Miscellenia

Does thread have a shelf life?

As many of you may know, I love using vintage fabrics, and vintage threads.  I inherited hundreds of threads from Grandma and Nana, and buy old thread at op-shops whenever I see it.

I estimate that 90% of my sewing is done with vintage thread, and I’ve never had a problem with it. No breakages in the machine, no breakages in clothes I wear (including ones I made over a decade ago, and still wear), no funny pulls or tension issues.

Yet over, and over on the internet I hear ‘never use old thread’, ‘thread has a shelf life’, ‘vintage thread just isn’t strong enough and doesn’t work right’, ‘old threads are thicker’.

I use new thread for commissions and when sewing with students, so I’ve been able to compare new with old on the same machines, and even on different projects in the same fabrics.  I’ve tested and tested, and just can’t find any substantial evidence that using old thread gives a substandard result compared to new thread.

I do match thread to fabric – I use my vintage cotton threads for vintage cotton and rayon fabrics, my slightly less old cotton thread for slightly less old cotton and rayon fabrics, and only use new poly/polymix thread for synthetic fabrics and knits and the occasional silk chiffon.  Polyester thread is certainly stronger for its width compared to cotton thread, but my new cottons are no stronger or thinner than my old ones.

It can’t be that it’s just that my vintage threads were stored properly, as they come from so many different sources.  I’ve got Grandma’s 20-60 year old threads, which spent their life in San Diego, Great-Aunt’s 20-35 year old threads, from Idaho and Hawaii, Nana’s 20-60 year old threads, from New Zealand, plus all the ones I pick up in op-shops around New Zealand.

I keep my thread sorted by colour, not source, so except for knowing the brands that are definitely NZ and not US threads, and the general age of different brands and spools, I have no record of where they came from after the fact.  Still, my thread fail rate is less than 1/100 spools.

“But wait”, says the anti-vintage thread brigade, “vintage thread can’t possible be good – I’ve had so many vintage garments that were coming apart at the seams!”

Guys.  C’mon!  Thread that has been sewn into a garment that has been worn/washed/drycleaned is NOT the same as old-but-unused thread on a spool.

You can’t say 30 year old thread on a spool is going to break because 30 year old thread sewn into a dress 30 years ago and worn and washed 60 times, and left dirty for 20 years before it was drycleaned and worn and washed again, broke.  In 60 years time the seams of the garments I’ve been sewing with vintage thread, and have been wearing and sweating in and washing, may be falling apart.  But I suspect the stuff I’m sewing with brand-new Gutterman may be as well.  For now, even the stuff I sewed with 30-year-old-at-the-time thread 20 years ago, that has been worn and washed 80+ times since, is still going strong.  And for me that’s pretty good evidence that vintage thread is fine to sew with!

Whenever I’ve had problems with thread breaking it’s happened as it ran through the machine: in hundreds of garments sewn with vintage thread I’ve never had one that started breaking after a couple/dozen wears.

The final reason given for not using vintage thread is that it creates more lint than modern thread.

First, this not entirely true  – some vintage threads may create more lint than modern threads, but a good quality vintage thread still creates less lint than a cheap modern thread.

To really check, I did a test where I cleaned my machine completely, and sewed only with vintage thread for a month, cleaned, and checked the lint accumulation, and then sewed only with brand new Mettler or Gutterman, and cleaned and checked the lint accumulation, and the difference was negligible.  Did it again – same result.  If anything, there was less lint from the vintage thread month.  (I know.  I am such a mad sewentist!  I can’t ever accept the things that sewing books say without testing).  I’d have to do thing a couple hundred more times to really get a totally accurate answer, but for now I’m comfortable that the difference isn’t a problem – especially for modern sewing machines, with fairly limited expected lifespans.

Second, even if your vintage thread is creating more lint, it’s not an issue.  Simply clean your machine regularly, which you should be doing anyway.

Have I missed something?  Is the rule about not using old threads based on a few people who inherited entire thread collections that were stored in damp places and had terrible experiences with those (because thread that gets damp does need to be thrown out)? Or do I just have the miracle vintage thread collection?

Have you heard the ‘don’t use vintage thread’ rule?  Do you use vintage thread?  Have you ever experienced a problem with it?

