A couple of days ago there was a discussion on one of my email lists about whether it's OK to use embroidery floss that might be 20 or 30 years old. I got a chuckle out of that, because I own embroidery floss that might easily be 100 years old. It came from my grandmother's sewing basket and I know that she learned to embroider before the turn of the century -- and I don't mean this last one.
I'm sure that some stitchers are compulsively neat about their floss, keeping it wound on those little cardboard cards or pulling only as much as they need from the skeins. And some have stitching habits that impose arbitrary discipline on the stash. For instance, Judy Martin, whose work I am in awe of, has a daily art project in which she stitches up one skein of floss every day. If you're always starting with a fresh skein, and you finish it all up right then and there, you can't possibly end up with a mess.
Then there's me. No matter how neatly I try to work, I can rarely get the floss to pull smoothly out of the center of the skein, so I end up with globs and often have to remove the little paper bands. And after I separate the floss into two three-strand portions, I often end up with the leftovers just sitting there, dying to get into trouble the minute my back is turned.
With a collection like this, I have no hesitation about using anything that I see. Not sure I would want to lower myself from a skyscraper on a rope made of 40-year-old floss, but how much stress is ever put on embroidery? Occasionally a thread might break if I have managed to get it into a tangle and have to yank it free, but that's also true of new thread. When that happens, you just cut out the part that broke and start over.
One of the email list people wrote to say that she had a 50-year-old dresser scarf embroidered with black, which has now faded to the point of virtual invisibility. But that was after 50 years in the sun, not 50 years in a sewing bag. Perhaps today's threads are more colorfast, but I'm willing to take my chances on yesterday's threads. If nothing else, I suspect their history will give my work an air of mystery and authority.