How to change thread on a sewing machine

Apologies for such a basic post -this came up in the process of writing another one but it’s not done yet- and I know a lot of you already know this but many people don’t -which is, the first step of changing thread on a machine. I showed this to a woman the other day who had been sewing all her life and she didn’t know it so I’m often wondering what I should or shouldn’t mention.

The way you thread a machine is to snip off the thread of the old spool and tie the thread of the new spool together and then pull it through the guides until the tail end when you have to feed it through the needle. The picture at right shows the thread changeover. I had to tape a piece of scrap paper in place so you could see the threads, sorry that it looks so tacky.

It will annoy everyone if you pull the thread out of the guides and then re-thread it, fishing the thread through the guides anew. In fact, this is why when you buy a machine, it comes pre-threaded from the factory. And sewn off. Sewn off means there is a scrap of fabric under the presser foot with some stitching on it. That is (I suspect) the last quality check at the factory before the machine is packed up and shipped.

As an aside, I’ve often thought it would be possible to ascertain the experience of an operator by gauging how quickly they can thread a machine. Experienced operators are a sure sight to behold.

All this indirectly comes about while writing a post about the new button hole machine I bought. The thread broke twice in the last half hour -which could mean any number of things but the most likely culprit is crappy thread so I changed it out with some thread, freshly harvested from its shrink wrap covering. More to come manana.

Get New Posts by Email


  1. Brina says:

    Was taught this the first day I worked in a commercial costume shop. Saves a lot of time, wastes a little thread. If the needle hole is large enough–like on a blind stitch or some sergers–you can pull the knot through the needle also.
    You should do this with the presser foot up, and once it’s threaded make sure the thread is seated in any tension discs properly.

  2. Judy says:

    When I first got my machine the salesman said he would go through it threading process to make sure I knew how to do it. Good thing. We got home and it was a few weeks before we got the machine set up. First time I changed threads the thread broke and the old thread came out. So I had to figure out how to thread the machine. It did not take me that long to figure it out but it took me a while to get the thread through the needle hole. I now have bigger needles. The manual is pretty worthless. It is written in 5 different languages so it takes forever to find the english version of what I need. I found the book Sewing for the Apparel Industry helpful in trying to figure it out.

  3. Jenny says:

    I just purchased my first serger. Didn’t even know what it was until a couple of months ago. I watched the CD that came with the machine and this was the first thing they teach you. Thanks for posting ~ I truly appreciate the information you post on your blog and I’m glad I am doing this properly as your post confirms!

  4. Yvonne says:

    I had a similar discussion just the other day with a woman who was interested in sewing lessons and although she had sewn before her biggest fear was changing the thread on the machine. She was surprised at how simple it could be when I explained this to her. So maybe it isn’t as basic as we think:)

  5. SS says:

    At FiT, I was taught to thread their very old Merrow Machines that way because they’re difficult to thread from scratch. But with regular, industrial sewing machines I was always taught to start from the beginning. They’re not that time-consuming to thread once you know how.

  6. Mary says:

    I’ve sewn for decades and didn’t know that. I was taught you *could* change threads on a serger that way but that was because they were hard to thread. I never knew it was to save time.

    I learn something new every time I read your posts!

  7. TOS says:

    Hmm, I don’t get it — it’s quicker (for me) to rethread than to use this method. I only tie on when I’m doing visible stitching where I don’t want a break/overlap to show. And why would it “annoy everyone” if someone rethreads?

  8. Kathleen says:

    I don’t understand “I only tie on when I’m doing visible stitching where I don’t want a break/overlap to show”. This doesn’t compute (for me). If you change thread color, there will be overlap; you still have to re-thread the needle.

    If it is faster for you to rethread than to tie on… I have got to see that. Seriously. I’ve seen stitchers completely re-thread by tying on in less than five seconds. The five seconds includes the start and stop: switching spools and threading the needle.

    It won’t annoy everyone just the boss who is paying you (this is presumably a commercial site, consider context) and anyone who will be inconvenienced if you thread wrong (which won’t happen if you tie on).

    SS: I’ve heard some people say that. It comes from the preoccupation that the thread channels will become worn over time and fray the thread. The thing is, whoever says that is still putting wear on the channels when pulling the old thread out.

    Secondly, I think this is a carry over from home sewing (or who got their start there). It is more likely to happen in newer home machines but it still doesn’t matter because any machines that have such weak metal to be affected, will wear out before the channels do.

  9. Jen Rocket says:

    Great post! I recently have had the joy if watching 3 girls light up when I showed them this trick for a Juki single needle. Best of the day was the Union Special Mark IV overlock though- what a time saver and fabulous way to show the paths of the loopers. Changing out thread us a fun task for me, silly maybe but it’s line an easy fresh start.

  10. Silvia says:

    I knew about this trick before buying my own serger…but I had the same experience as Judy…when I tried it on my own new serger the threads came loose and I had to learn how to rethread. I rethreaded a couple of times and now it’s not an issue at all, it goes fast. So I never went back to knotting. Maybe I should give it another try…

  11. Brina says:

    Kathleen, I think TOS means that TOS pulls through when they are doing top stitching–so apparently they have a large enough needle for the knot to go through. But there’s still a knot…so I don’t know.

    Silva, (and others) you may not be tying the right kind of knot. (Shame on Kathleen for not mentioning this detail ;-) ). A granny or square knot won’t work, besides taking too much time to tie. You need to use a overhand knot with both threads together. See here

  12. Lisa Bloodgood says:

    Whoa! I don’t know where or when I learned this…it’s been so long that I’ve been doing this with that same knot Brina mentions that I can’t remember when it imprinted itself on my memory. I have had to rethread loopers because the thread broke before and it’s a pain. Also, when I did the theater costumes last year, I kept telling the kids to steer clear of the overlock, but they managed to unthread most of it. It was a pain to rethread it then I couldn’t get it to work again till I had it serviced.

  13. David S says:

    Brina is right, you need to do an overhand knot. But it’s worth pointing out that if you’re vastly changing thread sizes, even an overhand knot may come undone. It helps to leave long tails.

  14. Kathleen says:

    Brina, but if I remembered to mention everything, there’d be nothing left for you to admonish me for and I couldn’t possibly bring myself to deprive you :).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.