78 Comments

  1. What an interesting post! I’d never really thought about it before, but now that I have…

    I’d wager that the quality of thread is more important than its age. I do a lot of hand sewing, which, oddly enough, puts much more strain on thread than machine sewing. I’d much rather sew with vintage thread than cheap modern thread (which invariably frays and breaks by the time I’ve used up a needle full). If I must use modern, it’s got to be really good, i.e. Guterman. Other advantages of vintage include the wide array of colors and sizes, it’s mostly cotton or silk, and it comes on those cute little wooden spools.

    For vintage fabrics, I think it’s much better to opt for vintage thread, or at least a modern facsimile. In some conservation applications, poly is avoided because it is too strong in comparison with the historic fabrics.

    • I’ll agree with you 100% that quality really is the most defining factor. I inherited some cheaper vintage threads from Nana in particular, and I only use them for basting and toiles. They don’t break in the machine, but they just aren’t as nice as the quality threads.

      It also makes sense that hand-sewing is much harder on thread – it wears as you pull on the needle, and depending on your fabric there is that tug on the end of every stitch – machine sewing is a fairly light, even tension. Some manufactures even sell hand-sewing thread along with their machine thread.

    • Claire Payne says

      Yes I agree with you Eva. I too do a lot of hand sewing and find that new thread is the most troublesome with fraying and ultimately breaking being the most common faults. I have never heard the “don’t use old thread” rule and have simply used what is the best colour for the project. If I had to chose a preference I would have to say I would opt for old thread.

    • cyndy says

      I realise this is an old post, but for what it’s worth; I have sewn (hand + machine) with threads made from the 1800’s. I have never had an issue. But I also live in a dry climate, so no mildew, rot, etc. I crochet with some from the very early 1900’s also. I like the old threads, it’s incredibly durable! I find many newer products fray, break, twist back.

  2. Kathy Gillies says

    I have heard all kinds of talk about thread, particularly among the quilters and sewing machine dealers. In the case of quilters, I suspect it has to do with lack of variables–they mostly always sew with one type of fabric– quilting cotton (which come in lots of different hues and patterns) which then get cut up into a multitude of shapes to make patchwork patterns… the thread used to piece and quilt is often hotly debated.

    Sewing machine dealers have a vested interest in you purchasing the brand of thread they carry. Often they will tell you your machine is designed to only sew with ____ brand thread or higher quality thread than you are using etc. Some machines are sensitive to certain threads and will skip stitches (so it’s the thread’s fault? lol). Personally, my old Kenmore can sew with any thread under the sun. So yes, I have heard not to sew with old thread.

    One gal I know keeps hers in the freezer like film and buys the thread in cupboard behind the display because “it’s fresher.” All of which I find hilarious. I don’t know how her clothes don’t fall apart on her with that mindset.

  3. I’ve recently been given some ‘vintage’ (well old thread I don’t know its actual age) thread…and I was wondering about this. As I’ve avoided sewing with it.

    • LadyD, just unroll a metre length, tug on it as hard as you can, and see how much pressure it takes to break it. If it doesn’t break easily, it’s good to use.

      You can tell how old thread is to some extent by the kind of spool it is on, but other than that thread doesn’t change a lot. Gutterman and Mettler have been using the same spools/markings for three decades now, for example.

  4. I prefer the old one… It seems to be better quality than the new one I can purchase in my mercerie…

  5. I wish I could remember the details, but yes, I have had trouble with old spools of thread. Not invariably, but I always test. It may have something to do with Los Angeles smog from the 50s through 70s.

  6. The only proviso I have put on using old thread is to strip the top layer off, as this is the one that will have faded, weakened or spoiled at all. The stuff underneath is usually fresh as the day it was spun.
    I do so love old wooden spools too. And I miss Munlycke (sp?) thread, with its wide, fat spools. SO useful! They held up the tiers of my wedding cake!

    • Hear hear! I’m not familiar with Munlycke thread – not something I’ve found in op shops. I’ll have to keep an eye out.

    • It’s Mölnlycke. (Small town outside Gothenburg)
      Swedish manufacture. Probably the best you’ll find! 🙂

  7. Rebecca says

    I inherited all my grandmother’s thread (from the USA), and it was all weak. I have no idea how old it was, but it was mostly Coats&Clark. Some of my mom’s Coats&Clark (about 10-20 years old) routinely broke in my sewing machine. Eventually I threw out all the old thread and started over.
    Perhaps my thread problems were caused by moisture, because the box where the thread had been stored also contained rusted needles, which implies moisture and wet conditions.
    But on a happier note, I got some Polish thread (4 spools–20+ years old) from my boyfriend’s mother’s (dry) basement and it’s been holding up fine.

