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Whether you’re new to sewing or an experienced sewist no longer blessed with perfect near vision, I want to share my best tips for how to thread a sewing machine needle easily.
While I have automatic needle threaders on all my sewing machines, the threaders don’t work when threading a twin needle, and my serger also requires hand threading. Over the years of threading these sewing needles by hand, I’ve learned several tips and tricks. I’ll walk you through some helpful hints and then teach you how to use a few helpful needle threading tools.
(And before we start, if you need help learning how to thread a sewing machine itself, I’ve written two companion posts: how to thread a Singer sewing machine and how to thread a Brother sewing machine. These both feature directions for how to thread a needle on a sewing machine using the built-in automatic needle threader.)
Needle Threading Tips – Before We Start
By profession, I’m an eye doctor, though I practice infrequently now while raising my daughters. One of the first complaints I get from patients with early vision changes is the sudden difficulty focusing well enough to thread the needle on a sewing machine. At least once a week (when I practiced full-time), someone would mention threading issues, and we’d talk about glasses or contact lens options to improve vision.
All this to say, if you’re having problems visualizing the eye of the needle and haven’t seen your eye doctor recently, schedule a check-up! So many times, a good pair of reading glasses (or treatment of existing eye disease) will help clear up the small eye of the needle and provide better depth perception. Which, in turn, makes threading a sewing machine needle SO much easier!
Even with your best vision correction, the eye of the needle can still be tricky to thread, so now let’s get on to the process and some helpful hints!
What direction do you thread a sewing machine needle?
The thread will always go from the front of the needle to the back. Avoid twisting the thread as you pass it through the eye of the needle.
For beginners, the eye of the needle is the small hole near the point of the needle. You will use the thread from the top of your sewing machine, not the bobbin thread from the bottom, to thread the needle.
Once you’ve maneuvered the thread through the eye, pull it under and behind the presser foot. Your presser foot is the metal piece of your sewing machine that holds your fabric in place while you sew.
Preparing Your Sewing Machine for Threading
It’s best to thread your machine with the needle in up position. On a computerized machine, press the needle up button. On manual machines, use the handwheel on the right of the machine or gently press the foot pedal to move the needle to the up position. If you have an automatic needle threader, it will only work in the up position, anyway.
If you’re a beginner, before you start trying to thread the needle, first turn your sewing machine off. Yes, I know this turns off the workspace light. But, having a child, pet, or your own accidental touch start the machine while you’re fiddling with the needle only leads to bad things! Just set up an auxiliary light source to replace the workspace light if you need the added illumination. And, make sure to orient it to avoid shadows. Once you’ve gotten the hang of needle threading, you can decide if you prefer to thread with the machine on or off.
Presser Foot Down or Removed (Optional)
If you have larger fingers or typically have issues getting your fingers to the eye of the needle, give yourself the most space to work. This means lowering the presser foot after you’ve threaded the upper thread or completely removing the presser foot. For many machines, you remove the presser foot by pressing a lever or snapping the foot off. Refer to your user manual if you can’t figure out how your machine works.
White or Light Background (Optional)
If you have difficulty seeing the eye, try holding a white piece of printer paper or a notecard behind the needle. This gives a better contrast between the dark needle and white paper, making it easier to see for those with poorer near vision.
Preparing the Thread Ends
If you’ve ever tried to pass a frayed or fuzzy thread through the small eye of a needle, you know how difficult this is. The individual fibers never seem to pass through at the same time! The key to successful needle threading, though, is making the thread as slick, strong, and uniform as possible to reduce fibers catching when passing through the needle’s eye.
1. Cutting off Frayed Ends
First, cut off any frayed ends using sharp sewing scissors. Dull, household scissors may make things worse. It’s also best to cut slightly at an angle.
2. Strengthening the Thread
If I’m in a pinch, I’ll then lick the thread end. Gross, I know, but it works great most times! Give the thread ends a little squish with your fingers to compress all the fibers. You can use water also.
When I’m not in a hurry or I’m dealing with very limp threads, I’m very much in love with Thread Magic. It’s a thread conditioner with a bazillion uses, one of which is making threads less frayed. It also strengthens thread and makes it easier to pass through a needle. To use Thread Magic, unscrew the cap, squish the last few inches of thread into the middle of the material, and pull the end through. Then, shape the end if needed. Thread Magic makes pitifully weak threads much stronger and maneuverable. It’s like…magic!
