Many old machines were built to use needles of type 12×1 or 13×1, but today these needles are no longer being made. Many people found various modern needle types that worked with their vintage machines, there is really no universal answer. I looked at selecting substitute needles in this post. Today I’d like to compare some of the more commonly chosen needle types available to me, with the original needles.
First, ISMACS has compiled this fantastic spreadsheet of various needle types with their measurements, old and new. I use this spreadsheet first and foremost for needle identification. Another great resource is Groz-Beckert website where one can search for needles based on their shank diametre and length.
These are the needles I’m looking at today. From top to bottom: “standard domestic” 15×1 for reference, industrial needles 108×3, DBx1, 46×1 and original 13×1 and 12×1. The view on the right is the front of the needle, on the left is the back. And here are their measurements and available point types and sizes:
|Needle type||shank diametre||length butt to eye||length eye to point||point types||sizes||notes|
|15×1||2.02mm||33.9mm||4.3mm||all||60-120||For reference, not a good substitute.|
|108×3||1.63mm||36.8mm||4.6mm||jersey (SES)||80, 90||Common but limited point type and sizes.|
|46×1||1.28mm||35.3mm||7.04mm||regular||80, 90||Specialised, not easy to find. Mine are from TreadleLady.com|
|12×1||1.05mm||32-35mm||4.6mm||regular||60-120||Extinct. Overall length seems to have varied.|
First, 15×1 needle is not really a viable substitute for 12×1 because the shank is way too thick, but it is such a familiar needle, that makes for a good photo reference.
I have photographed the needles from both sides because the scarf in old and new needles is quite different. Old needles 12×1 and 13×1 don’t have one – they have a short groove around the eye instead. Most modern needles have a scarf, you can see it in 15×1, 108×3 and DBx1 needles, but 46×1 has a long groove on the back instead, almost full length.
The problem with 46×1 needles however is that the point is too long – the length from the eye to the point of the needle. If you are sewing thick material, it drags on it – it does not come out of the material fully at the highest point. It just about brushes over it when you are sewing something thin.
I can see why TreadleLady selected this needle though. There aren’t many good alternatives! Embroidery needles like MY1014 or UY118 all have the same long points but thicker shanks, while 459R is too short. Perhaps a better alternative could have been FLx2A needle (1.5mm shank, 35.6mm butt to eye) that seems to have less of a point, but it only comes in sizes 70, 75 and 80 in jersey point only, is very hard to find and very expensive to buy because you have to buy in bulk. Not a real alternative for a private user, then! At least 46×1 has a lovely thin shank.
I found that 108×3 needles work out best if you manage to fit them into the needle clamp – they have quite a thick shank. It’s the same shank as in DBx1, but with DBx1 I have the problem that the shank is too long so that during sewing it actually descends into the needle hole. This is of course not acceptable. At least 108×3 is long enough to clear the needle hole, but not every machine can use it because it does require the needle bar to sit a little higher than usual. Basically, those machines that were designed to use 13×1 needles, do very well with 108×3 (provided it fits into the needle clamp), but smaller machines that were designed for 12×1 needles might have a problem. It’s not a given, they are actually all different, but it’s worth a try. Good luck!