The biggest mistake most of my students make is not changing the needle often enough in their sewing machine! You will get a better stitch and less puckering with a new needle. Needles develop burrs and slight bends as you sew, so change your needle after about 10 hours of sewing or at least with every large project. Don't wait for it to start making a clicking sound (that's the sound of the needle hitting the hook and can damage your machine).
Always match your needle to the project - the weight and type of fabric you're using and the size thread. Knit projects should be stitched with a ball-point needle. A universal needle is actually between a sharp and a ball point and can be used for many types of fabrics. However, with cotton woven fabrics I like to use a sharp. In fact, when I make my purses I like to use a Jeans/Denim needle.
A Jeans/Denim needle is a sharp needle with a long, extra-strong shaft. It is designed for stitching through layers of fabric, or heavy fabrics. It is ideal for making purses because of the thickness of the interfacing and the many layers at cross-seams. In fact, as long as you don’t use one that’s too big, you can use it for 2 layers of cotton fabric in quilting. It’s sharp and makes a clean entry for the thread.
The size of the needle is important for allowing the thread to move through the fabric. The needle must make a large enough hole for the thread to come through. If you use too large size a needle for a tight woven fabric, it will make a “popping” sound – this is different from the “clicking” sound mentioned above. If you hear a popping sound when you stitch, try switching to a smaller size needle. You may also hear a popping sound if your needle has a burr – THROW IT AWAY!
What do I use? I use a size 80 Jeans/Denim needle for most of my purses. In a pinch, a size 90 will work. If I’m making a purse from Denim, I always use a size 90. If I’m topstitching with Jeans thread, I use a size 100 or even 110 (Jeans thread has a very large diameter and needs a bigger pierced hole).
By the way, I swear by Schmetz needles. Many other needles don’t seem to be as strong and have more defective needles.
What size needle do you like to use?