A stitch in time saves nine

Example in use: “I can’t come out tonight, I’m afraid. I have to stay in and start my tax return paperwork. I know it doesn’t need to be handed in for another 8 weeks, but I want to get ahead and you know what they say, “a stitch in time saves nine”!”

Meaning: a proverb meaning that work done now will save more work later on, don’t procrastinate

Possible German equivalent: Vorbeugen ist besser als heilen

Possible origin: Often shortened to “a stitch in time”, this old, rhyming proverb is a typical expression that offered advice to those who heard it.

The background is that if an item of clothing had a small tear or hole which needed mending, it would have been much better to just do that work right away rather than waiting until the damage was worse and therefore needed ten times the mending! It would appear that even in the past, there was a lot of procrastination going on.

A form of the idiom can be found in an anthology of proverbs etc. by Thomas Fuller from 1732 “A stitch in time may save nine”, which by 1797 can be found written in astronomer Francis Baily’s journal as the proverb we know today, dropping the “may”. Of course, if it was recorded in print in the 1700s, we can be sure that the saying itself was being used long before that as advice to be diligent.

The rhyming nature of the phrase is typical as they are easier to understand and remember than standard text and therefore it appears that there isn’t any particular significance in the number “nine”.

One small piece of trivia that I found while I was looking for the origin of this is that an anagram of “a stitch in time saves nine” is “this is meant as incentive”. A clear call to work!

Stitch / stɪtʃ


Welcome again to our weekly series that hopes to go behind the scenes of some rather typical English expressions.