A Stitch in Time

Meaning of “A Stitch in Time”

The phrase “a stitch in time” means a timely effort that can prevent difficulty and hard work in the future. However, the complete version of this phrase is “a stitch in time saves nine.” The proverb means that a problem must be dealt with in the beginning to avoid the worse of its situation later. It also means do whatever is necessary on time and do not procrastinate. The phrase makes a literal analogy as if a person does not stitch the first hole in his clothes in time then it requires a greater number of stitches later to mend it.

Origin of “A Stitch in Time”

The phrase “a stitch in time” is assumed to be the French origin. It was used as a sailing term with a specific context during the early eighteenth century. However, the current version has appeared in Thomas Fullers’ book Gnomologia, Adagies and Proverbs, Wise Sentences and Witty Sayings, Ancient and Modern, Foreign and British published in 1732. The phrase was used a complete sentence as a proverb, “A Stitch in Time May save nine.” It has become a regular proverb later with the same words but standardized grammar such as “A stitch in time saves nine.”

Examples from Literature

Example #1

A Stitch in Time sung by Martin Carthy

There was a woman and she lived on her own
Slaved on her own and skivvied on her own
She’d two little boys and two little girls —
She lived all alone with her husband …

For when he’d come home drunk at night
He’d thrash her black and thrash her white;
Thrashed her to within an inch of her life
And snored all night like a big drunken husband

One night she gathered her tears all round her shame
Covered up the bruise and cried with the pain
You’ll not do that ever again
I’ll not live anymore with a drunk of a husband

And that night as he lay drunk in bed
The strangest thought came to her head
She took the needle and the thread
And went straight in to her sleeping husband …

Husband awoke with a pain in his head,
And found he could not move in bed.
“Sweet Christ, I’ve lost the use of me legs.”
Wife just smiled at her husband…

The is an English folk song from the 1970s. The central theme of the song revolves around its title of how a woman saved herself on time. The story is about a wife who is tortured by her husband. She finally musters her courage to take revenge on her husband with the same brutality and pain. Though she had endured the abuse for a while, her actions saved her from further danger. Hence, the phrase a stitch in time relates the story.

Example #2

Stitch in Time by Owen Sheers

“And so he left his wife, just 15 years old, in Gujarat
and travelled back
across three seas
to Fiji and the Garden Island of Taveuni,
where he bent once more
to the cloth, spilling from the bench onto the floor…
And that’s why, four daughters and a son later, when
his joints were as stiff as his oldest scissors, he went to London
an explorer discovering the source, the still point after the strife,
the first stitch in the pattern to which he cut his life.”

The above extract uses the phrase as the title of the poem. It refers to the man in the poem, who is a tailor. He talks about how he managed to travel around the world. He left his family and children behind often to take solo trips.  The story also clarifies that he married at a very early age. The event shows many phases of the tailor’s life. He worked hard, was patient, and used his time well.

Example #3

A Stitch in Time by Ann Rinaldi

This is the first book of The Quilt Trilogy. The story is about a family torn apart by 1798 war.  The protagonist, a young girl, Hannah, tries hard to gather all the scattered pieces of her family. She also tries to stitch a quilt for then after a historical revolutionary war era to bring her people together with trust. The writer uses this phrase as the title of her book to give it meanings through the central character of Hannah.

Example #4

 A Stitch in Time by Penelope M. Lively

It is an award-winning children’s novel by Penelope Lively, a British novelist. This story is about time, identity, and memory from a child’s perspective.  The main character, Maria, along with her family, goes on a summer holiday at the seashore in England. Maria is an imaginative child with clairvoyance quality. Maria attributes past events to her quality and becomes very much disturbed. The title of this novel refers to a sample that Maria comes across as her Victorian counterpart Harriet made it but later her sister, Susan, completed.  The title also applies to the parallelism of time between two girls; previously for Harriet and currently for Maria.

Example in Sentences

Example #1: “Don’t be hasty in taking this decision but at least know the value of time as a stitch in time saves nine.”  

Example #2: “Your procrastination does not get you to your goal. Please learn and understand that a stitch in time saves will help you achieve your goal.”

Example #3: “I wish had remembered my grandma’s words ‘a stitch in time’ I could have saved my grades. I wouldn’t have wasted my time playing video games.”

Example #4: “If you work united from the start of the project, you will finish it faster. As rightly believed, a stitch in time saves nine.”

Example #5: “Don’t ignore any warnings you get, a stitch in time will save you from all the trouble. So just follow the rules and be punctual.”