Have you ever heard one of your grandparents say, “A stitch in time saves nine"? They may have uttered this phrase with a wise nod of the head after a subtle recommendation to do something now, rather than waiting until later. You may have thought, “Saves nine what?" If so, read on…
“A stitch in time saves nine" is an idiom, which is a phrase whose symbolic or intended meaning is different from the literal meaning of the words themselves.
Historians believe it first appeared in print in 1732 in Thomas Fuller's Gnomologia, Adagies and Proverbs, Wise Sentences and Witty Sayings, Ancient and Modern, Foreign and British. Of course, if Fuller considered this saying to be a proverb in 1732, it was probably around for many years before that.
Its meaning is quite simple: Don't procrastinate! Procrastination means to delay or put off doing something until a later time.
People use “a stitch in time saves nine" to express that it's better to spend a little time and effort to deal with a problem right now than to wait until later, when it may get worse and take longer to deal with. Many believe procrastination — putting off doing something until later — creates more work in the long run.
Although no one knows for sure who came up with this saying or what significance stitches or the number nine have, many people believe it was started by mothers weary of mending their children's clothing.
The phrase thus might be stated more clearly as, “One stitch, in time, saves nine stitches," meaning that mending a tear right away would only require one stitch instead of the 10 stitches necessary later if the tear goes unfixed and worsens.
Many people shorten the phrase to just "a stitch in time." Other similar proverbs include “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" and “there's no time like the present."