Sewing Science - Up Close with Sewing Needles

This past weekend I was changing out my sewing needles and it made me wonder just what happens to a sewing needle with use.   I almost always change my needle with every project, unless it's just been gently used for hemming or something similar. And we're of course told to change needles often for better sewing.  So during my lunch break I put some new and used needles into the SEM (scanning electron microscope) to see what they looked like under high magnification.

First, the 90/14 ballpoints. I had a new and some used. (These are Organ Needles, FYI).

New needle, Magnification 2670x
Used needle, Magnification 2970x
Used needle, Magnification 2510x. This one is my favorite. I like the dent in the top of it.
The damage on the ballpoints isn't extreme. I'm not sure which, but one of the used ones I only used in finishing up some projects that were primarily done on the serger, so just necklines and hems, pretty light use over several projects on one day.

Now to check out some 70/10 regular needles. Here is a fresh, unused one:

 And below, the used needle.   This needle was also only used for one day, I used it to finish up two pairs of wool  pants I was sewing assembly-line style. So basically side seams, hems, waistband. That's it. And look at them:

Sweet merciful crap! Look at how blunted the tip is. Magnification 220x
Gouges seen at 1830x

The tip at magnification 1700x

Magnification 3040x

Magnification 5980x. Field of view is ~40 um.

This was a big eye opener.  I decided to be brave and check out my serger needles. For some reason, I change my machine needles every project and my serger needles.....annually.  Ugh. Why? I buy needles by the 100 so it's not like I don't have plenty of fresh ones.

Ok, here is a fresh pair of 90/14 Schmetz serger needles:

67x, 384x and 1760x magnification, respectively
Now the unholy horror that are my used 90/14 serger needles. Brace yourself:

Left needle, 1090x mag
Left needle tip, 2540 mag
Wait for it....

Right needle, 752x
Right needle tip (I am still calling it a tip but look at it), 892x mag

What exactly is that needle tip supposed to sew?!!  That is horrifying, and I'm so ashamed.  Let that be a lesson to ye sewists! My needles have seen to much. Don't let this be you.

I've found this very interesting (but I'm a geek) so I have a more few more plans for lunchtime sewing related SEM imaging that I'll be sharing on my Instagram and on the blog, for those who are interested! Thanks for reading and change your needles!!!


  1. super interesting - thanks so much for sharing. and I guess I need to change my serger needles :)

  2. This is so eye opening, thanks for sharing. I will be watching for your next set, geek that I am too. Likely explains a lot of issues in my sewing room....

  3. This is so cool. Forever we are told to change needles for every new project. Now I know why! And now I have to go and change my serger needles, and my coverstitch needles, and put a new needle in my sewing machine...............

  4. Wow! I will start changing my needle more often! Thank you for sharing this.

  5. Thanks for sharing. No wonder sometimes needles make that thumpy sound while sewing. Or make snags on more delicate fabrics. Why do I change serger needles annually, if that? Because it's a royal PITA to try and hold both needles (even using the needle insertion tool) in the right spot! I'm glad to see the cover stitch has a set screw for each needle.

  6. Thanks everyone! Good to know that I'm not the only one who forgets about my serger needles....Amazing to see how quickly a fresh needle dulls with just a day or so of use!

  7. That is so cool!

    I'd love to see the difference between different types of thread under the SEM...

  8. Thanks. This is a great lesson! I have to buy different needles for my overlocker but I guess I will now! I'd also be interested in seeing the different threads under the microscope.

  9. This is fascinating! And horrifying! I'm pretty consistent on changing my sewing machine needles but my poor serger--YIKES! Thanks for sharing this amazing research.


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