

Woman posing
Woman posing

The shank of the universal needle, the part that fits into the sewing machine, is flat. Not all machines call for a flat shank. Some may use exclusively rounded shanks, so one should check with one’s manual prior to purchasing a universal needle. Thus some people find the universal needle extremely helpful, and others cannot use the needle at all with their particular brand of machine.

The universal needle implies that it can be used in all sewing applications, and this tends to be the case. In fact most showing machines using a flat shank needle come equipped with a universal needle. It can be used on a variety of fabrics, but more discriminating sewing experts may suggest other needles for certain types of fabrics, such as those that are very delicate or those that are very heavy.

The universal needle often is exclusively used on knits like cotton jersey or wool jersey that could run if the threads are cut by the piercing of sharper needles. Such a run can spoil an outfit. Thus most sewing experts recommend keeping a stock of these needles on hand, particularly when working with knits. If one’s sewing machine does not take a universal needle, the best substitution is the ballpoint needle. Another possible replacement is the stretch needle.

The hand-sewing equivalent to the universal needle is called a sharp. Since most garments require at least a little hand sewing, the basic sharp of the same size as the universal needle, will provide one with the needed finish for a garment. Because hand sewing requires more physically, a sharper needle is needed to pierce fabric. The sharpness is unlikely to damage a knit garment since no machine is pushing the thread through at a quick pace.

One can often get a good guide to sewing needles by reading the instructions on the back of needle packages. These will give details about the appropriate fabrics for use with a particular needle.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


"One can often get a good guide to sewing needles by reading the instructions on the back of needle packages."

The instructions on the back of my needle package says that the ballpoint needle is for stretch and knit fabrics and the universal needle is for most other fabrics.

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