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Double Needles Demystified

Sally Hess does it again.  If you'd like her to drop some knowledge on you in person, make sure to check out the MD class list to see what she's teaching next.

There are a
lot of great uses for double needles, also called twin needles. They come in a
confusing array of sizes and shapes, so hopefully this will help sort things
out so that you can use them with confidence and ease!

The first
thing to know is that a double needle will fit in your sewing machine just like
a regular needle does. The two needles are held together with a horizontal
plastic bar, on top of which is an ordinary needle shank.

Double Needle
needles are sized according to the distance (in millimeters) between the
needles and the size of the needles. You will need the needle size to
correspond to your thread thickness and your fabric. Choose a Universal 75 or
80 for regular sewing and choose a 90 or 100 for sewing on thick fabrics. The
distance between the needles can be as little as 1.8 mm or as big as 8.0mm.
Most machines can only handle a maximum width 6.0mm.

It is best
to check your sewing machine manual for threading directions when you are using
a double needle. If you aren’t able to find your manual, thread your machine as
you usually do with the first thread. Then thread the machine the same way with
the second thread. You may have a special spool pin that you will have to use
to hold the second spool of thread. Here you can see that I’ve wound a bobbin
to use as my second spool of thread.

Second spool pin
If your
machine has threading options, where you can put the thread on either the left
side or the right side of a thread guide, be consistent and choose the left
side for the first thread and the right side for the second thread. This is
especially important if you plan to use thick threads, such as decorative
threads or top stitching threads.

Here I am
sliding one thread on each side of the metal plate that separates the tension
discs. I will have more consistent tension if the threads are not both crammed
on one side of the tension discs.

Tension Discs

I hold the
two threads between my fingers and pull them through the thread guides at the
same time, so they don’t twist on each other.

Dragonhead threaded
And lastly,
I thread the left hand thread into the left needle and the right hand thread
into the right needle, being careful not to let either thread twist around the
tips of the needles or form loops with each other.

Needles threaded

Once the
machine is threaded, you are ready to sew. The first thing you will do is set
your machine to straight stitch! Most double needles are too wide to zig-zag
and if you machine is set that way, the needle will come down on the presser
foot and break.

Always sew
a test piece before you sew your project, to be sure that the tension is
properly set for your desired look.


With a
narrow Universal double needle (size 1.8/80), I can either sew decorative lines
on linen or I can sew pintucks in lightweight cotton. The difference is in the
tension. If you tighten the tension on your machine, you will create pintucks
between the two rows of stitches.

Narrow Double Needle

The back of
the samples show how the bobbin thread creates a zig-zag as it catches the
threads from both needles.

Wrong sides


A fantastic
way to give  your hand sewn
t-shirts a professional looking hem! Because the bobbin thread catches both
needles and creates a zig-zag stitch on the back of the fabric, hems sewn with
a double needle will have the stretch they need and look great. My favorite
double needle for hemming knit fabrics is the Jersey Ball Point 4.0/75. It has
the rounded tip that all Ball Point needles have, to ensure the knit fibers
don’t get a snag or a run. With a distance of 4.0mm, the hem will lie flat and
not look pintucked. And since I use a size 70 or size 80 needle on all my knit
projects, size 75 is a perfect compromise.

T-shirt hem


take your garment sewing to the next level with double needle topstitching.
Using an “Extra-Wide Twin Needle” in size 6.0/100, I can topstitch my jeans.
The needle is specifically made for jeans/denim, which is shown on the packaging.
This means that it is stronger and sharper than a Universal needle and has a
larger eye for the thick thread. A double needle topstitch also can be used on
the inseam of pants to flatten the seam allowance for a comfortable finish on
the inside.

Jeans topstitching


needles can also be used to sew on narrow ribbon, trim or elastic. You can also
sew some decorative stitches with narrow double needles. Be sure to test each
stitch by slowly lowering the needle with the hand wheel, to be certain the
stitch width won’t cause one of the needles to hit the presser foot.


