This sounds like a silly post topic. But don’t be fooled, threading the needle can sometimes be the most annoying bit about hand sewing (and machine sewing if you do not have an automatic needle threader). How to thread the needle is one thing and then how to keep it threaded is another. Let’s go over the various ways to thread and keep our needles threaded to keep on sewing!
This blog post is written for the beginner sewer who has had trouble in the past working with a hand sewing needle and threading it. Also some tips to keep your thread in the needle, helping all levels of sewers.
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Threading a Needle
Some things to keep in mind:
● Make sure your needle and thread are well paired. Delicate projects require delicate thread which require a thinner needle. That thinner needle likely has a smaller hole, also known as the eye of the needle. The same goes for a thicker fabric, thicker thread and thicker needle with a larger eye.
● There are so many different types of needles – some with larger eyes, smaller eyes, duller points, sharper points, different shape points. We are not going to talk about that here, let’s save that for another time.
● Thread can be used either in a single strand in the stitches, or held doubled for more strength. It is up to you to decide which you will use, but there are some conventions that sewers tend to follow. The most common of these is for sewing buttons on, always use a double strand of thread.
Getting on with it…
These first two techniques require only a needle and thread. I am using a typical all-purpose sewing thread and a needle I found in a needle set. Nothing special. I like recommending things that require very few extras. I have enough sewing and knitting paraphernalia, I don’t want to buy anything extra. I’d rather spend my money and use up space on fabric and yarn!
First Technique – Using only a needle and thread:
1 ● Cut a fresh piece of thread. Usually 18 inches if you are going to use it single stranded or a little more for double stranded. Make sure both ends have a fresh cut, it helps tremendously. I say both ends because if you set it down, are you really going to know which end to pick up??
2 ● Take your thread and wrap it around the needle, so your non-dominant hand is holding both ends of the thread but up close to where the thread is looped around the needle
3 ● Pinch the thread up close to where it goes around the needle so that the needle can barely move, you want to create a loop that is the same circumference as your needle.
4 ● Now, while still pinching the thread, pull the needle down and out of the loop then slowly put that tiny loop through the eye of the needle. It should go in easily. If you don’t get it the first time, try again. Pull one end through and you have a threaded needle!
Second Technique – Using only a needle and thread:
Now onto the technique that grandmothers and mothers taught way back when. It is what I still do, only because of habit… and one of the easiest, again a technique that needs only needle and thread. And a little spit…
1 ● Cut a fresh piece of thread. Usually 18 inches if you are going to use it single stranded or a little more like 24-26″ for double stranded. Make sure both ends have a fresh cut, it really does help!
2 ● Hold your needle in your non-dominant hand and the thread in your dominant hand. Lick the last inch of the thread, Yes, I said lick. This moisture helps the threads stick to each other, making them want to stay closer together to go through the eye of the needle.
3 ● Slowly move the wet thread end towards the eye of the needle. Try to make it move through the needle without losing any plies or bending. If it bends, wet it in your mouth to straighten it and try again. Keep trying until you get it through. Use a magnifying glass and bright light if you have to, don’t be vain, doesn’t matter.
Thread (and yarn) normally has a couple to many plies to it. A ply is a thinner strand of thread/yarn (thin stringy material you want to use as a thread/yarn) that is twisted with other thread/yarn ‘plies’ to form a stronger end result. For example, embroidery floss has six plies, it has six thinner strands of thread twisted together to form the thicker floss.
Help, I Can’t Thread My Needle!
If neither of those techniques work for you, we can move on to other options that rely on other tools/tricks.
There are needle threaders that come with most basic sewing kits. You know the ones, those flimsy, silver metal thingys with the metal loop. Or there are newer plastic ones too. Buy either variety here.
Or there are larger, more involved inventions that do the same but in a different way and likely last longer because those flimsy, silver metal threaders and small plastic ones tend to break more easily. Find this kind of thingy here if this looks like a better investment to you.
Or you can always try using a little bit of beeswax on the end of your thread. It is just like doing the moisture thing with your mouth, but it is a little ‘sturdier’ to help keep the thread straight and plies together when the thread goes through the eye of the needle.
You can try this trick for multiple threads I learned recently. This works for a larger eyed needle. Take a piece of tape, stick the thread to one half and fold the other half of the tape over itself to enclose the thread ends. Take a pair of scissors and cut diagonally through the thread ends, making a point out of the tape instead of a rectangle. Use that thin point to go through the eye of the needle and you should be able to pull it through easily!
I didn’t take a photo of this, my nail polish was looking rather bad after a few minutes of gardening! My name is Marissa and I am a compulsive weeder.
Now That I Have the Thread in the Needle, How do I Keep it Threaded?
When sewing any stitch by hand, there is a lot of movement of the needle in and out of the fabric. If you are not paying attention to the amount of thread remaining on your needle, it can easily slip out of the eye. And it does, regularly. Unless… you take the following tips and try to remember to use them on your next project!
Or just do a double stranded thread…won’t come unthreaded. (Is that a real word?) If you don’t know how to do that, see this video here.
With thread knotted, needle threaded and tail of the thread pulled down about halfway towards the knot, take the first stitch. When you pull the needle out of the fabric, hold the needle at the ‘bottom’, opposite of the pointed end (of course), where the thread is going through the eye. If you hold it there whenever you are pulling the thread taut, the thread will not pull out. It can’t go anywhere while your fingers are holding it into place. This takes some practice to remember, just have patience with yourself!
I didn’t take a photo of me pinching it. You can’t see anything. I’m just pinching the eye of the needle and a little bit of the thread so it doesn’t go anywhere, use your imagination to see it.
If the eye of your needle is large enough, you can also push the thread through the eye again, looping and securing it better. Loop it and enter the eye from the same direction you did for the first time. It should still be thin enough to go through your fabric. If this doesn’t work with your fabric, try the method above.
Here is an illustration. Again, no nail polish so I had to make do!
No, I’m ‘Knot’ Kidding
When using very thin thread or very slippery thread, such as silk, you can use this next trick to keep the thread in your needle all the time.
1 ● Follow the directions for the first method of threading your needle all the way at the top of this post. Get to the point where you have a small loop in the eye of the needle and there are two strands in the eye. Do NOT pull an end out of the needle. Pause here.
Stop right here, do not pull an end through the eye of the needle like you did when threading it.
2● With your loop still there, gently make it a little bigger and put your needle point through the loop.
Keep the loop intact with both ends of the thread still going through the eye of the needle. Between the last picture and this one, I grabbed the loop with my non-dominant hand to hold it in place for my dominant hand to direct the needle through it.
3 ● Pull the ‘loop’ down towards the end of the needle, creating a teeny, tiny knot just above the eye of the needle, but on the thread itself. This should work if the thread is well suited to the needle and the project fabric.
That tiny little knot will help you so much! Don’t keep losing your tail…. ! try one of these methods the next time you sew or embroider.
Don’t know how to make the knot to keep your thread in the fabric, see this video here.
Now what? Get sewing and mending! Let me know if you have any questions. Or if you have any other techniques to thread a needle or keep it threaded that you’ve think would be a good resource to add to this post.
Here are my favorite sewing things part one and part two, if you are feeling crafty and don’t know where to begin with curating your studio space (kitchen table, guest room, basement, wherever you can fit it in and have fun with it!!)