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Conversational Threads

“Seeing” the eye of a machine needle

Palady | Posted in General Sewing Info on

In the iron discussion there’s mentions of threading a machine needle.  Joesfly posted moistening the thread tip as she learned form her grandmother.  This will work.  What helps also, is to make a white cardboard strip 1 or 1 1/2″ wide x 2″ or 3″ long. 

You can fold a plain, or plain side of a lined, 3″ x 5″ index card to get the shape.  Use magic tape, the 3M type, to keep the folds in shape.

Set this white field BEHIND the needle.  The eye will be clearly seen.  On most machines, the card strip will sit indepedently at the back of the presser foot.  Though on some you might have to hold it in place.

I made a set of these and have them at hand near my machines.



  1. woodruff | | #1

    If your eyes are still pretty good (mine no longer are) and you can kind of see the eye of the needle, you can hold the tip of your other index finger behind the eye and aim for the spot on that finger. Our hand-eye coordination is so good and so deeply ingrained that quite often the technique will work! It used to for me. Sigh.

    1. Palady | | #2

      Kind of you to take the time to mention another approach.  Having choices to address a solution matters immensely.

      Changes in what happens as we progress through life, requires our using every & all resources at hand.


    2. gailete | | #27

      This is how I've been having to thread my machine. The needle threader that is built into it has broken. It is hard to see and aim for needle though. Now I need to read the rest of the posts to see if I can find an easier way!


      1. mainestitcher | | #30

        I went to Staples and purchased a clamp-on lamp with magnifier. It is clamped to the table between two machines so I can maneuver it to where I need it.

  2. Teaf5 | | #3

    Another trick is to use the groove down the front of the needle to position the thread. 

    Cut a clean end on the thread, then aim it about halfway down the needle; it will hit the groove and bend slightly down.  As you gently lower the thread, that bent end will slide right into the eye, whether or not you can see it clearly.

    That groove also marks the front of a needle; if you can't feel it on the front, you might have your needle in backwards (which causes all kinds of other problems!)

    1. Palady | | #8

      Dare say each of us have "found" the way that works to our need.

      Any & all ideas might be of help to lurkers or other members.  As we get more "experienced" our abilities do change.


  3. byf | | #4

    I recently had cataract surgery and haven't yet gotten glasses for reading, so I really can't see to find the needle eye. I have found that using a magnifier lamp (it has a circular fluorescent tube that goes around a magnifying lens) allows me to see the needle hole very clearly. The lamp is clamped to my sewing table and can be positioned so I can use it for other close work as well.

    1. Sancin | | #5

      Talking about 'seeing' needles - does anyone know how to see the very fine engraving on needles to see the size. I had a little help from a little one taking my needles out of my marked pin cushion. I have tried rubbing with chalk, pencil, etc, using a magnifying glass, but just can't make out the engraving. ANY help would be gratefully accepted. I do try to keep track of my needles in a pin cushion, a post it on my machine, but I seem to have a lot of needles I just don't know what size they are and hate to throw them out when I know they still are usable.

      1. Palady | | #9

        Deeom's suggestion of a jeweler's loop to read needle sizes is well said.  They are offered in different styles.


        I use the style shown at the beginning of this next URL.  My husband repaired watches so there was one readily avaialble to me when the need arose. 


        If you live in an area with optical repair shops, check to see if the loops are stocked.   As noted on the 2nd web site, they come in different magnification. 

        Trying one might help.  You can hold it to your eye with one hand as you have the machine needle in the other to bring the size into focus.  There's a learning curve to keeping it in place in your eye socket to free up both hands. 

        Another option is -


        If interested, you can check Nancy's & Clotilde.



        Another head band magnifier, though pricier, that works for me is next.  I've had mine for several years and bought it at a much lower price.  Understandable since such has been the case with most purchases.


        Which one I use depends on what I'm doing. 


      2. User avater
        ThreadKoe | | #10

        I keep an old bottle on nail polish by my machine. I dab a tiny dot on the shank, and when it is dry, put it back in the needle case. It tells me the needle is used, and the size is written on the package it came from! I seldom buy needles in multi size packs, so that helps too. Cathy

      3. Teaf5 | | #14

        I use a kid's science kit magnifying glass outside on a sunny day or with a bright flashlight shining from one side. Then I poke the needle through a 3x5 card that I have marked into sections for different sizes.However, after learning so much from this forum, I've started discarding needles more often. Especially on difficult fabrics, a fresh new needle makes work so much easier!

        1. MaryinColorado | | #15

          I bought a needle threader that works great at a Viking/Pfaff dealer.  It works on any sewing machine and now I can't thread a needle without it!  Mary

          1. User avater
            Sewista | | #16

            I took some office White Out and painted the bar behind the needle white. Its always there and works great. I am another who has an awful time of reading needles. I just can't see the writing but will try the suggestions.

