The Avid Embroiderer Presents - Needles and Freebie: Tension Testing your machine


Here are some general tips and information on needles and the embroidery process. It is a good starting place for newbies and excellent recall for seasoned embroiderers alike.  

General Information:

  •  The lower the number, the smaller the needle regardless of the type.
  • Fine fabrics, satin, silk, linen, require the #60/8 Sharp or #65/9 Sharp. Either would be good choices.  Those fabrics are snagged by a dull or overly large needle.
  • To pierce heavy fabric like denim, use #80/12 Sharp or #90/14 Sharp.
  •  Knits and loosely woven fabrics need a ball point needle. The finer the jersey and pique knit use a smaller needle.
  • Cotton fabrics work well with sharp or universal needles.
  • Tapestry is also loosely woven so you will want to use a ball point needle. These will more easily go between the threads of the fabric instead of penetrating them.
  • Wedge point needles are made for plastics, vinyl and leather goods. Wedge point needles make a ‘slice’ rather than a hole. If your needle is causing the design to be "cut" out of your fabric, try a wedge point.   Here’s a deal!  Originally $4,999.00 and on sale for $39.99… 

  • Cardstock demands a very fine, sharp needle and the smaller the better.  It will also require a fine thread, at least a #50 or #60 thread.
  •  Metallic needles are sharp and have a larger hole.  This allows the metallic thread to feed easier and therefore, less thread breaks.  There are ways to stop metallic thread breaks, but that is another blog.
  • If you think your needle (not yet attached to the machine) might have an eye that is too small or is not smooth, you can take a 12” piece of the thread and put it through the hole.  Hold the thread vertically and spin the needle, this demonstrates how easily the thread moves through the hole.

Embroidery needles have a slight amount of flexibility to them, allowing better movement.  Sewing needles are generally more rigid. Since the needle mechanics are all in movement, the needle needs to be flexible.  

The reality is that sewing and embroidery have very little in common in their process.  Here is one reason why: 

A sewing machine uses the top and bottom threads equally to combine two fabrics together.  You will use an equal amount of thread with the top and bottom.  This diagram shows the process.

However, an embroidery machines uses the top thread to cover your fabric while the bottom thread holds the top thread snugly to the fabric.   This method uses approximately 40% more top than bottom thread.   This diagram is courtesy of Designs in Machine Embroidery, you already know that you will see top thread on the bottom of your design, as it should be. 

A worn needle can be one cause of tension issues.  Here are “Test Your Tension” files for the most common embroidery formats.   I have placed the test file in my machine’s memory.  If you don’t have a memory on your machine, keep this file handy and use it periodically.  Here’s how:

  1. Use contrasting threads for top thread, bobbin thread and fabric so that you can readily see where your thread is landing at the current tension setting.
  2. If possible, use different brands of threads.
  3. Observe your test.  The appearance of the majority of your test indicates your general tension.
  4. If adjustments are needed, make them in small increments, and repeat the test.
  5. Naturally, the factory setting is the most accurate, but over time, wear and movement will make a reset inaccurate without a fully trained technician.
  6. Keep the stitched out pattern for future reference.
  7. Check often, once every 250,000 stitches is not too often.  I recommend that you make a note of the number of stitches you have each time you change the needle.  See this blog for more information. It is easy if you use a China Marker and write directly on the plastic part of your machine.

 Here are the tension tests you need.  Download and use them.

Thank you so much for reading my blogs. Remember to select The Avid Embroiderer or in the Title Bar of this blog for more info you can use in your projects. 

TensionTes 3x2 2k 6 color The Avid (20.1KB)

Comments (36) -

rosarypark 7/3/2008 6:29:27 PM

Thankyou for an informative guide to needle selection. I have always been a 100% cotton embroiderer but am branching out now.

I would like a blog on all of the 3 subjects you put down especially endless hooping, but I would also like a blog on trapunto . What fabrics,needles,threads & stabilisers work best.

Keep on blogging . I avidly look forward to them each time.

Rosarypark-All three will be discussed in the next few blogs.  Trapunto is also on my agenda.  For anyone who does not know what trapunto is, I think of it as being similar to 'embossing' such as would be done on an announcement like an announcement for a graduate.

Thanks for the information.


Awesome Blog! Thanks for all the info!

The more I read, the more I realize the girl that gave me instructions on my machine left out a LOT. I'm going to go back & ask for more instructions by someone with experience. The shop also realized it when I asked about special bobbin thread for embroidery. So the door is open for my return! Hope this time there's substance to the instruction!!

Your blog cleared up a lot for me. I knew about all the different needles, but had no clue what they were all used for.

You asked for our input on what to do next . . .  I'd be interested in endless hooping & placement guides, and yes, trapunto is also interesting!

Whatever you decide . . . bring it on! I'm ready to learn!


tourlady522 7/5/2008 3:47:55 PM

Thanks Pat,

I am always wondering what kind of needle to use and when to change it. Now I have a better understanding. This blog I will print out and tape to my wall for easy reference.

Thanks again.

bobbyelu- I hope I have helped you (all) in some way.  There is no wat for everyone to have all the information.  So learning is a wonderful, especially among friends.  

rnh - thanks for the kind words.  As I noted above, no one has all the answers and no one has every item at their finger tips.  I do have a philosophy about learning, be open and everyone has something to offer.  I am sure your dealer assistant is learning too.  

tourlady-I hope the "print" button worked for you.  I tested it and had no problems.  I want to be sure you did not have any issues either.

Thanks to all,


I'd like to have more info on endless emb.




twocraftysisters 7/6/2008 1:42:24 AM

I would like to hear what you have to say about endless hooping. I'm very curious.

Thanks for the needle info.