    • I’ve never found Coats & Clark to be a good thread, even new, so I suspect that might be part of the problem with your threads. Moisture might be another issue, but all of my threads that spent any time in Hawaii (and some were there for 20 years) were exposed to a lot of moisture, any needles/pins with them rusted, and they have still been OK.

      The polish threads sound fascinating. What is the thread company?

      • Rebecca says

        Let’s see–it says FN Amanda Arena, the first Polish private thread company. This is their website–http://amanda-threads.com/
        The thread couldn’t be older than 23 years old, since the company was founded in 1989–right after Communism fell in 1988.
        Seems like it’s mostly found in Poland and Central/Eastern Europe.

        • Rebecca says

          “FN” stands for “Fabryka Nici” (Factory of Threads).
          I also have always had trouble with Coats&Clark (fuzzing and breaking), so I switched to buying Gutermann.

        • Interesting, I’ve never seen that around here! (Czech Republic) But then, there’s a lot of haberdashery shops in the Czech Republic I’ve never been to. 🙂

          Some of the threads in my/my mom’s collection might be around the same age; I’ve never had any problems except for an old cotton thread years ago that was apparently only meant for basting but I did not know it at the time.

          I’ve got some truly vintage, wooden-spooled threads from my grandma some time ago; I did not get to use it yet, because most of them are actually embroidery threads. I have heard the “never use old thread” rule (or, rather, read it somewhere; my mom’s not that discriminating) but I had used old thread before, so I did not pay it that much heed. And I agree, it must depend on the quality.

  8. What a great post. It reminds me of commercial nursery spiel and exhortations by syndicated garden writers, to always buy the best looking plants ( ie the priciest). Me, I scrounge around the bargain bins, then prune hard including roots and repot or plant out. Not instant gratification but I still get a good specimen for a couple of dollars.
    But thread – I have an accumulation and can’t resist the old wooden spools. Thread is a great way to collect souvenirs when travelling light too. I’m not enough of a connoisseur to make distinctions but I know that the rubbishy stuff that I bought (to make Tudor costumes) from English market stalls was poor quality from the start.
    Molnlycke – with an umlaut over the o – seems to have been a standard here in Canterbury, when haberdashery counters were commonplace. Hadn’t realised it was no longer available.

    • Elise says

      I would love to spend a Summer with you and learn how to do plants! It must be soooo cool to be able to do that.

      What a great post! I love the clothes and the patterns, but I just adore the essays about how to use old patterns/old threads, etc. All that little mechanical stuff is so interesting!

    • Thank you for the spelling! They seem to have gone from the planet, so sad. It wasn’t good hand sewing thread from meory, too much of a tendency to curl up, mind you I have learned about the joys of waxing thread since then and what a difference!

  9. I’ve had the experience of having vintage thread (from my mother) break too. However, a fair amount of that was Coats & Clark. I’ve never had problems with the modern cotton-poly Coats & Clark, but the brand for all I know may just deteriorate with age.

  10. I heard it was bad to use. Once I came across a beautiful old basket full of brilliant looking thread at an estate sale but I called around and they said it wouldn’t work as well. Now I’m sad I didn’t just get it but I didn’t have money to waste. I’m glad you posted this. It seems like it should be fine to use old thread! 🙂 There are so many awesome thread collections at estate sales/yard sales.

  11. “The Internet” says that Molnlycke was bought out by Coats and Clark, then discontinued. I guess they didn’t like the competition.
    I used to use thread I inherited from my grandmother with no trouble. I’d get an occasional break, but that was usually user error rather than thread problems. The people I hear “don’t use old thread” from tend to be people who sell machines and thread. I suspect there is a correlation there.

    • Elise says

      Oh! Like how Le Creuset bought the superior Danesco and then discontinued it! I hate when that happens!

      • Or how the car companies bought out all the tram companies and trashed them, so now public transport sucks. Major thumbsdown.

        • Ouch!
          Thankfully, public transport is too much ingrained in Czech consciousness for that to happen anytime soon here! Well, hopefully.

          • Elise says

            Oh! Visiting Prague was a dream thanks to the public transportation–I could hug your transportation minister.

