Superior Education

Shelf Life of Thread

  • Cotton Thread
  • Polyester Thread
  • Processing

How many years does thread last?

Q. I have inherited a rather significant thread stash from a friend. It's a grand selection with a wide range of cotton threads and some are even wound onto the old wooden spools that make me think of my grandmother's sewing area. I'm worried about using old thread and having trouble with it as it runs through my machine. How can I tell if the thread is still OK to use? Is there a shelf life or a recommended period of use for thread?


King Tut cotton quilting thread

A. A good quality thread that is produced today will last much longer than thread which was produced 15 or 20 years ago. Even the best quality cotton thread of a generation ago did not have the advanced processing techniques available to us today and it would probably be best to not sew or quilt with old thread that exists today.

However, a high-quality cotton thread that is manufactured today, like MasterPiece and King Tut, will probably be fine to use in 40 or 50 years from now. Why will threads that are manufactured today last longer than threads manufactured 20 years ago? The difference is due to the advancements in spinning, dyeing, and twisting technology and the evolution of genetic engineering better cotton plants. Because cotton is a natural fiber, it will degrade over time. A good test to check whether or not the cotton threads you have been given are OK to use in your machine is to hold about a one foot section between both hands and pull apart. If the thread snaps (you should feel a nice, crisp break), then it is OK to use. If the thread just separates and pulls apart easily (think of pulling a cotton ball apart), we don't recommend using it.

As for polyester thread, the color may fade over the years with exposure to sunlight, but there is no evidence that the thread deteriorates like cotton threads, so it's safe to say that synthetic fibers will last longer.

Watch our video on cotton threads.

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