Thanks for the information,  it will be good to keep for reference .  I would be interested in endless hooping as well -- if it is what I think -such as getting a design along the edge of a tablecloth with many repeats, all even?  Thanks

Thank you for the information,it is nice to have some references.

merci beaucoup pour ces informations, , il n'y a malheureusement pas grand chose en français


Thanks for a great guide as well as a reminder of just how important that simple task can make in creating great finished pieces.  Please keep sharing what you know. 7/7/2008 4:45:46 PM

I just got the upgrade on my Innovis 4000D for the continuous border patterns but am in need of some tips. Please cover this in a blog soon. I have read and loved all of the blogs and have learned so much from all the ME community.

Nancy in IN

Thank you all for your input!  I do want to do blogs on what you need right now.  Endless hooping has a number of methods.  I will be writing about the method I use and show another for you to choose which makes best sense to you.

Nancy - Any time you want to give away your Innovis, I do take 'hand-me-downs.'  LOL  


michsnowbird 7/8/2008 3:19:12 PM

Your blogs are Great!!! I am self taught. No one at Walmart was going to teach me about my Brother PE-150.... I had to figure it out myself. Luckily, I had computer experience and was able to get info from various on-line places so after about 5 years now, I'd say I'm pretty good at it, for having figured it out on my own, but any good advice is greatly appreciated!!!


Paula-Walmart certainly has its place in the world, but nothing beats an opportunity to learn from others.

When you have something you would like to contribute to a blog or forum, I will look forward to hearing from you.  Self taught can be very knowledgeable!


I've had an embroidery/sewing machine for three years and just learned I should be using the bobbin case still packed in the original packaging for my embroidery projects.  Your pictures are great and the second bobbin case did make a difference.  I would like to know more about endless hooping.


You have a great way of explaining things. It is these kind of articles that helped me with my ME. My delivery of needles came today. Throwing away one little needle is nothing when you think wasting thread and stabilizer or ruin a piece of clothing. With almost every article I read I always learn something new.

I have been getting such great information from Avid  Embroiderer that I have been printing all the blogs & have a ring binder with them all laminated in it . It sits next to my machine .

Gosh everyone- - you are so sweet!  When I taught computer software, one of the most wonderful parts of teaching is the "Ah Ha" moment.  Where someone really gets the information and it makes sense.

Thank you for all your encouragement.  The ATG community is the best!


travelbug1237 7/11/2008 10:06:38 PM

Holy Cow Pat!!!!?????!!!!!

 HOW in the WORLD did you do the graphics like that for your blog???!!!

....moving parts even!!!! I am SO impressed!!! (...& so far  behind on my "July blogs".)

Good for you getting it in early and SO nicely done too - for pete sakes!!!

  I'll really read and digest all your info on needles when I recoup and regroup from summer school.


Cathy in Oregon

I 'd like a blog on all three above also. I have learned quite a bit from these blogs. Print the info and put it in a binder for future references.

Thanks for all the tips.

Would someone please explaine the "program fills".  Not sure what they are.   Thanks

happybreams 7/13/2008 6:29:54 PM

I just found your blog and already learned how the needle pickes up the thread with your moving needle. LOVE IT.  I will be looking forward to more of your blogs. Thank you so much.

JD in Georgia USA

charlottedrummonds 7/14/2008 12:00:25 AM

thanks for the needle info.  I also question the needle size, and wish the manufactures would give more information on the packages.  Your info was most informative, and I welcome it.  Char, in B'ham

Great job, Pat! Very informative and I love the graphics too...especially the working part of the bobbin shuttle and needle! You did a very good job getting the information across. Thanks for your great information!

Kath :o)

laurgassman 11/3/2008 9:07:14 AM

Great to have all the information in one easy to understand article...  I have printed your artile for my daughter (who just purchsed a Brother LB6770RWP) so she can grow faster in her "skills" with the wonderful  capabilities of her sewing/embroidery machine.   Thank you so very much!!!

I feel like this blog is timeless.  One can use the information at any point of their sewing career.  

Do be sure to down load the tension that is correct for your machine and test it!  You need to test it with different threads to be sure you will have the exact results you want.  

Pat, The Avid Embroiderer

I can't get this blog to print using the print option on the page. I want to also thank-you for explaining it in a manner that I got the "ah ha" moment finally. I'm so glad I stumbled upon this site.

oh guess I should let you know when I select  print I get an error msg saying page could not be found

joyce380976 7/10/2010 7:26:40 AM

Thanks for the information I'd  love the endless hooping & placement guides, and yes, trapunto also sound interesting!

brownmaryann 7/10/2010 8:06:19 AM

I am on my second machine if I had this blog at the time I started I would probably not had to buy my second machine the first is fixable but I got a good deal on a new one with more features.  I wore out the pin under the embroidery attachment and it was from tension and dull needles pulling on it

I would like some advice on adjusting the bobbin tension please.  Having trouble with my machine & the only way I can get it to sew properly is having the tension on 0

I've just found your blog today and think it's great.  I'm presently working on a table cloth.  The embroidery travels the entire border.  I'm having a devil of a time getting the placement right.  Actually I haven't managed it, but figure for a  first try  on a large project, it's not bad.  So I vote for a placement lesson.


cherylpennock 2/19/2011 2:07:22 PM

thanks you so much for all the great info. I have never understoond tension and how to adjust so this was very helpful. I am not able to open the tenstion test and get the message "Do not recognize the file format". I have a Brother Innovis (PES) machine and PE Design 5 for opening designs. Somethimes this happens when the design is in a "different" PES format accoring to another site where I had this same problme but was on a design rather than like your tension test. Do you have any suggestions how to open/view it?



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