Snap! The Shelf Life of Thread

Recently I inherited my husband’s Grandmother Pearl’s industrial sewing machine. Along with the machine she gave me a number of other vintage items she had, some when she was in sewing school and others when she made gowns for clients back in the 70s/80s. A large amount of thread was in that bundle.

Initially I was hesitant because I didn’t really want anymore thread but my mother in law insisted I take it because it’d be needed for my machine. The array of colors were beautiful, strong pinks, purples, emeralds and greys and I realized when I got home with my new goodies that I’d definitely put this stuff to use.

A couple days later I was at a friend’s house and told her of my newfound gifts when she said, “well be careful, you know thread has a shelf life”. I had no idea thread had a shelf life, I thought thread was just… thread. So I asked for more information. She explained that she had watched a video recently and a man was explaining not to get thread from estate or garage sales because of the quality of thread. Coincidentally I had a nice box of serger thread I had gotten from an estate sale about 6 months prior so this was news to me. She didn’t go into detail, just gave me a word of caution and told me to test it myself if I wasn’t sure. She also told me to compare it to a newer spool because spools now are much stronger.

(bottom 2 rows) Some more of the thread given to me by grandma Pearl

So I went home and I snapped about 5 of the spools I’d received from grandma Pearl. They broke very easily. But it was thread so I figured it’s naturally a weak fiber right? Very wrong.

I pulled out a newer spool of thread I’d been using and tugged really hard. By the time I was done I had an indention in my finger and the thread hadn’t even popped. So that was my proof.

Being stubborn me I still failed to see the significance of having thick thread. It’s just to hold the seams together, it’s not that serious. Well after I said that I threaded my sewing machine with the older thread. As I was threading it, it snapped easily against the tension. Then later after finally threading it successfully, it snapped again mid sew.

Needless to say, that thread went into the trash.

How Older Thread Can Affect You

As people who sew it’s natural to not want to waste or to take advantage of older things not being used so they can be repurposed. However, there are some drawbacks to this when it comes to thread as it does have a shelf life.

1. The quality of thread can affect your garment

If you’re using low quality thread your project could risk busting at the seams. You could also risk weak topstiching or edgestitching.

2. The quality of thread can affect your machine in two ways

a) Threading

If you have weak thread the threading tension may prove tk be too strong for the thread and it can snap during sewing, proving a test of patience for you and a lack of work for your machine

b) Lint

Older thread can usually be identified as fuzzy if you look at it closely. As you use this thread the fuzz rubs off as it’s passed through the threading chain and into the needle. This fuzz can eventually get into your machine creating dust, lint and other clogs that you’ll have to clean more often.

Ways to Make Use of Older Thread

Judge me if you will but I don’t do much hand sewing so this thread went into the trash. I had about 30 spools, some overlocker spools, and I just wasn’t going to use it. However there are some ways you can put that thread to use

1. Small handsewing projects

For small projects that may not be manipulated frequently, older thread quality may not pose a threat.

2. Topstitching

If the topstitching is minor and the thread quality not easily broken, this is a good option. If the thread is of weaker quality use discretion when using older thread.

3. Basting Stitches

If you’re using a serger to finish off seams, the basting stitch won’t be staying in your garment and will be finished off with a stronger thread finish later. Use older thread for basting if you don’t want to throw it away.

4. Tacking stitches

Small tacking stitches that keep facings and pieces in place usually aren’t pulled at or manipulated frequently so weaker thread won’t pose a threat too much to hold the facing down. Depending on the situation, you may want to add some extra tacks on the garment if using weaker thread to tack.

So thread does have a shelf life! I’ve provided some resources below if you want more information but according to one blog, the general shelf life of thread is about 15-20 years. With today’s thread do you think that could possibly be longer? Let me know in the comments section!

Other Resources

2 thoughts on “Snap! The Shelf Life of Thread

  1. I also inherited a box of threads with my grandma’s sewing machine! Hues of pink, purple and greens. I haven’t used it for the same reasons as you, except on very rare occasions, but it feels like a little piece of her – her favorite colors, maybe? She died when I was 6, way before I developed interest in sewing. When starting out with sewing and trying to figure everything out on my own I so often wished I could ask her for advice and help. I went on to become a certified dressmaker but I still wish I could ask her. I’m sure she knew it all❣

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I just read this blog and it is an interesting note on the life of thread. I just bought some 6000yd spools of A&E Perma Core poly wrapped poly thread from a liquidation auction. It was a manufacturing business that made retail work clothing and accessories. I just did the break test on one spool of the Perma Core compared to a brand new Innovatech poly wrapped poly and the Auctioned thread nearly cut my fingers and wouldn’t break. The brand new thread snapped rather quickly. I think I did okay on the 30 spools I bought, considering I only spent what 3 of the other brand would have cost from the dealer.These spools were new in the plastic and not exposed to dust and light.
    As to the tips on using Grandma’s thread from who knows how many years ago,IMO, if it snaps easily it’s really not worth saving it for simple things like basting, topstitching, tacking unless it is readily handy. When I am working on a project, I want to keep moving with what is already threaded in the machine, or what is right there for any hand sewn finishing.
    That said, I did save the wooden spools of silk thread from my mothers sewing cabinet. They do sit on my shelf in the sewing room above my desk as a reminder of the days my mother and aunts were learning to sew. I think she kept them for the same reason. I don’t even want to try the stretch test with them. I just dust them off and admire them from time to time.
    Thanks for the great tips. I will check the links. In my older days, I am learning smooch of the fiber world, that I blew off and a young girl.


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