          • I guess it’s actually someone in the Prague magistrate… 🙂 Ministries deal with things on national basis, in this case probably just dealing out money etc. But yes, being a country with one of the densest railway networks and so on definitely helps. 🙂 (It’s worse with regional buses. I hate travelling by bus; I can’t make head or tails of the timetables.)

  12. Lynne says

    As in so many things, age has nothing to do with it. It is all about quality.

    Good point about the fading, MrsC. And I went and looked in the cotton drawer, and the thread you like is Molnlycke, made in Sweden. It is fairly modern – I would have thought it would still have been out there as ‘new’ thread. It was my favourite, too, for good quality synthetic machine thread that never caused cotton-blocks. It is also out there on eBay (for the world) and TradeMe (for New Zealand).

    And I loved looking at the photos, Dreamstress! I find the cotton/thread collection just as delightful as the button box. Hours of happy sorting. Sometimes I indulge myself by tidying the threads, and catching the loose ends into the little notches on the spools. Very gratifying.

    • Lynne says

      And I do wish that modern thread had colour names, the way the older stuff did. Such fine words. Isn’t ‘Gobelin’ a lovely blue? I can just imagine the tapestries. The sewing equivalent of ‘Chimborazo and Cotopaxi have stolen my heart away’.

      • Oh, I do agree that the thread colours are delicious! I don’t think they would be as delightful if the used names now. Colour names are never exciting in their own time! I can see why they stopped naming colours though. Remember all the problems Crayola had over ‘flesh’? And I have a dark brown thread with a name that I can’t even type. Mid mole, petunia, geranium, flamingo, sandalwood, flame and potato were much better choices!

        • Lynne says

          ‘Mid mole’! Love it. I suppose both the ends of the mole are a sort of cat’s belly pink, the colour you find when you blow on the white belly fur, and only the middle of the mole was that interesting browny grey. Well, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!

  13. Zip Zip says

    Dear Leimomi,

    Well, this is a batch of good news. I have some really beautiful old thread from my grandmother, plus some I’ve bought just for the delight in the colors. Good to know that it can be used…once that top layer is off, if I test it.

    Really, it doesn’t make sense that the thread in vintage clothes should hold up fine, but thread on the spool should not.

    Thanks for bringing up such a valuable discussion!

    Say, in one of your next “what is…[fabric, style]” posts, might you be willing to cover polished cotton? I know what it looks like on extant clothing, because I have some as the lining of an 1870s dress, but if feels awfully light and thin, but crisp and shiny. The few times I’ve seen modern polished cotton it’s much thicker, and I hardly ever see it it all.

    Very best,

    Natalie

    • Hi Natalie,

      It was the whole ‘if thread is bad after a few years on the spool, why isn’t it bad after decades of being used, worn and washed in a garment?’ that really got me thinking about the vintage thread question. That and the fact that I’d already been using vintage thread for a decade! Do use the stuff from your Grandmother, and I look forward to seeing the things you make with it!

      I’d happily do a post about polished cotton. It’s really just a surface treatment – I’ve seen it in all sorts of weights. I suspect that the reason modern polished cotton is so much heavier has to do with the overall decline in fabric quality. But I’ll have to do some research!

  14. Why throw away usable thread when you can use it?
    My friend brought a huge popcorn tin of vintage thread and she gave me the thread since I was more into sewing.
    That was five years ago and I’m still using the thread she gave me. Plus I don’t mind buying vintage thread now. I do have some spools that are cheap and fuzzy so I use them for basting because the thread breaks easily. Some threads came on wooden spools and I save the spools for whatever. The rest of the thread is still in great shape and I love the colors.
    I think they say don’t use old thread because they want people to run out and buy more thread (which is silly because people who sew alot tend to buy more thread anyway, so really they ain’t losing any money).

    • Agreed! That said, if something isn’t usable, don’t waste your effort on it. My mother spent a lot of time drilling that into me, and it’s saved me untold hours of hassle with cheap fabric.

      I’m sure that a lot of the advice not to use old thread does come from thread companies who want to sell more thread, or is part of the overall ‘people are too dumb to do any thinking for themselves’ attitude that sewing companies (and pretty much everyone else) seems to be taking. They assume it would require too much thought for us to figure out if a thread is good or not – better just tell them to toss all the old stuff and buy new items!