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Reader Comments (33)

What great information!! I loved reading this post - it's something I have been wondering about!
May 25, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterbeth lehman
Thank you! This is fantastic.
May 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLaurel
Did you actually hem the the knit that's shown? I only ask because tunneling is a huge issue when I use a double needle on knits. How did you prevent the tunneling on your knit?
May 26, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterm
What a great lesson. I have wondered about double-needles for a long time. You made it clear and easy to understand. Thank you so much! Kathy :D
May 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKathy
Thank you for this! I've always wondered how to use a double needle! I can't wait to start using it on my projects! =]
May 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTess
To avoid tunneling, I find that it is really important to pin the hem every couple of inches, especially since it is sewn from the right side and I can't see the amount turned under. I don't take my pins out until the pin is just over the feed dogs. That forces the top and bottom layers to feed evenly. Just be sure not to sew over the pins!-Sally
May 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSally Hess
Another way to prevent tunneling: Use a wash away stabilizer, found in the machine embroidery section of your local Sewing machine and accessories shop. Cut small strips and pin it right to your fabric on the outside or inside of the hem. It gives a really nice professional finish.If you do a lot of hemming on knits, think about investing in a serger with cover stitch capabilities.
May 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRaphaelle
Thanks so much! I've always wondered about the uses for the double needle, now I'll have to try it out!
May 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLisa
Great post! Thanks for taking all the fear away from using double needles, as my manual really doesn't say much regarding them.
May 26, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkylydia
Terrific post Sally!Thank you!
May 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShelly Figueroa
Wow, I was just about to pull out a double needle that I bought a while ago...then I was sidetracked and ended up at the computer when what should I find but a link to you article (via my Craft Daily email) that brought me here! What a great,informative how to...Thanks so much! What a coincidence!!!
May 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmber
Hi - do any of you have an idea why the bobbin thread might be forming a straight stitch under my twin needle? Obviously it's not catching both needle threads, but I'm not sure how this would happen or how to fix it.
May 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKatie Strong
I've been sewing for 40 years & finally I learn about the twin needles. Thanks so much!
May 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRobin
Thanks so much for the info. I just used double needles for the first time last week (I've been sewing since 1965) and I guess I was just LUCKY! LOL! I didn't even see that there were universal and ball point needles till I went back to Hancocks for a new one. (One came with my machine that I've had for 20 years, but it broke.) And they only had one size of each. I'll have to check online suppliers for different sizes in the future. I did like the finish on my knit skirt. We were taught how to use them when I bought the machine, but like I said...twenty years ago.
Well, I'll be darned! I had no idea...
Jun 2, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdw
Fabulous post! I just had an email exchange yesterday about double needles so seeing a link for this post today is quite serendipitous. I must go thread up that double needle now!Thanks!
Jun 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTwo Pockets
great post, I just wanted to add one quick note. When I'm threading my double needle and get to the last threading point (right there at the base of the needle) I make sure to pass one thread through the loop and leave one outside of it. It keeps the threads from twisting together just before the eyes of the needles, pulling them together and causing a break.
Jun 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLauPre
I love twin needles! This is a great post on how best to use them! Thanks for sharing!
Jun 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdaisy janie
I just discovered these a year ago and use them on all garments now. For knits, I like to cut my hem allowance longer and trim away excess after I sew the hem. This keeps the layers from curling up while sewing.
Jun 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGabrien
I was scared of using twin needle as i wasn't sure of how to use it and lost my sewing machine manual years back while relocating. Thanks a ton for this article. You saved the life of my twin needle....
Jun 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLakshmi

Wanted you to know that today I posted a link to this tutorial on my blog.

Nancy Ward
Jun 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNancy Ward
fantastic thank you for making it easy!
Aug 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEydemiller
Thanks for the tutorial. I learned a lot. I have a Bernina 440. Could I use the extra wide twin needle 6.0/100 in my sewing machine?
Oct 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret
Great tutorial which I came across - thanks for the information will be useful when I want to use my double needle which I haven't used so far. Nancy from Aus
Jan 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNancyfromaus
Thank you, I was about to buy a serger for 200, that did NOT have Cover Stitch,but this showed me that the look I was going for can be done by a double needle, and that I didn't have to go out and try to find a double needle machine (I am self taught and didn't know if it was a type of machine or specific needle) Thank you for educating me!! I am soooo saving this in my favorites for reference.
Feb 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNancy

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