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A ballpoint needle, sometimes spelled ball-point, is a needle designed for work with a sewing machine. It has a rounded tip that allows the needle to thread through closely woven fabric without cutting the threads of the fabric. Its most frequent application is its use in the sewing of knit fabrics.
Unlike may other needles, the ballpoint needle for the sewing machine will not cause runs in knit fabrics. This makes it the ideal needle for sewing tee shirts, sweat pants, or dressier knit garments. The danger with using other types of needles on knit garments is that the needle will either cut or catch threads that can cause the machine and the seamstress or tailor to veer off course. Alternately, cut threads can ruin a garment.
This type of needle works well on knit fabrics of any weight. One can sew cotton jersey, or wool jersey, depending upon the size of the needle. Different needle sizes usually include information on their packaging, which suggests the appropriate fabrics for which the needle can be used.
The ballpoint needle can also be used to sew together knit garments, such as the front and back of a hand-knit sweater. It will easily piece such a garment together without ruining the hard work involved in knitting the pieces.
Since many now prefer the softness of knit fabrics for pillowcases, this needle has applications in sewing items for home design. Alternately, cotton jersey can make an excellent choice for creating a child’s stuffed animal, which will remain assuredly soft, and can be washable, unlike most plush stuffed toys.
Some get confused between the universal and the ballpoint needle with good reason. The universal needle is sometimes called a universal ballpoint needle. It also, as one would suppose from its name, can be used with knit fabric. The difference is in the appearance. The universal needle is tapered and lacks the rounded edge of the ballpoint. Sewing experts differ on which needle they prefer, but many side in favor of the ballpoint style needle, especially for delicate knit fabrics.
Often one has to use a few hand stitches to finish a garment. One can obtain hand sewing ballpoint needles as well. These will ensure that stitches remain fairly uniform throughout the garment. As well, they may be used without injuring the knit or its threads.
Keep in mind when you go to buy needles that ballpoint needles come in sizes just like more traditional needles. 14 is pretty standard, but if you are sewing a delicate knit, you might need a 12 or even 10. (8 is the smallest size available. I've never had call to use one.)
What I used a ballpoint needle for most recently is hemming stretchy jeans. These require a ballpoint because of the way the denim is knit in order to make it stretch. But because it is still pretty heavy fabric, you need a thicker needer. I use 16 for lightweight jeans and 18 for heavier denim.
In our school, they say it is used in leather. It's true.