      I’ve been told that thread companies advise stores to toss their thread stock after two years. I wonder how many (if any) of them follow that?

        • Elise says

          Do you remember BlockBuster? It was an old video rental store. Well, when they switched to DVDs, they destroyed all the old VHS tapes, rather than donate them to retirement homes, or a battered women’s shelter.

          So sell the old thread? I doubt it! My years of retail said that keeping unsellable stock would result in your firing. Now the Hawaiian food co-op, however, encouraged us to take home old stuff (how I survived grad school)

          • Trust Blockbuster to do that! Of course, now thrift stores won’t even accept VHS because they are that hard to get rid of.

            I don’t know about old thread, but fabric stores sure have sales on post-season fabrics. And here in NZ and in smaller grocery stores in Hawaii ‘limited time’ stock shelves are quite common – I just picked up three capsicums (bell peppers) for half the price of the ones on the shelves because they are from last week – used them in dinner and they were lovely. Better than if I had bought them a week ago and forgotten to use them, which I do all the time 😉

            And old-grocery stock re-use is becoming more common. A charity in Wellington focuses on distributing fresh food items (as opposed to canned etc) to soup-kitchens etc. Kaibosh finds uses for day after bread, hot meals from lunch counters at the end of the day and that sort of stuff. Good stuff! (and I love how a discussion on thread ended up here!)

          • Elise says

            What? A post about the real value of old things sparked further discussion? Maybe all of us, being the sort that enjoys older things in general, especially like stuff like this–at least, I know I do!

            I am so, so, so glad that NZ does more with fresh food. Even week-old fresh food is better for you than the canned sodium/sugar stuff. (home-made canned food, however, is different!) It is so wonderful to know that good food is finding a use–like good thread is finding a use, too!

            Next week, I pick up 6 banker’s boxes of my grandmother’s recipes, cookbooks, and newspaper articles! Old-to-new project beings!

          • We Czechs are incorrigible penny-pinchers. Sometimes too much; but it leads to some fantastic things like:
            – When the local rental shop closed down, they sold out all their VHS’s and DVDs. I got some of my favourites there for a ridiculous price.
            – Grocery and greengrocery nearing or after expiration date is sold at lower prices; at least in smaller local shops for sure (supermarkets have their own opaque policies). Oh, and our local Vietnamese greengrocer does that, too (we just discussed this with father this morning!) – constantly overlooking the things on offer and sorting out those likely to spoil and lowering the price on that to sell it off. I guess there IS a reason why so many Vietnamese people come to the Czech Republic…
            – The local haberdashery shop also sells things at lowered prices; small remnants of lace, bias tape, things that remain in lower quantities… I have not seen thread end up there yet, but all the buttonhole silk I’ve got came from that rack, and so do many of the zippers.

          • And speaking of the greengrocery thing, I recently bought two large nectarines: one was already kinda spoilt at one place, so that got eaten quick; but the other one was unharmed and survived in the fridge for nearly another week. So yes, there’s that! 🙂

  15. karenb says

    I always had the vague idea that old thread was no good and when I used some and had trouble with one particular reel breaking endlessly I threw the rest out.
    I shall keep any reels that I come across from now on and see what happens.
    I am learning so much from these articles and everyone else’s posts that everyday I am checking out whats been happening.( sometimes 3 times a day…)

  16. I am only a beginner but I have been lucky enough to get a few spools of 20+ years old Sylko thread when I bought one of my machines, and I have found it more reliable than the dirt-cheap stuff I have bought at six spools for a pound at “Everything-for-a-pound”.

    • Oh, don’t use the dirt cheap stuff! It will cost you more in time and frustration than it is worth. Of all the vintage threads I love Sylko thread the most. It’s just so pretty!. I have to keep myself from not-using it and just playing ‘collect all the colours!’.

  17. I inherited my grandmother’s thread collection when she died, which is close to nince years ago. It was huge, after all these years I have most of it left, even though I have used up a lot…

    About half of teh spools are so old that they are made of wood and I think the oldest, but to this day I have had no problems at all with threads breaking except once. A white cotton thread on a wooden spool that I made an 18th century gown with, keeps braking. I don’t knoe how many times I have had to mend that one. But as it is just this once, I’m apt to think that this particular spool was sub par from the beginning.

  18. I like some of the theories here. I like best the one about manufacturers driving sales by telling you that you must use “this” good new thread. You see that a lot in other areas of consumerism.

