Marine & Car Upholstery: What Size Needle Should You Use?

When it comes to automotive or marine upholstery, before you start doing any work, you should first make sure that you have the right needle for the job. There are many different sizes and types of needles to choose from, and they all serve different purposes.

This article will answer these very important questions:

  • What needle system your machine uses
  • What type of needle you need
  • What size needle you need
  • What type of thread you need

There’s a lot of useless information out there, so it’s easy to get caught up in all the wrong stuff and lose the motivation you had in the first place.

Check Your Machine’s Needle System

Before you start doing any shopping or further research, you need to check your sewing machine to figure out what needle system will work with your machine. You can find this information in your machine’s manual, or look online for your machine’s model to see which system it uses (you can look your machine up on

One of the more popular needle systems is 135×17. This can also be written as SP 3355 or DPx17.

Packs of needles will show you the needle system it’s compatible with. Find a pack of needles that works with your machine’s needle system to make sure the length and thickness of the needles are correct for your machine.

Figure Out The Type of Needle You Need

You’ll likely just need the standard universal needle, or the R-Point needle, for most projects you’ll be working on. You can use this type of needle on vinyl, leather, etc.

Confusingly, though, most packs of universal needles do not have the type of point listed anywhere on the package. If your pack doesn’t list any needle type at all, it’s a universal needle, or R-Point.


There are needle points designed specifically for leather that are designed to cut through leather rather than teat through it. Universal needles normally work for leather just fine, but you may want to try out a SD-Point needle if you will be sewing leather often. **Note that SD-Points don’t come in as many sizes, and leather needles are generally a bit harder to find than universal needles.

If you’re going to be working with extra thick leather, get a DI-Point needle that can cut through the very thick, hard leather. This special needle point will help you avoid broken needles.

Needle Size

Once you know the type of needle system and needle point that you need for your project, you need to determine the right size


Your needle size depends on two aspects. You want to poke the smallest hole possible, but it still needs to fit your thread without breaking it and it needs to be strong enough to get through the material.

18, 20, and 22 are the ideal sizes to start with. You can pick up other sizes as well, but these are the ones you’re really going to be working with most often. You shouldn’t be trying to use anything smaller than a size 17 for most materials that you will be using in automotive & marine upholstery

Thread Type

The majority of your work will probably be using size 92 bonded polyester thread. It’s strong, it stands up to the sun, and it’s the perfect size for most applications.  You can use it for just about anything. You’ll usually use your size 18 needle with this thread. However, if you’re sewing through thick material and your needle breaks, you will need to jump up a size.


Where To Purchase

Going with one particular brand isn’t necessarily an important part of choosing a needle. The most important things to keep in mind are finding the right size needle and making sure it’s compatible with your machine. There are three major needle brands that you’ll probably run across. My professional opinion, it doesn’t matter which brand you choose as long as the needle itself will work for your project and sewing machine.

The Thread Exchange is a great website for sourcing your needles. Once you’ve looked up what needle system your machine uses, you can narrow down the results based on needle type and needle size to find exactly what you need.