Domestic sewing machine needles vs industrial sewing machine needles

6 01 2013

Update June 2019: This Handi Quilter Blog article clearly explains the type of needles you need to buy for your longarm or Sweet Sixteen machine:

On the Handi Quilter sit-down model Yahoo! group someone asked about whether they could use their domestic sewing machine needles in their HQ Sweet Sixteen (or Babylock Tiara) machine.

In a word, NO!

The needles are made differently, with the prime difference being the shape of the shank. On a domestic sewing machine needle, the shank is flat at the back. On an industrial machine needle, the shank is fully rounded.


Image of a domestic sewing machine needles’ parts. Industrial machine needles have the same parts except for the shape of the shank. (From

The needles used in the Sweet Sixteen are industrial needles and do not have this flat piece on the shank. In the diagram below, A represents an industrial sewing machine needle looking down from the top, whereas B is a domestic sewing machine needle from the same angle — note the flat part on the shank.



The fronts of industrial (A) and domestic (B) sewing machine needles look just the same.


However, the backs are different. The industrial machine’s needle (A) is fully rounded at the back; whereas the domestic sewing machine’s needle (B) has a flat back on the shank.

Domestic sewing machine needles have the flat side on the shank to make it easy for you to insert the needle correctly into the needle holder on the machine. However, with the industrial needles, you have no guide as to where to place the needle. Thus you need to be careful when inserting the needle in your Sweet Sixteen to make sure the long groove is facing you, and the scarf (the notch on the back) is away from you.

One way to do this successfully is to take the old needle and place its point into the eye of the new needle (with the long groove facing towards you), then insert the needle so that the old needle is at the 6 o’clock position, perpendicular to the new needle. Some people position the needle just off centre, at the 5:30 position (this is what I do) and that’s fine. But don’t position it too far away from the 6 o’clock position otherwise the bobbin thread won’t be picked up correctly and you will not be able to form a stitch correctly.


For more information about sewing machine needles and how they work, check out the excellent videos on needles (videos 16 and 17) from Superior Threads: Note: These videos focus on domestic machine needles (particularly topstitch needles), but much also applies to industrial machine needles, especially the information on needle sizes. As an aside, I mostly use 40 wt threads for my quilting and a size 100/16 134 R Groz-Beckert needle in my Sweet Sixteen (the 134 is important).

For more information on needles suitable for Handi Quilter machines, see this free video: or (needles and their relationship to thread is discussed in the first 10 minutes).

Update: R versus MR needles: A further question from the group was about whether we can use MR needles instead of R needles in the Sweet Sixteen. Handi Quilter is quite clear on that — NO! See (To quote from that 2015 forum post response by the Handi Quilter Educator: “Handi Quilter recommends the R needles for the Sweet Sixteen, the Avante and Fusion machines and the MR needles for the Infinity machine.”)

There’s a picture of an MR needle here: — you can see the difference in the shape of the needle, so I can see why HQ says NOT to use them in the S16.

Groz-Beckert describes the tips of the needles (which give the letter designation such as ‘R’) in the ‘Cloth points’ article here: . And Superior Threads has more information on the codes on Groz-Beckert needles here:

These are the main needles I buy (in sizes 12 to 20, though mostly 14 and 16):

Two final hints:

  • Hint 1: Use the groove on the front of the needle to help thread your needle easily every time. Instead of trying to get the end of the thread into the eye of the needle, run it down the groove and it will pop into the eye without a problem almost every time (assuming the end of the thread is snipped, of course, and not frayed).
  • Hint 2: Discard your old sewing machine needles, pins etc. into a safe, sealed container. I use an old glass spice jar as I couldn’t justify the expense of an official ‘sharps’ container from the drugstore. It will take a long time to fill this jar, and once full, I’ll throw out the sealed jar take this jar to my local pharmacy for correct disposal and grab another one for my dead needles.




6 responses

6 01 2013

Great article Rhonda 🙂

6 01 2013

Discarded sewing machine needles are very strong and still quite sharp. They work very well for hanging lighter items on a wall as they will only make a very small hole when carefully hammered. Removing them from the wall works best with a needle nosed pliers. The remaining hole almost disappears.

10 01 2013
Handi Quilter News | Handi Quilter News

[…] Bracey, a blogger and Handi Quilter HQ Sweet Sixteen owner from Western Australia, recently did a great blog post about the differences between the needles used by Handi Quilter machines and domestic sewing […]

23 08 2013

You don’t say why you set your needle position at 5:30 instead of 6:00. Can you tell me what prompts you to do that? Just wondering what I’m looking for in terms of results.. Thank you for the information!

23 08 2013

Hi Kathy

It was a tip I learnt from the Yahoo! Group for this machine. I was getting quite a bit of thread shredding (often as a result of too small a needle size), and one suggestion was to turn the needle so that the eye was either at 5:30 or 6:30 position instead of 6:00. 5:30 seems to work best for me and I keep it at that these days.


26 04 2014
Threads and tension: Practise before quilting | Rhonda Bracey: At Random

[…] usually have the needle in the 5:30 position – that seems to work best for my machine; 6:30 position sometimes works too, but I don’t have a […]

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