    If I’m feeling kind towards human nature, I might suggest that perhaps the idea of thread having a shelf life came from observing what happens to antique clothing. Museums have to store and handle them carefully or the fibers in the weave develope weak spots. Perhaps, the thinking is that if fabric can disintegrate over time, why not threads.

  19. I think people confuse natural i.e. cotton or linen threads vs. artificial (polyester) threads. I’ve used hundreds of vintage and even antique (over 150 years old) cotton and linen threads with no problems whatsoever, but when I buy older polyester threads (big spools for my overlock machine for example) I make sure they’re not older than 5 years max because these lose their stability and disintegrate easier. That’s what they also taught us at textile school….

    • Interesting. Polyester certainly is less stable, but I’ve still had good luck with older poly thread – I got a bunch from Nana, and it’s at least 25 years old. It’s not nearly as good as the old cotton stuff though! While it’s always going to be inherently less stable, I suspect that polyester thread (as with all synthetic fabrics) has actually been improving over the years. Synthetic fabric is where all the textile research & development has been.

    • Elise says

      150 years old??? Wow! I love that you find a use for that stuff–much better than simply hoarding. How infinitely cool to use the same tool another seamstress used in a different time!

  20. Linda says

    I too have my Nanas old threads. I love the older thicker cottons for decorative stitching on quilts and wall hangings. I know some people have trouble with them in their more modern machines. But I use my Bernina with no problems. My theory is, if it can cope with the tension of a sewing machine, it must be okay. I also sometimes do a manual break test. If it’s hard for me to break, it must be okay.

    • They are lovely for topstitching aren’t they? I’ve used vintage threads in a number of brand-new Janomes with no problem (my workhorse machine is a 5 year old Janome). I really think it is just the cheap Brothers/Singers that can’t handle anything but one particularly thread.

  21. Chrissy May says

    I have a whole bunch of vintage thread too – I have never ever had a problem, and alot of time I find my vintage sylko is far superior to cheaper modern cotton – but that may just be that I will buy cheap cotton as I am poor!!

  22. I have to say that I’ve had issues with thread coming apart on more than one vintage clothing item. Not the fabric ripping – the thread disintegrating. Obviously there are many more variables involved with thread in a garment than thread that’s always been in a spool, both wear and washing in particular. But it’s still a fact that the 60- to 90-year-old fabric in the same garment – subjected to the same wear, washing, and storage – is holding up much better than the thread used to put the garment together. Just something to consider. 🙂

  23. I find that the few vintage spools I’ve used are a higher quality than newer stuff. I was also gifted a box of vintage straight pins that are SO much stronger than new pins. Things just aren’t made like they used to.

    • Sigh. No, they sure aren’t! I find old straight pins are stronger – but also thicker. I prefer finer pins, so buy new ones.

  24. This is so good to hear from a professional, as I always see pretty vintage spools at thrift stores! I’ve always passed them up because I, too, had heard they were no good, but I think the idea of testing each one for quality makes more sense than a blanket statement about how they always break. I love the look of those wooden spools, so I do have a few that I couldn’t pass up; off to test them now!

    • Let us know how they go! And then you can go buy all the other pretty ones you ever find. At least you live far enough away to not be competition. I’m a bit worried that all I’ve done with this is create a whole bunch of competition for myself in the vintage-thread op-shopping stakes 😉

  25. Firesheep67 says

    Sure hope the 60 spools of Belding Corticelli Silcor coming my way are as well-behaved as your older polyester threads! Glad to see this discussion…makes me feel a whole lot better about my impulsive purchase 🙂

  26. I work at a museum and we still use the threads bought in the 1950s for repairs and conservation and I’ve never had any problems. In fact, for conservation work I much prefer the threads that look and act more like the original. I would rather stabilize a silk garment with old silk thread than with new polyester thread. We’ve also used the older threads for mounting textiles for exhibition and I’ve yet to have a quilt fall off the wall because the thread gave out!

    Just to make it clear, the thread I use is NOT thread in our collection, but rather thread that was bought for the purpose of repairing and conserving textiles that just happened to be bought 60+ years ago by past collections managers!

    • Thank you for sharing Karen. On that note, if anyone has very old thread in good condition that they aren’t able to use, you might think about offering it to a museum with a good textile collection – not as a collection object, but for use by the conservation staff for exactly this sort of work. There is more than one way to support a museums collections (literally!)