How to Thread A Sewing Machine Needle – The Methods
Now that we’re set up, let’s get looking at the different ways to thread.
And, just know that if you can’t thread with the needle on the machine, you can always remove it, thread it, and then replace it in the needle clamp. Refer to how to change a sewing machine needle if you need instructions for how to do remove and re-insert your needle.
Threading A Sewing Machine Needle by Hand
The first way to thread your sewing machine needle is to do it by hand. Depending on your dexterity, the size of the eye of the needle, your vision, and the size and type of thread this may be easier said than done.
To attempt this method, hold the thread about 1/4″-1/2″ from the end with your pointer finger and thumb. Then, carefully push the thread through the eye of the needle. All done!
Using A Needle Threading Tool for Threading
There are at least 10 needle threader tools available to help you thread a sewing machine needle or a serger. Things can get a bit crowded with needle threaders that need to approach the eye of the needle from the back, which is why I prefer to use those when hand-sewing and instead opt for threaders that approach from the front. Here are the two that I own and use.
Dritz Needle Inserter and Threader
The most effective sewing machine needle threader, in my opinion, is the Dritz Machine Needle Inserter & Threader. It’s a small blue and white plastic apparatus that works the best with sewing machines. I’ve put a few pictures of mine in action below and a video above. To use the Dritz needle threader, pull the thread through the V-shaped channel on the threader. Then, place the threader on the sewing machine needle a bit above the eye and slide it down while gently depressing the blue plunger portion. Once you hit the eye of the needle, the plunger will depress more, and a thin metal piece will poke the thread through the eye of the needle. At this point, release the plunger and gently remove the needle threader. Use the small hook on the top of the white part to pull the loop of thread through the eye of the needle.
Silver Wire Loop Tool To Thread a Sewing Machine Needle
The least expensive needle threading tool is a silver wire loop needle threader. Always make sure to have several on hand because they are flimsy and break easily. Because they are so flimsy, I sometimes have difficulty threading my needle with it when it’s on the machine. As a tip, when you go to insert the threader, try the left side of the presser foot first rather than approaching from the right.
To thread a sewing machine needle with this needle threader, hold the round base of the threader in your hand. Insert the wire loop into the eye of the needle from back to front. This will leave the loop exposed in the front of the needle. Make sure it pops open back to its full size. Holding the thread in your other hand, insert the end through the exposed loop of wire. Pull a few inches of thread through, and make a loop with your thread by folding the end of the thread back on itself. Gently pull the wire loop out from the eye of the needle. Keep pulling until the end of the thread pulls through. Remove the needle threader, and smooth out any twists in the thread.
Self-Threading Sewing Machine Needles by Schmetz
If you absolutely cannot get your sewing machine needle threaded, you can purchase self-threading sewing machine needles. These “quick threading needles” are made by Schmetz. There’s a small slit on the side that you can slip the thread into rather than having to pass it through the eye of the needle.
I don’t use these for a few reasons. First, there are very limited sizes and types. Different fabrics require different sizes and types of needles, so variety is important. Also, the thread can slip back out of the slit during sewing if you’re not careful. Overall, this is a last resort for me.
Using The Automatic Needle Threader
If you have a sewing machine with an automatic needle threader, threading is easy. In theory. I’ve never had great luck with the needle threaders on my sewing machines, though. The inside hook always bends, and it’s a pain to fix. Now, the needle threader on my embroidery machine? That one is pretty great!
If you have an automatic needle threader and want to use it, here’s a very brief summary and a picture above. First, hold and pull down the small lever on the left side of the machine to rotate the needle threader through the eye of the needle. The inside of the needle threader will have a small hook to catch your thread with when you run it along the inside. When you rotate the needle threader back out of the eye, the hook will pull the thread with it as it returns to its normal position.
How to Thread a Needle on a Sewing Machine – Conclusion
Between threading by hand, using a needle threading aid, or using a sewing machine automatic needle threader, I hope these tips & tricks have helped you master threading your sewing machine needle! Happy sewing!