Saturday, January 12, 2013

Teaching an old thread new tricks 2

I wrote the other day about using old embroidery floss (my advice: go ahead and use it!) but probably even more people wonder about using old sewing thread.  Yes, thread deteriorates with age, but I just flat-out hate to throw things away that are still usable.

I once attended a meeting of a ladies' sewing circle at a church.  They were collecting sewing things for a fundraiser, and proudly showed off a huge bag of donated thread that was so old that most of the spools were wood.  I pointed out that the thread was so rotten that it snapped when you looked at it, and told them not to sell it.  They were grateful for the advice.  (Then I gave them some money and took all the wooden spools home with me, which arguably was a conflict of interest....)


Thread on wooden spools goes on display in my collection; I won't use it for any kind of sewing.  But thread on plastic spools can be just fine for some purposes.


I would not use 20-year-old thread to sew a garment, or for mending, because it's not strong enough to hold up to being pulled, tugged, stretched and washed.  I also wouldn't use it for quilting, because old thread is more likely to break as it goes through the machine, and that makes for messy work.

But I've used old thread a lot in places where it's not under stress and never had problems.  After all, Dual Duty, the thread that is most likely to preexist in your stash or in a bag of hand-me-downs, does have a polyester core.  You can even use 100% cotton thread, far more susceptible to rotting and breaking, for some projects.

On this quilt, I used new thread for the weight-bearing suspension threads, but used up lots of old thread for the heavy stitching on each little fabric sandwich.

I'm also willing to use older thread for piecing with small bits of fabric and lots of crossing seams.  If it breaks during construction, I can go back and restitch, without it showing. I don't wash my art quilts, so the thread won't be stressed, and I quilt them heavily (with new thread), so even if a seam pops later, nothing is going to escape.

I know that many people will be scandalized by my cavalier attitude.  Isn't one's Art So Important that it deserves the Very Best Materials?  Well, yes and no.  Where the quality of a material will affect the look or function of your piece, then yes.  Where a possible flaw would have serious consequences, then yes.  Otherwise no.  I've written in the past about snobbery, and how different people choose to be snobs about different things.  Obviously the age of my thread is not one of my chosen preciousnesses.

What has your experience been?


  1. funny this is coming up now since Joann's put all their solids on sale in the flyer and ya know what?? I'm going to go buy some solid white - scald it and - gasp - dye it. Tired of having to special order pfd when I know darn well that I can get regular white solids to dye up. Also - want to say that the rhythm that spool threads creates always has drawn me in - like the rhythm of bolts of fabric or books on library shelves - you just want to run your fingers over them and say - ohhhhhhhh

  2. I would have snatched that box of wooden spools as well! I have a small collection of thread on wooden spools that I display on an antique spool holder!
    I have experienced bad/inferior thread on new spools. I really have no way of knowing how long the thread has been in a shop owners inventory, and since I like to sew with cotton, the chance of it being bad is one I take. I do stick to better thread brands, that seems to help. But if I have any worries, I just throw the thread away.

  3. you express so well what I've felt about many things people are snobby about, such as saying things about which people are

  4. I had a student arrive for Free Motion Quilting Class "bring lots of different threads" with one wooden reel so thinly covered that you could see the wood, and the actual thread mouldy.. "It was my granny's" she said.. I lent her some thread, but she honestly thought that the sixteen rounds would last all day. I'm a Thread Junkie (like good stuff, love variegateds, accumulate much)..

  5. I used up my mother's wooden spools when I was first taking up quilting. It never broke in my machine. I used them for practice. I used them for projects that I did for classes because I knew I wanted to learn the technique, not create anything I might use. I used them to embellish preemie quilts. They worked fine.

  6. I have a LOT of old thread - I seem to attract it. If I'm basting, I'll use that old thread, usually polyester, since I'm just going to pull it out and throw it away anyway. I've come to prefer hand-basting over pin-basting since I pretty much can do it as fast, stick myself less, and it holds better. If an old thread is the right color for "real" work, I'll test it for strength and use it if it doesn't break easily.

  7. I use old thread for practice as well. Also I love using it for hand basting. Something about using the wooden spools for handsewing just feels comfortable. Waste not, want not!