          2. KharminJ | | #19

            Another trick is to swipe a marker across the numbers, then wipe off what doesn't sink "into" the engraving - instant printing! You can use different colors for different types or sizes, too. Kharmin

          3. sewfar | | #21

            I remember when Singer machine needles came with different colored tops or bands of color for the different types..ballpoint, sharp. Never could understand why Schmetz makes it so hard. I often think that they must think that the level of difficulty in using their product is a measure if their worth.

          4. MaryinColorado | | #23

            On my Schmetz needles, there is a blue band for denim, yellow for knit/ballpoint, green for quilting, purple for microtex sharps, and red for embroidery.  The Universal, metallic, and topstitching needles don't have them though.  I have noticed the older Schmetz needles say Stick-Nadel but the new ones don't.  I wonder if some of them have a different manufacturing origin like so many of the thread companies are now doing.  Perhaps yours are from a different manufacturer than mine?  I've been using Schmetz needles since around 1968 and they are getting harder to find though are still my favorites!  Mary

          5. sewfar | | #26

            Thanks. we lived overseas for years and I bet some of my Schmetz needles were bought there. Maybe they are the ones lacking the color bands. I do have some with the color bands and some without and I am sure you found the reason.

            Edited 3/31/2009 5:15 pm ET by sewfar

          6. sewslow67 | | #28

            The color codes you mentioned is really helpful information.  Is there a chart somewhere that gives all of this identifying information?

          7. MaryinColorado | | #29

            I haven't seen a chart but it would be useful to have one.  Mary

        2. woodruff | | #17

          Re the tiny print on needles, this really isn't something we should have to put up with, is it? Couldn't modern engraving or printing techniques be used to make identification easier?

          1. Sancin | | #18

            Good point about expecting it to be clearer. I wonder if anyone has ever told needle manufacturers. It may, however, make the needle less strong. About the magnification on the needle box I believe I did hear that years ago. I tried it and it worked - when I could get the needle to lie engraved side up. As I didn't have boxes for some of the needles I had to use one box and keep inserting diffent needle, but I did see most sizes. I found it interesting as I have many magnifiers of various strengths in my house, one even clipped onto my sewing table, but still struggle to see the sizes. I am going to try the white out as well.I don't keep needles all that long but I sometimes have small jobs to do. Tonight I am sewing with black thread to shorten 2 pairs of pants. One is slinky fabric for which I used a ball point needle and the other velour for which I used a regular needle. Tomorrow I am going to sew some strapping material with black thread. It will need a much heavier needle. Each of these projects don't take longer than 1/2 hour.

          2. Teaf5 | | #22

            Needle manufacturers probably don't want to make the lettering very clear; they make more profit if we have to use a brand-new one each time we sit down at our machine!

            However, since my time to sew has gotten so scarce, and worn needles can cause all kinds of problems, I've been indulging myself in a brand-new needle for each new project, especially for delicate, sheer, or very expensive fabrics. 

            Otherwise, I keep a stock of used needles in a labelled sections on a recipe card for the quick repair jobs or projects that aren't very fragile.  The heavier needles and fabrics are very forgiving; it's the fine needles that have to be replaced often.

    2. Ralphetta | | #6

      Those things are addictive! Before I got one I could manage just fine without it. But, once I started using it...I started using it for everything from ripping seams to manicures. I got much more particular.

      1. Deeom | | #7

        I am lucky to have a daughter who solved this one for me.  She gave me a jewelers magnifying glass.  You know, the one they hold up to their eye to see the jewels more clearly.  It reminds me of a monocular.  Another tip, the little box the needles come in have a slightly magnifying lid on them.  Place the needle in the box with the lettering up and it helps a little. 

        1. Cityoflostsouls | | #13

          I didn't know about the box!  Thank you.

    3. Cityoflostsouls | | #12

      I've had surgery too-guess I need to get out my magnifier that fits the machine!

    4. Cityoflostsouls | | #20

      I have one that has the base permanently attached to my sewing machine but since my catarract surgery I can't see how to attach the magnifying glass.  Well I've ordered my third pair of glasses so maybe I can see soon.

  4. Cityoflostsouls | | #11

    These tips work for threading the needle.  A very old tip is to moisten your finger and hold it behind the needle as you thread and miraculously it goes through.

    1. cassiopee | | #24

      I use that thrick,  moisten the back of thumb nail.

      1. Cityoflostsouls | | #25

        I had never heard that trick before.  My aunt probably did it but she never said anything. She made almost all of her clothes because a she had an extreme fitting problem and could buy very little OTR.  She was on her old White machine every week but she rarely made anything for me.  Consequently I learned to sew on my own after I was married.

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