Vintage Thread Spools

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Vintage thread is pretty to look at but did you know it has a shelf life? Learn the signs on The Sewing Loft.

Vintage thread comes on pretty wooden spools that are totally cool to look at but did you realize that thread has a shelf life?

Reasons Not to Use Vintage Thread


The quick answer is yes they do, especially when they are exposed to light and air for an extended period of time. They become brittle, tend to jam up in the sewing machine and can break when used. Another factor that contributes to this deterioration is the quality of the material they are made from. Threads are made from different materials and some are naturally sturdier compared to others. They also have different thicknesses.

Threads that come on Styrofoam or wood spools weaken over time. This is because the chemicals present in the spool have a negative reaction to the thread itself. Also, if the thread is not stored properly, exposed to dust and lint it could affect the tension of the thread. Not to mention these threads will create more lint on the inside of your machine. (More cleaning for you!)

There is no official way of telling if a certain thread has reached or passed its shelf life, but there is a quick and effective way to test it to see if it is still good to use. Simply take a piece of thread about eight to 10 inches long, tie it into a knot at the middle, then gently pull both ends. If it breaks, the thread has become brittle and should not be used in sewing, otherwise you will just have problems with it. When this happens you have two choices: toss it or keep it as a decorative accessory. For me, I only keep it if it is on a wooden spool. Everything else is tossed. 

Keep in mind….

Threads that were manufactured twenty years ago were mostly polyester or nylon based, not cotton. If the stickers found at the ends of the spools are still intact, you could check the material used. If you’re going to use or buy vintage threads, go for those made of polyester because they are the most durable. Polyester threads are also versatile and have a little amount of stretch. They are colorfast and could be machine washed and dry cleaned or simply dried. But it still pays to test them for strength.  

After learning the hard way a few years back, I purged all of my thread. (I know what you’re thinking…. shock and awe!) Believe me, it was super hard but in the long run it was better for my machine, the longevity of my projects and my mental state. You see, before I hit the circular filing cabinet on the floor my machine kept jamming. It was super frustrating and made me want to walk away from my machine. After threading up my machine with a new spool, double checking my tension and starting over, my machine purred like a kitten. 

So, a word to the wise:

The next time you see a pretty box of vintage thread at your local estate, garage sale or even on the 127 sale, think twice before grabbing it. It may be super cheap but in the long run it will be costly. That is unless they have wooden spools and you are going to put them on display. 

DIY Vintage Thread Instead


11 Creative uses for vintage thread spools. The Sewing Loft

Remember, vintage thread is amazing to look at but technology has come a LONG way and these improvements are your friend!






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  1. Cindie Brandt says

    Thanks for this…I found out the hard way with an old styrofoam spool, now I know why! I also inherited my grandmothers sewing box, I’m glad I never used the thread! I guess they will be displayed!

  2. Josie McRazie says

    I have a whole drawer full of old thread. I use the thread to baste my hexis!! I figure the thread is going to be pulled off and thrown out anyway!! Why use my good thread to just throw out!???

  3. Cheryl Randleman says

    As long as it doesn’t break in the machine (or when pull testing) I used mine vintage thread for blanket stitch appliqué (since I’ve fused the material down it doesn’t need to hold ) and also for string piecing since i’m using a smaller stitch length and it generally gets quilted fairly close. Sometimes it seems like the only color matches I can find are vintage since the colors used now are sometimes quite different.

  4. I recently came across 2 boxes of old silk thread. Any thoughts on how it will hold up?

  5. Juanita R. Decquir says

    Place vintage spools in a glass jar and display on a shelf in your sewing room.

  6. Joanne McKenzie says

    I have a spool of golden yellow silk thread. A wood spool with BELDING BROS & Co Shade 57. I have used some of it for some hand stitch projects and it seems like new. I didn’t realize how old it might be until I looked up info on BELDING BROS & Co and found that is was from before 1925. So… can silk hold its strength and value?

    • Wow, that is a thread spool with history, Joanne! I would give it a good tug and see if it holds up. Most of the older cotton threads will break almost instantly.