Extra help with threading needles and loopers

Have difficulty threading a needle ?
Have nearly as much trouble getting a piece of wire into a needle eye as a piece of thread ?

There are 3 main types of extra help with threading needles :

Calyx eye needles – end slot hand sewing needles.
Spiral eye needles – side slot needles, available for both hand and machine.
Plunger type threading tools – for both hand and machine needles.

As well of course as the fine hooks used in the threaders built into some sewing machines.
And I have a note on help with threading serger/ overlocker loopers.

People have strongly different opinions on these tools, so do try some for yourself !

Here’s what works for me, for both hand and machine sewing.
Many people find ‘self threading’ hand sewing needles useful for finishing off short ends of thread, as in quilting.
I’m commenting as someone with shaky hands, I don’t know how helpful these tools are for someone with severe arthritis or limited vision.

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Calyx-eye hand sewing needles

I find these self-threading needles much easier to use than a conventional wire-loop needle threader.
But there were some things I needed to know before I could use them without hassle.

image source

Put the thread into the V-slot in the end of the needle.
Give a sharp tug, and instant-amazement the needle is threaded.
I started by moving the thread into the slot. Now I find it easier to move the needle onto the thread.

Do buy quality.
Buying cheap ones is just a way of throwing away money. It’s not that cheap needles do the job badly, they don’t do the job at all. They either shred the thread or the thread pulls straight out when you take your first stitch. Before I tried a quality one, I spent some time thinking self-threading needles are unusable.

Quality ones eventually wear out and stop holding the thread, but that shouldn’t happen for a while.

I haven’t tried all brands. I’ve had good experiences with Clover brand. Here’s an enthusiastic review of Prym brand from Tasia at Sewaholic.

Don’t waste time and energy trying to get the thread into the second hole. It won’t go and it isn’t supposed to.
That lower hole provides a bit more ‘spring’ for the end of the needle that opens up as you pull the thread through.

It used to take me several minutes to thread a needle and now not – hurrah. I enjoy hand sewing but a wire-loop needle threader is nearly as difficult as thread for me. Using these, and the plunger-type threaders below, is near miraculous for someone like me with shaky hands.

Here’s a tutorial on using these needles, specifically for people with limited vision.

Calyx eye needles only come in general purpose sewing sizes, there are none for tapestry, crewel embroidery etc. Though it is quite a bit easier to use a wire-type needle threader with the large eye of a crewel needle or a tapestry needle.

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Spiral eye – slot in the side

Here’s their main web-site.

These look interesting but are expensive to import to the UK so I haven’t tried one.

They have at least 2 advantages :
– they are available in a wider range of hand sewing needle sizes,
– they are available as sewing machine needles too.

Schmetz sewing machine needle company now makes quick threading machine needles which are also threaded through a side slot into the needle eye. I’m planning to try these.

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Plunger-type threaders

Sewing machine needles

My previous sewing machine had a built-in needle threader which I found easy to use.
The needle threader on my new machine is not the same (or perhaps my hands are shakier than they were).
Anyway, I now find it easier to use a plunger type threader.


Put the thread into the V of the threader (check instructions, they only work one way). Move the threader gently down the front of the machine needle while putting a little pressure on the plunger. The device should push a thread loop through the eye of the needle.

May take a few tries to get the feel of it.

Various plastic and metal versions available. I keep several of these to hand. Not surprisingly, the fine wire used to push the thread can get bent easily.

Hand sewing needles

Many people are enthusiastic about plunger-operated devices for threading hand sewing needles, but I haven’t done well with them.
They only work for a small range of sizes of needle, so check if they’re suitable for purpose.
Here’s the Clover version. The one I tried would only take small size fine hand sewing needles.
There are one size and two size versions from other companies.

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Serger/ overlocker needles and loopers

Most serger/ overlockers use the same needles as sewing machines, so plunger needle threaders should work on them as well. Bernina issue a plunger threader with some of their serger/overlockers.

For help with threading looper holes, here are some suggestions – though they do assume you have space in front of the hole for getting at it.

For looper holes that thread from front to back, try a plunger threader.
You’ll need tweezers to grab the loop of thread that goes through the hole, as most sergers don’t have room for fingers in that space !

For looper holes that thread from back to front, try a fine crochet hook for pulling the thread forward through the hole.
You need what is called a ’steel hook’ or ’thread hook’, with the shaft no wider than the hook.


Check the length of handle will work in the space available in your serger/ overlocker.

Measure the width of the holes in your loopers in millimetres, as you will need a hook about 1 mm smaller than that.
Many of these hooks give their size in mm. Here’s a table for conversion from mm to USA and UK crochet hook sizes.

I thought people didn’t do fine crochet work anymore, but there are many choices for these hooks from places like Amazon.

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In the days when all sewing was done by hand, it needed specialist skills and tools to make any needle, and they were expensive.
We are lucky to have these marvellous modern threading helper inventions.
Good Luck for finding ones which meet your needs.

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Links available July 2016

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How a sewing machine works

The sewing machine is a sophisticated machine tool. Similar problem to the first aeroplane, there were many different design features which needed to be right before the thing would work at all.

Here’s an animation of the clever way the machine makes its lockstitch.

If you prefer something slower, here’s a pdf with detail about the mechanism.

Here’s an entertaining UK documentary about the history of sewing machine mechanisms (26 mins.)

Another documentary about the history of sewing machines, this time from the US and not free, Still Stitching (100 mins.).

Machines have to be manufactured. Here’s an amazing (silent) documentary about the huge factory in Scotland which made Singer black and gold machines in their heyday (70 mins.). Also incidentally a clear reminder about changes in manufacturing. That was before computers and laser measuring. 80 years ago the film was made to show off marvellous modern methods !

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Using PDF download patterns

Buying pdf download print-at-home patterns on-line is a happy way of getting instant pattern gratification and frittering away small sums of money. But do try the complete process before buying many of them. Some people find the assembly process excruciatingly boring, and are happy to spend the extra time and money on waiting for a paper pattern to ship !

Here are instructions for assembling a tiled pattern.

There are 2 styles of print out pattern.

The usual ones have an overlap border on each page, so the overlap has to be trimmed away from 2 sides of each page before you can tape them together. I find it helps to have a routine for this – I always trim the top and left sides (some people trim the right and bottom – you choose another combination !). I don’t mind doing this, I find it a ‘quiet sit’ activity.
Here’s photo tutorial about using pdf patterns from Thread Theory, only a little of it is specific to their patterns.

Less often, the pages are printed without overlap borders, so the pages have to be butted together.
Here’s a video tutorial from Hot Patterns, with also much general guidance.

If you trace your assembled pattern before using, here’s a suggestion for skipping the taping-together step.

Personally, I find the pages slide around. I need to fix them together with removable tape (well worth the expense), before taping them together finally or tracing them. But I’m not a person who’s only happy when using the quickest method!

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