  27. Maire Smith says

    Surely it’s to do with the type of thread? Silk proteins degrade over time, don’t they? And I imagine early rayon and polyester may have had some stability issues. I can’t see why old cotton or linen thread woiuld be a problem.

  28. Wow! Love all the comments…I too thought old thread was not to be used…but when I tested some old thread I have, the other day, it was fine…still had the strength of new thread…so now I will surely take note of any threads I will see in the op shops…

  29. Marilyn J. Hollman says

    What about silk thread? Or was there never such a thing, and I just believed I was buying it in the 1960’s?

    • There is such a thing as silk thread, and you can still buy it new, it’s just harder to find. My mother’s silk thread from the ’40s/’50s is still strong, despite having spent 40 years in damp Hawaii, and the few spools of silk thread I inherited from Nana are also strong, but I haven’t been able to test enough of a sample of silk thread to conclusively say that it lasts well. I’d still pick it up if I found it secondhand though!

  30. To tell you the truth , as long as you use non elastic thread( the one use for roushing on the bobbin) you won’t have problem with old threads ,you don’t want to use thread that is old and unsealed, meaning that if you see that it has dust wraped around it ,it is not safe to use because the dust gets cut up inside the machine clocks hence the saying do not use vintage thread.

  31. Tanya says

    I think if you try it and it works, you should be good to go. Some machines DO have issues, some don’t with older threads. I have noticed using older thread sometimes requires me to do extra cleaning on my machine under the plate.

  32. Pat Nichols says

    Loved reading about you. I too am an expat, different though from UK to US via HK! My Nana taught me to sew, knit & crochet almost 60 years ago. I have old wooden spools & I agree with you they don’t seem in any way inferior to today’s. Also, my daughter & I are cat fanatics…my daughter’s name is Felicity!

  33. [ Please delete my two test replies above. I intended only one test reply but your system response time was slow so I tried again. ]
    ———————————-

    Thanks for addressing this topic, I have also wondered about this question.

    I just finished doing some informal strength testing of some older and newer threads. Did not notice any lower strength for the older thread. Strength tested just by pulling until they broke. Did this several times for each and compared how hard I had to pull for each.

    A lot of the threads I tested were old spools of Coats & Clark Dual Duty cotton covered polyester that came in the gold plated plastic spools (price of 30 cents on label). For comparison, I also tested some relatively recent plastic spools of that same thread brand and thread type. The thread from the older gold spools actually seemed stronger (and no thicker)! Comparing them with a 5X eye loop magnifying glass showed that the twist was usually tighter on the older thread, ie more twists per given length. Maybe that’s why it was stronger?

    I have noticed the following for a bonded thread:
    Coats & Clark Upholstery Thread (100 percent nylon, made in USA) : After years in storage (at least 15 years), some of the thread’s bond coating begins to shed off. Looks like a waxy coating coming off. But that happened only on the outermost winding layer on the spool, the thread underneath looks brand new. I recommend this thread as one of the strongest and most durable threads among what’s commonly available at retail stores. However it is nylon, not polyester, so maybe not the best for continuous exposure to sunlight (UV).
    Thanks for the thread.

  34. Chris Green says

    Thank you for sharing this post!! I too inherited old thread and also found a large amount in an antique sewing table purchased at an estate sale. Two things come to mind regarding usage of old thread, “Not everything you read on the internet is true” and “vintage items are often better quality than newer versions”, with that said, the idea is probably an effort to keep companies in business!!

  35. Sandra says

    Thank you very much for this very informative article. I have always used a mix of old and threads (waste not, want not), but I am working on making a sewing basket for a very specific scenario, and I wanted to stock it with thread on wooden spools (so vintage), however I need the thread to all be usable and sturdy for hand sewing, so I thought I would do some actual research online to find out if the vintage thread would be suitable. Thanks to your article, I have decided the vintage thread is fine. I love that you have done actual research and comparison, and that you gave data, not just an opinion. I also LOVE your term “sewentist”, which I had never heard before!

  36. Iantha Folkman says

    I have used vintage thread and found that some of it is so old that it does break rather easily in hand sewing. In this case, I believe age does have something to do with it. Some of the spools have a price of 25 cents on the spool. I test the thread first.
    Thanks for a very informative article.

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