When I looked around online, I can’t find much information about the difference between the Stretch and Jersey machine sewing needles. Both are supposed to be used when sewing knit type of fabric.
My impression is that the Stretch needle is used to sew seriously stretchy fabric such as bathing suit or dance wear, but the Jersey needle is used for the “regular” knit, such as jersey and interlock.
Everywhere I read, the source of information seems to originate from Schmetz’s website. You can download a list of the sewing machine needles information too. The description is frankly pretty slim. Oh, by the way, Schmetz uses the term “Jersey” in this collateral, but they used to (or still) call the same needle “Ball Point”. In fact, I see them often at Joann and I have some in my stash too. So “Jersey” and “Ball Point” are synonymous. Clear as mud?
I found the explanation on Schmetz’s site utterly unsatisfying:
The Stretch needle: “With medium ball point; special eye and scarf area prevent skip stitches especially in highly elastic materials. For elastic materials and highly elastic knitwear.”
The Jersey Needle: “With medium ball point, for knitted fabrics.”
My first response was, Stretch needle sounds pretty magical. Why wouldn’t we just use Stretch all the time? “I want skip stitches!” Said no one ever. What is the value of Jersey needle’s existence?
I am not expert in sewing needles – I know the basics of using a universal for woven, Leather for leather, Jeans for jeans, etc. And I am pretty diligent about changing my needles for different projects. But I am not able to tell you the effect of a needle with a reduced flattening and a black oxide surface. So let’s stop that question before we move on, OK?
I also looked up in my trusty fabric book, More Fabric Savvy by Sandra Betzina (affiliate link). I flipped through every page and searched for the mention of the Stretch or Jersey needle (it tells you what type and size of needle you should use for each type of fabric). She recommends using the Stretch needle for many fabrics: alpaca, cashmere, eyelash, faux leather, faux suede, glitter, double knit, sweater knit, lace, slinky knit, sweatshirting, velour, wetsuit, and even jersey, matte rayon jersey and wool jersey. The only mention of using the Jersey needle is for knits and Lycra, but with the option of using the Stretch needle too.
I don’t get it. What is the value of the Jersey needle?
So for the sake of pursuing the truth, I have no choice but to do my own experiment. I forgot to mention that this whole episode stems from my experience with the black and white sweatshirt fleece with a knit binding for my Paulina Top. I had skip stitches all over the place, and had to rip it out multiple times. I am almost certain that the super stretch knit caused the problem, since sweatshirt fleece is supposed to be easy to handle. I used the Jersey needle. Maybe I should have followed Sandra Betzina’s advice and used the Stretch needle. But I didn’t have any on hand, and it’s not so easy to get it where I live.
Ultimately I did get the Stretch needle and the Jersey needle for this experiment. Here’s chronicle of the sew-off.
I hold many variables constant, so I can have an apple-to-apple comparison:
- I use the Schmetz brand size 90/14 for both types of needles (130/705 H-S is the Stretch needle, and 130/705 H SUK is the Jersey needle).
- I use Gutermann 100% polyester thread with both needles; however, for the sake of clarity, I use white with the Jersey needle and dark green with the Stretch needle.
- I did not use any stabilizer with any of the tests. Usually when I encounter difficulty, I would use a stabilizer to improve the result, but for the tests, I don’t want the stabilizer to mask any issue.
- I did use a walking foot on my “modern” machines, but not on the vintage sewing machine (since I don’t own one).
I’d like to note that this is my result with my sewing machines, so it’s not to say that you will have the exact same results. I believe any factor could change the results.
On sweatshirt fleece
That’s a pretty basic test. Remember that Sandra Betzina recommends the Stretch needle for sweatshirt fleece.
I think both are decent. Nothing earth-shaking. It’s a tie.
On super stretchy knit
Now to the suspected culprit, the very stretch knit on a single layer.
There’s nothing to write home about for either lines of stitches. However, there’s no skip stitches on either on them. I feel that this is still a tie.
On stretchy knit over sweatshirt fleece
This combo needs to be tested because that’s what I did on my Paulina Top (when I sewed the binding, one layer of the binding is stitched to one layer of the sweatshirt fleece first).
We are starting to see some difference here. The left one, which is sewn with the Stretch needle is significantly better looking than the right one, which is sewn with the Jersey needle. The Jersey needle one even has a skip stitch. The Stretch needle won this round.
Stretchy knit as binding on Sweatshirt Fleece
Both of them are Ugly with a capital U. With four layers of stretchy knit sandwiching the sweatshirt fleece, the stitches are uneven. For the Stretch needle one, I can’t even see the distinct stitches. I actually tried on another scrap, but with the same result. I thought that would only be the result of a problematic feed dog (not moving the fabric), but lo and behold, somehow it makes a difference in this case. Even though there’s no skip stitches for either of them, the Jersey needle one looks better to me. The Jersey Need won this round.
Now that’s supposed to be the end of the test, and no clear winner surfaced.
But wait, there’s more. I remember reading about the Stretch needle not working with older sewing machines. The person said that because the Stretch needle has a longer and wider eye, that’s why it can catch the thread better, and hence it produce fewer skip stitches. That sounds like what Schmetz said on its collateral. But as a fact checker, I looked up the info, and found that is actually untrue.
Schmetz said that the Stretch needle actually has a shorter eye length and narrower eye width (page 19 on the catalogue). Now how that translates to fewer skip stitches, it doesn’t say. That doesn’t make sense to me. The aforementioned person’s claim made more sense, but unfortunately not correct.
So when that same person said that the Stretch needle is not compatible with older sewing machines. I was a little skeptical. S/he said that the needle would damage the machine because the needle is longer. But I am going to test that anyway.
I so happen to have a couple of vintage sewing machines. I was going to use this Singer 185K.
But this machine is “merely” 60 years old. Is it old enough? It probably is, but to be very sure, I ditched the cute thing and went for an older machine.
This one is 100 years old. It has to be old enough. I dusted off some spider webs and luckily it works well (because I serviced it before I put it away). I tested using a woven fabric and a universal needle that I typically use with the machine.
Now let’s do some tests again.
On vintage machine
To be faster this time, I decide to stitch on the sweatshirt fleet and on the sweatshirt fleece/stretch knit combo at the same time. I did not do the binding this time because…
The horror! It’s a skip stitch galore for both needles. I am ashamed that my machine produces such terrible stitches. I did not believe the results, so I re-threaded, reinstalled the needles, and even re-sewed using my woven and universal needle (that one was perfect as before). Even though they look equally bad, I actually had a much worse time using the Stitch needle. The thread broke constantly. When I finally succeeded stitching something, it’s a hot mess. So that person who claimed the older machines don’t work with the Stretch needle was correct. However, the Jersey needle is useless on the machine too. Which one is better? I can’t even choose; it’s like to choose between getting hit by a train and eaten by a bear.
So ultimately, I don’t have an answer. I don’t know which one is a better needle. But here’s what I learned:
- Don’t use the Stretch nor Jersey needle on the vintage machine.
- Test with both needles (or even other types) on the fabric before proceeding.
The last caveat: the Stretch needle is much more expensive. It’s $6.99 for a package of five on Joann when it’s not on sale, compared to $4.49 for the Jersey needles. It’s not going to break my bank, but it’s a significant difference in terms of percentage. However, I will go with whatever gives me to least trouble and produces the best stitches (or more tolerable stitches). I do it for the love of sewing and making high-quality garments that I am proud to wear.
Is it a failed experiment? I am not sure.