Q: I’ve been struggling with some hand sewing. When the needle has to pass through many layers, I can’t get a strong grip on it to pull it out on the other side. What am I doing wrong?
—Maxine Walters, Poughkeepsie, New York
A: We don’t think you’re doing anything wrong, but the Threads staff has some troubleshooting suggestions for you: First, check the needle. Is it clean and smooth? Threads’ staff seamstress Norma Bucko advises using a new needle when you’re sewing through many layers. Skin secretions can damage a needle’s surface, roughening it so it can’t slide easily through the fabric. She recommends Bohin needles from France, as they are smooth (SuperiorThreads.com).
Next, is the needle the right size? A needle that is too thick may not glide easily through many layers of tightly woven fabric, especially if there is fusible interfacing on the wrong side. Try sizing down to a thinner needle. Choose a long needle. This provides enough space to grasp the leading end where it emerges from the fabric, so you can pull it.
There are tools that make it easier to sew through tough layers. A thimble protects your finger so you can push the eye end firmly. Once you have pushed the needle as far as you can, you need to pinch and pull it from the point end. Silicone or textured rubber gripping pads or finger covers keep you from pricking your fingertips and help you get a good hold on the needle. You can also try a clever device that clamps the needle’s end to give you leverage as you pull it (Bohin 3-in-1 Needle Puller, Wawak.com). If you have any arthritis in your hands, you will benefit from these tools.
Finally, analyze the project. You may not need to sew through all the layers. Careful stitching through just the top layers may create a strong enough seam or attachment.
This post was originally featured in the Q&A department of Threads #214 (April/May 2021).
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