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Quick Tip: How to Use a Twin or Double Needle

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We've been asked numerous times by Sew4Home visitors, "How do you get your double rows of stitching so perfectly even?" We've quietly given out our secret to several of you. But now we've decided it's time to reveal it to the world. The way to get perfectly even, super close, double rows of stitching is... to use a twin needle. If you're one of those people who think twin needles are way too complicated, you're in for a very pleasant surprise: twice the stitching is half as hard as you might imagine.

What Is A Twin Needle?

A twin needle (also called a double needle) is basically two needles attached to a single shank. One is slightly shorter than the other so your bobbin can catch the thread from both needles. So clever that bobbin! 

Twin needles come in a variety of sizes just like regular needles. But they have two number designations: one is the space between the needles and the other is the needle size. For instance, a 4/80 twin needle has 4 mm space between two size 80 needles. The picture below shows a Janome needle pack on the left; many Janome models come standard with a twin needle. On the right is a Klassé twin needle. Several manufactuturers offer twin needles; check to be sure it's a proper fit for your machine.

There may be some limitations as to how wide of a twin needle your sewing machine can handle. That answer should be provided in your machine's manual. Or even better, buy your twin needle directly from your sewing machine dealer. He/She can tell you which size will be best for your project.

A twin needle installs in your machine just like a regular needle. With the flat part of the shank toward the back, insert it into the needle hole and tighten the screw.

This may be the spot where you're saying, "Wait a minute. A twin needle needs two threads to stitch." Correct - your sewing machine is designed to feed one thread at a time. And even if it could feed two, where are you supposed to put the extra spool?

Most machines come with an extra spool pin and a hole to put it in. That's where you put your second spool. Again, consult your owner's manual to see what your extra spool pin looks like and exactly where it goes.

If your machine doesn't have an extra pin, you can use a thread stand. Or, you can simply put the additional spool in a coffee mug to the side of your machine. (Just make sure there's no coffee in it.)

If you want the same thread color in both needles, but you only have one spool of that color, wind some thread onto an extra bobbin. You can use this bobbin as your second spool.

Thread your machine as you normally would, one thread at a time. The most important thing is to make sure the threads don't get twisted around one another. Some machines allow you to separate the threads at the tension disk. Again, check your machine's manual for specific instructions.

The only sad part is that you can't use an automatic needle threader with a twin needle. It helps to have a classic hand needle threader. You can also try what we often do: find someone younger with better vision to thread the needles.

Which Stitches Can I Use?

A simple straight stitch with a twin needle always looks crisp and exact. It's the one we use most in home décor sewing. However, your machine may be able to sew a zigzag or decorative stitches with a twin needle, which can be very pretty, especially with two different colors of thread.

As mentioned above, the slight difference in the length of the needles is what allows the single bobbin thread to secure both threads as they penetrate through to the back of the fabric. This means that the back of a twin needle stitch is likely to look quite different from the front. Keep this in mind when deciding where your twin needle stitching will go on your project. If the back of the project will be visible, consider using a bobbin thread that matches the fabric in order to best conceal the bobbin stitching.

The image below shows you the back of straight as well as decorative stitch options. The larger flat surface is the back; the smaller flipped over section is the front.

Some machines, including many of the Janome models in our Sew4Home studio, actually have a twin needle setting. When you select the twin needle setting on the machine, any stitches that cannot be used are grayed-out or otherwise disabled so they cannot be selected.

You may not have this screen setting option. If so, just make sure the needles don't swing too wide. The biggest danger is that one of the needles will hit the presser foot or needle plate and damage your machine (not to mention the eye risk of flying needle shards). Before even beginning your test stitching, use the hand wheel to take your twin needles through one full stitch cycle, making sure they're safely within the tolerances of your plate and foot. Then, do some test stitching on a scrap to make sure you're getting the effect you want.

A standard presser foot that can accomodate a zig zag stitch is the most common option to use for double needle stitching. The goal is to use the presser foot with the widest opening for the needle swing.

Now, go forth and make perfectly parallel lines of stitching.

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