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?