Sewing tip: Threading hand sewing needles

A lot of people really dislike hand sewing and I think this is often due to needle threading issues. If you have to spend 10 minutes each time trying to poke a thread end through a tiny hole it can get really frustrating. It doesn’t have to be though. I thread most of my needles on my first attempt without the use of any aids (but I’ll get to threading aids later on!).

One very important “rule” in hand sewing is that you shouldn’t use a long thread. I know it can be really tempting to just cut a meter of thread (I’ve been there too) because it will last for ages and it reduces the number of times you need to thread that needle right? It will also make the sewing part that more frustrating because each time you pull the needle through the fabric you’ll have to do some sort of gymnastics trying to pull the entire length of thread through as well. On top of that a long thread will knot much easier and you’ll spend ages untangling threadnests. So, how long should your thread ideally be? About the length of your forearm. If you sew with double thread, cut it about twice that length so it becomes that length once it is doubled up. It is also important that you choose a needle with an eye that is large enough to fit your thread easily but that is not so large that it slips out easily.

Ideal threadlength

Threading by hand

Make sure the thread end doesn’t fray, if it does trim it before attempting any threading. Most people will try to push the thread through the needle, it is, however, much easier to slide the needle over the thread instead. I am right handed and, therefore, can execute fine movements much better with my right than with my left hand. When I thread a needle I hold the thread steady in my left hand with only a tiny piece of the thread end poking out from between my fingers. I will hold the needle in my right hand and slowly move the needle towards the thread. This way I find it very easy to exactly manoeuvre the eye of the needle over the thread. Once a small part of the thread has made it through the eye it is easy to pull the rest through.

Threading by handSome people run their thread through beeswax. This supposedly reduces the chance that the thread tangles during sewing. I don’t have beeswax and I’ve never tried it so I don’t have an opinion on it. I do, however, always run the thread through my fingers a couple of times before I start sewing (after threading the needle). This reduces any tension in the thread caused by having been wound on a spool and I really do find that I get knots less often than I used to before I started using this trick.

Threading aids

If you keep on struggling with threading needles, for example because your eyesight isn’t what it used to be or the light in the room you’re working in isn’t very good you can buy needle threading aids that help make the job easier. I’ve got two different ones in my possession.

The first is the most basic one. It has a small metal handle with a thin wire extension that forms a loop. The wire is pushed through the eye of the needle; because it is quite firm this is much easier than pushing a thread through. The wire basically enlarges the eye of the needle. You put the thread through the wire loop and pull on the handle. This threads the needle. The most important drawback of this tool is that I tend to break them quite soon.

Needle threader

The second is more like a little machine. I believe I’ve had mine for over 20 years and I used it very often when I was a child. It says Witch on one side and the other side calls it a needle threader and says it was produced in Western Germany. So yes, it is quite old… It looks deceptively similar to what Prym nowadays sells as a needle fairy.

The needle is inserted with the eye facing down into a shank. The thread is draped over the machine behind the shank. Pushing a little handle pokes a small metal part through the shank and this pushes the thread through the eye of the needle. When you pull the needle out it is threaded. Drawbacks are that some of my needles are too wide to fit into the shank and that the eye of some of my needles is too small for the pokey thing to fit through. It will work just fine for most needles though.

Needle fairy

Do you find threading hand needles a chore or do you never have much issues with it?

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23 comments on “Sewing tip: Threading hand sewing needles

  1. Deborah says:

    Great tip! Especially love the photos showing the correct and incorrect length of thread for hand sewing. haha

  2. Carolyn says:

    Agreed, great tips! I’ll have to try running the thread through my fingers a few times before sewing. I think I do this unconsciously every so often, but I want to try making a habit of it.

    I’ve never had a problem threading needles, presumably because I learned this fine motor skill at a very young age and have been doing it consistently ever since. Then again, I suspect it won’t be as easy as I get older. :)

  3. katechiconi says:

    I find threading harder now that my eyesight isn’t so good, but a good trick is to thread a whole lot of needles at once onto the end of a spool of thread. Then when you need a fresh needle full, you just pull out more, push all the needles but one back down to the spool, and cut off the thread.

    • Emmely says:

      I’d never heard that one before! You need to have a bunch of the same type of needles though. I find it hard to find good ones.

      • katechiconi says:

        I mainly use this idea when I’m hand quilting, so I don’t interrupt the flow. And I have a whole pack of quilting needles, which makes it easy

  4. auntychacha says:

    I wax my thread whenever hand stitching. I find that the thread tangles less (also minimised when using a shorter thread so that is a great tip) and it runs more smoothly through the sewing process. To wax, I run thread through wax a few times and then press it with a hot iron. Well worth it!

  5. Good thing I am patient because it does take me a few tries to thread a needle! Nice to know I am not the only one!

  6. Selma says:

    Threading the needles is ussually not my biggest problem. Knotting on the other hand is a bigger one. Never hear of rumming it through your fingers, but I’m definitely goin to try that. I suppose it has the same effect as the beeswax, only greasing it with your own skin-grease.
    Somthing else that I learned laterly is, when your working with a double thread you shoudn’t ‘fold’ the thread. That way the two threads have opposite spin direction and are far more likely to knot. By cuttimng two threads and making sure the spin is in the same direction, knotting decreases singnifcantly. Downside is that now you have to thread two threads in the one needle. Its a bit harder but worth the trouble.
    By the way, I like the cardigan. I’ve got it in red.

    • Emmely says:

      I do usually fold the thread because I like that the needle gets “caught” in the fold and won’t accidently slip off. When you run the thread through your fingers after threading you really see the threads sort of relax as you repeat it a couple of times. I can see though why it might help to use two separate strands. With embroidery floss I usually use separate threads, I should pay attention whether that gives less knotting.

      I’ve had this cardigan for ages (2010 probably?), it was one of the first garments I made that actually turned out really wearable and I still wear it often. It seems to be a popular pattern, since I know at least one other person who’s made it as well. ;-)

  7. onedabbles says:

    Working light and eyesight seem to be my problems when threading needles. If I can actually see what I’m doing, I’m OK. I often get knots in the thread though, so I’m going to try your tip of running the thread through my fingers before I start.

  8. CurlsnSkirls says:

    Great post – thank you!
    Would love to locate one of those little threaders; coincidentally, just used the other type when doing some embroidery. Yep, the little wires pulled out, but I saved them, as they can still be used. :-)

    One other thing I read somewhere, perhaps on the Schmetz site: Needles have a smooth & a not-so-smooth side of the eye. If threading doesn’t go easily, try turning the eye around to the other side. Many times, this helps!
    xx del

  9. Your photo’s remind me of a story my mum told me as a child that I think she heard from her grandma. An old lady is challenged by the devil as to who can make a shirt fastest (I can’t remember what the prize is, I presume he gets her soul if he wins). The devil decides to save time by cutting a very long thread so that he can sew the whole shirt with one thread. But ever time he draws the needle through he has to run right round the house to pull the thread through. The old lady is much savvier and cuts a shorter length, rethreads her needle several times and wins the contest.
    By the way, I always cut the thread the distance from my outstretched hand to my shoulder. I start with a fairly long doubled over tail and shorten it once the thread is getting used up, and I never have to do any gymnastics. I do however avoid handsewing, I don’t have the patience for it. But I have found some wax (don’t think it’s beeswax) in a box of sewing things I inherited and intend to try it sometime.

  10. Ankitraj bhatta says:

    can you tell me the mane of this device

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