Tips for Threading Hand Sewing Needles

Whenever the seasons change, I make an effort to put together new hand sewing projects. Last winter I organized three portable projects and left them in my car, near my favorite chair, and by my desk. I find hand sewing so relaxing because it takes minimal physical effort and while I sew my mind can wander.
hand stitching by marianne burr
This detail of 'At the Market' by Marianne Burr shows
how she creates texture with hand stitching.

For whatever reason, I actually did almost no handwork the entire winter. But after attending Spring Quilt Market in Portland, my hands are itching to do some needlecraft projects.

I've been hand stitching since I was a child, but I'm always on the alert for techniques to make sewing easier. For some reason (ahem) threading the needle seems to get more challenging each year.

So I was happy to come across these hand stitching tips from quilting expert Marianne Burr in a blog post by former assistant editor Lindsey Murray McClelland. Maybe they'll help you, too.

Hints for threading hand sewing needles:

  • Waxing the thread really helps reduce tangling. Pull the thread over the block of wax.
  • Pinch the very end of the thread between your thumb and a finger and put the needle onto the thread. Just push the needle over the thread, between your fingers, without moving your fingers
  • The needle eye is different on each side, and one side is easier to thread than the other. If you're having trouble, turn the needle over.
  • The thread has a twist just like a rope. One end of the thread will enable the needle to slip over it more easily than the other. If you're having trouble, try the other end of the thread.

Armed with these tips and a handy hand sewing travel bag, I am set to take my hand sewing projects with me wherever I go this summer.

You can take all your hand stitching inspiration with you this summer and any other time with our digital subscriptions. Check out all the possibilities that can make your life easier.

P.S. What other needle threading and hand sewing tips do you have? Please share them below.

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Quilting Daily Blog, Sewing Techniques

26 thoughts on “Tips for Threading Hand Sewing Needles

  1. use those needles with the open tops and you just pop the thread in and it slips by a little notch, that is what keeps the thread in.. So much easier than trying to thread the eye of a needle.

  2. After reading Marianne Burr’s tips on threading needles, I thought I would give you one of my tips for threading a needle.

    When you cut your thread make sure you cut your thread on a slant and use the freshly cut end of the thread ! You should find that a great help also!

    Regards and happy stitching,
    Teresa Unthank
    Andover, Hampshire, U.K

  3. Two tips: Never, EVER wet the thread. Waxing is good idea but if you find yourself without wax, you can wet the eye of the needle (saliva is always handy). The drop of moisture that is left in the eye will wick the thread through. This is an old tip from my mother-in-law who was an expert in all things handy. The second tip I have comes from my own embroidery experience. Try folding the thread over the needle eye, crease the thread with your fingers and then put the fold through the needle. Surprisingly, the folded edge of the thread is stiffer and goes through the eye a lot more easily.

  4. Two tips: Never, EVER wet the thread. Waxing is good idea but if you find yourself without wax, you can wet the eye of the needle (saliva is always handy). The drop of moisture that is left in the eye will wick the thread through. This is an old tip from my mother-in-law who was an expert in all things handy. The second tip I have comes from my own embroidery experience. Try folding the thread over the needle eye, crease the thread with your fingers and then put the fold through the needle. Surprisingly, the folded edge of the thread is stiffer and goes through the eye a lot more easily.

  5. I thread my needles as did my mother, an expert hand embroiderer into her nineties, by putting a loop of thread over the needle, pulling it tight, sliding it off and offering the loop to the needle eye. This works particularly well with stranded threads.

  6. I always fold my thread, then do the squeeze tight and move the needle to the fold. It eliminates the problems of the twist of the thread or yarn. Works with even the burliest of yarn with a yarn needle. I fold it o er the needle, squeezes tight as I pull the needle out. Nine times out of ten it will thread right in the first time.

  7. When I am hand stitching, I thread up to a dozen needles at the same time so I do not have to be constantly stopping to thread my needles and disturbing the flow of my stitching. Serafina

  8. Long-time quilters have taught me to ALWAYS use the end of the thread that came off the spool first to insert into the needle eye. (Not the freshly-cut end.) I think this is due to the nature of the thread twist on the spool. Anyway, I have had better luck threading needles since sticking to this method.

