Basic Sewing 101: Threading a Needle

Threaded needle.
How do you get the thread through that tiny little hole?

The first step to learning to sew, is learning how to thread a needle.

On a hand-sewing needle, the hole, or eye, is opposite the pointed end of the needle. On a sewing machine needle, the eye is just above the pointed end. Getting your thread through that tiny hole so that you can sew, is called threading the needle.

An illustration of sewing needles showing the eye.
The eye of a sewing machine needle is at the pointed end. The eye of a hand sewing needle is opposite the pointed end.

First, make sure that the eye of the needle you are planning to use is big enough for the thread or yarn you will be using. The thread should be able to pass through the eye easily, without forcing.

Needle eye must be big enough.
The eye of the needle needs to be sized correctly for the thread or yarn used.

There are several ways to thread a needle. All start with a freshly-trimmed end on the thread or yarn. Trust me on this…it’s easier to do if you snip off a quarter inch of thread before starting, to give you a fresh tip.

Freshly trim your thread or yarn.
Start with a freshly-trimmed end.

Just pushing the end of the thread through the eye rarely works – the frayed fibers at the tip tend to splay out instead of neatly going through the eye of the needle.

Pushing thread through the eye of the needle
Pushing the tip through the needle can cause the fibers to separate and fray.

When I was three years old and learning to sew, I was taught to lick the tip of the thread to make the fibers stick together. This usually works okay, but not always. Around 2000, the “new” way to do this was to lick the eye of the needle instead. The moisture was supposed to draw the thread through the eye. I never got this method to work very well for me, and couldn’t figure out how to get my mouth close enough to the needle on my sewing machine for that method to work there.

Licked fibers stick together
Licking the tip can help the fibers to “stick” together.

A better way:

The method I will teach you works, all the time, for everything from fine silk thread to bulky yarns.

First, fold the thread or yarn around the needle, in a U shape.

Thread folded around needle
Fold the thread around the needle.

Pinch that U between your thumb and forefinger. Slip the needle out of the U, and pinch harder, squishing the thread into a V.

Pinch the folded thread
Pinch the fold between thumb and forefinger, then slip the needle out of the folded thread. Keep the fold tightly pinched together.

Place the eye of the needle over the point of the V. Make sure the eye is lined up so the thread can “drive” straight on through, like a semi through a tunnel.

Eye of the needle lined up with the folded thread
Place the eye of the needle directly over the V-point of the folded thread.

Push your fingertips towards the needle as you roll your fingertips back, and the thread will enter the eye of the needle.

The folded thread enters the needle eye.
Roll your fingertips back as you press the needle against your fingertips.

The folded thread almost magically goes through the needle’s eye!

Thread pinched into the eye
The fold of the thread has been pinched through the eye of the needle.

Grab the thread and finish pulling it through the eye of the needle.

Pull the thread through
Pull the thread the rest of the way through the eye of the needle.

And that’s it! With a little practice you’ll feel like a pro.

Threaded needle
And the needle is threaded!

Most of the time you’ll be sewing with about an 18 to 24 inch length of thread. Pull about a third of the length through the needle to start with. We’ll cover this more later.

Are you a visual person who likes to see it in action? Check out my video of the threading process.

Ready to move on? Next up: Knotting the thread end!