the whys and wherefores of needle threading

Why is it so cotton-pickin’ hard to thread a needle?

Some things never change. It was hard to thread a needle in the olden days, and it still is. They even use it in the Bible as a metaphor for “hard.”

It’s hard for a couple of reasons. It’s hard to hold a thin little thing like a needle super still, and it’s tough to see if you’re guiding the thread accurately through such a small space. So there’s a couple of things you can do to simplify the process.

Choose the right needle for the task. There’s a wide range of needle sizes, and you have to ask yourself what thread or yarn you’ll be using, and the heavyness of the fabric you’ll be sewing. Some needles are purposely made teeny-tiny thin and flexible, some are fat and stiff. You can’t sew through denim with the thin one (it will break) and you can’t sew tricot with the fat one (it will make holes). So choose the right needle…making sure that at least the hole in the needle is bigger than the thread you’re using.

One of the reasons threading needles is so hard is because the end of the thread is frayed, sometimes so microscopically that we can’t even see that it is. The little frayed ends stick out this way and that, and catch on the eye of the needle. So most needle-threading tricks have to do with lessening the frayedness of the thread.

Sometimes it helps to cut an inch or two off the end, very cleanly and with sharp scissors. But not always.

Sometimes, if you double the thread over the shaft of the needle, squeezing it tight against the needle with your thumb, you can manage to create a bend in the thread that will go through the eye easier than the end. This method dodges the frayed end problem by inserting the bent edge instead.

There’s a method involving cutting a little piece of paper, folding the paper around the thread, and inserting the paper through the eye, carrying the thread through with it. The Damsel doesn’t want to hurt your feelings if you like this method, but she thinks little of it. She’s way too impatient to fool around with paper, scissors, and trying to cut that small. Phooey on the paper method.

You can buy little needle threaders. The Damsel’s has the head of what looks like it might be a Greek god stamped on it. This is apparently because threading a needle is so tricky you have to intimidate the thread through, by using symbols of power.

To use one of these, you insert the little wire thing through the eye of the needle (much easier than inserting thread because it’s stiff and smooth). Then you insert the thread through the wire thing sticking out of the eye (easier because the opening in the wire thing is so much bigger than the eye) and then…

pull it through.

Grandma’s favorite way was to just wet the end of the thread in her mouth for a second. This smooths the little frayed ends and gives the thread a tiny bit of stiffness.

One additional tip: don’t hold the thread too far from the end when trying to put it through the eye, because that will give it more chance to flop. Hold it pretty darn close to the end, and get ready to pinch the thread quickly when it emerges from the eye.

The Damsel has also observed that swearing will scare the thread into the eye. Eventually.

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5 thoughts on “the whys and wherefores of needle threading

  1. you never cease to amaze me on the whys and where fores of things I never thought of that others may not know.

  2. “This is apparently because threading a needle is so tricky you have to intimidate the thread through, by using symbols of power.”

    So damselesque! 🙂

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