  9. Long-time quilters have taught me to ALWAYS use the end of the thread that came off the spool first to insert into the needle eye. (Not the freshly-cut end.) I think this is due to the nature of the thread twist on the spool. Anyway, I have had better luck threading needles since sticking to this method.

  10. For hand quilting, load several needles with thread and stick them in a pin cushion. Then when you use up the thread on a needle, just grab another so you dont have to stop and rethread

  11. For threading a needle put a WHITE piece of paper or cardboard behind needle to see the hole better. Same when threading a sewing machine needle.

  12. I also use one of those pretty cool gadgets that will thread the needle for me …old eyes suck! I also use Thread Heaven.

    Take a look at how thick your thread is and use the appropriate needle too. I’ve tried mushing too thick a thread through too small an eye. BAD!

    I also like all of the suggestions that the readers have included….we are awesome sewers!!! And with practice…better!

  13. Always thread the end that comes off the needle first, after you cut it at a slant. Put your knot in the other end. The way the thread comes off is indeed important. You will find this way the thread does not tangle as much when stitching..

  14. It helps when I bring the needle to the thread. Hold the thread in your non dominant hand and bring your needle which is in your dominant hand to the thread,

  15. An easy way to thread a needle—I fold the thread over the pointed end of the needle.then I pinch it really tightly between my thumb and forefinger of the left hand while still on the needle. Remove thread from needle while still pinching. You should not be able to see the fold in the thread . Take th needle in your right hand shove the eye over the still tightly punched fold of the thread. The fold of the thread is through the eye and the needle is threaded.

  16. Cut a small piece of paper just wide enough to go through the eye of the needle and about an inch or so long. Fold it in half and place the end of the thread at the inside fold. Slip the folded paper through the eye, and voila! there it is. Don’t know if this would work if the eye is too small, but it works great for embroidery floss and yarn.

  17. When having to “bury” a thread within a piece of work, ie. a doll or stuffed toy, or even when you’re having to weave a thread into a piece of jewelry or needlework to anchor the end, and the thread is too short or even shorter than the length of the needle, position the needle in the work as close to the thread end as possible making sure the eye is exposed. Thread the needle, and push through, pulling the needle through at the other end. The thread will come out of the eye and become buried in the work.

  18. I keep a bottle of clear nail polish in my sewing kit. I apply to the end of the thread, wait a few seconds and then pinch flat. It makes it stiff enough to go through the eye and works very well for putting multiple needles on the quilting thread spool.

  19. I keep a bottle of clear nail polish in my sewing kit. I paint the end of the thread, wait a few seconds and squeeze it between my fingers. This makes it stiff enough to go through the eye and then works works really well when threading multiple needles on a spool of thread.

  20. If you do not have wax with you, run the tip of the thread on your scalp, picking up oil from your head.

    This also works with the pointie end of the sewing needle if you are having trouble going through fabric.

  21. Several posts mention that the thread is twisted and using the freshly cut end of the thread helps thread your needle. Not all standard sewing thread is twisted in the same direction! American produced thread is twisted one direction, European brands go the other way. So try both ends of any thread and see which one is consistently easier. The thread twist is important for your sewing machine too. American and Japanese brands are engineered for American thread. European machine machines for the other direction twist. If you’ve ever wondered why you sometimes get a fine dust somewhere around your threading, it’s because the machine is chopping off the tiny bumps created by the wrong way twist. It weakens the thread too. Bobbins can use either twist.
    Joy-Lily

  22. If you thread a needle with the end of thread you have just cut, pull it right through and knot that same end the thread will sew with out tangling – works every time!

  23. If you thread a needle with the end of thread you have just cut, pull it right through and knot that same end the thread will sew with out tangling – works every time!

  24. I have been sewing for 40 years and have never heard 2 things before this article and comments! I did not know the eye wasn’t symetrical front to back. Now I have to study it! I also did not know that European and American threads were wound differently. That may explain frustrating results that were puzzling at times. Thanks all!

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