Sewing Blog

Is Your Old Spool of Thread Still Good to Use?

Time is not always kind to fabric — but what does it do to thread? And how do you know if the thread you have in your stash still good to use?  

Thread is one of those items that you might find at estate sales, pick up at charity shops or even receive when a friend clears out an attic and brings you bagfuls of stuff that “you can probably use since you sew.”

Some older spools of thread are really lovely, and the array of colors on those wooden spools have such a great visual appeal. But can you use that thread?

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Thread, like fabric, is adversely affected by many of the same conditions including light and humidity. 

faded spool of thread

Light

Light can cause your thread to fade and lose its beautiful color. It can also weaken the fibers so that it’s not as strong as you want for sewing. If your thread is visibly faded, it’s probably best to discard or use for less critical tasks. 

Many threads are made of cotton, so think of how sunlight or other strong light acts on a cotton fabric: Light makes it weaker and more prone to disintegration. The same process happens to thread left in strong light. 

Humidity

Humidity is also a factor in the life of your thread. In a very dry atmosphere, your thread can become quite brittle. In a humid one, it can even develop mold or just be a bit sticky.

Dust

Dust can also affect the quality of thread. Dust can settle on spools. Then, once that spool is threaded on your sewing machine, that dust is just being pulled right down into the tension discs. 

How do you know if the thread is not in tip-top shape? 

Broken Black Thread

Use your muscles! Unspool a length of thread and give it a good tug. If it breaks easily, then perhaps it has become dry or brittle. If you are not sure whether it is breaking too easily, try this same procedure with a brand new spool of thread for comparison. It will become evident which spools are breaking too easily and which are still good to use. 

What can you do with all that thread that isn’t in good shape anymore?

Use it for other tasks that tend to “waste” good thread. Tailor’s tacks, temporary basting and thread tracing are great uses for thread that is not quite good enough for the sewing machine but still seems to have some life in it.

Spools of Yellow Thread

I found these yellow and green threads at a garage sale. While they don’t seem ideal for machine sewing, they are perfect for making very visible tailor’s tacks in a variety of garments. 

Pink and Blue Silk Threads

One category of thread that seems to age better than some others is silk thread. These spools above are quite old and yet very vibrant. They work perfectly to make hand-worked buttonholes or do silk basting. 

Make your thread last longer!

The key to thread survival is proper storage! Make sure your thread stays wound neatly on the spool to prevent tangling.  Keep it out of the light and away from dust, and your rainbow of threads will be ready for your next colorful project.

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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in October 2016 and was updated in February 2018.

41 Comments

Gina Bisaillon

I do the “tug test” on inexpensive threads that come in huge spools, and I have never been able to break one. So why do the salespersons always try to dissuade me from buying them with the argument that they are too weak?

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Anonymous

They’re trying to make you buy the more expensive stuff so they can make more money.

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Susan

Thread can be strong but product a lot of lint. Lint is your machine’s enemy so do a test run at least before stocking up. I was gifted some expensive thread that makes lint galore. I will never buy that type myself in the future.

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Judy P

I have multiple spools of a name brand thread that I won’t name here, that has broken like that from the very first time I used it. In the sewing machine and by hand, when I wrote to ask them about it, they said “it must have just been a bad spool”, but 20 of them?. It was advertised as quilting thread that could be used on machine or by hand. I’ve done several quilts with it, I just hope and pray they hold up.

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Lin McA

I purchased some new thread that flunked the tug test and returned it . Although the salesperson assured me that the thread had come from a brand new shipment, I requested and received my money back. I no longer purchase most of my threads at shops, but rather at online sites of the thread manufacturers or sites that specialize in selling threads only. With the hours of work you put into your projects, the last things you want to use are poor quality or old, weak threads. I tend to purchase Aurafil for all my sewing and occasionally Sulky and King Tut for the quilting on my quilts so far, I’ve been very satisfied with them.

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Elsie E Winstead

Please give us a hint so we won’t buy that thread!

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Carol Miller

I inherited all sorts of threads from my mother-in-law. She loved thread!! I had been wondering if they were still ok to use. Thank you so much for the information and the replies!!!

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Anna M. Bucciarelli

Me too Carol. I have an abundant amount of spools of thread inherited from both my mama and an older sister, both now deceased. I have held on to them, unsure of their value and now, with this informative little tutorial I will test to see if they can be used for machine sewing. Thanks so muck Craftsy … I learn something new just about every day and am so glad I found you!

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Myrna Clifford

If they fail the tug test, think about making a wreath decoration for your sewing room. I did that with my mom’s.

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K

What a nice idea.

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Stevie

How cute is that. Wonderful idea.

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Leslie Dylina

ll keep all of my thread in a drawer. It not the tidiest way, but all of my thread is kept clean, no dust, and out of the light. I use one drawer for the regular size spools and another drawer for he big ones. Some of my thread is getting low, but it’s still good and I save a lt of going to the store for some thing I have. I also keep all of my fabric behind doors , no light or sunshine to fade or make the fabric fade.

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Angela

I keep all my threads in drawers too but I use two 5 drawer filing cabinets, the sort you put papers in so they are foolscap size and two drawers on top of each other are just table height. It means I keep different colour ways separate with a label on the front. My fabric is in a cupboard too to stop it fading and keep it looking tidy in my living room.

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Kathy Chandonais

There are some threads that age more readily (e.g., metallics). I keep all my threads: embroidery, quilting and general sewing either in drawers or in large plastic containers with a lid. Some embroidery colors I keep in metal tins. If a spool of thread has aged beyond use for sewing or quilting, I keep it for couching – twist multiple strands together and couch over them.

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Amy

I use my old thread to wrap Temari Balls. this is a Japanese form of embroidery. I waste nothing

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Tehachap

I recently purchased a serger machine and it came with a large quantity of the serger spools of thread. How do people store these cones of thread?? I have them sitting on a shelf in a cupboard, but would prefer they were kept in a container that would keep the cones upright and readily accessible.

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Tamara

A friend gave me a hatbox type storage box for Christmas one year. I keep all my serger thread in that. I know whats in it and can spot it easily on a shelf.

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Susan

Has any one ever hear of putting mineral pin on the old thread and letting it soak in. It’s suppose to rejuvenate the thread and made it useable again.

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Nel

Susan, what’s ‘mineral pin’? I looked online and can’t find that anywhere.

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Emily Schaefer

I was wondering the same thing. Did she mean “oil”?

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Colleen

I’m pretty sure she means mineral oil.

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Janet

Hi there I was just thinking hey old thread if you cant use it for your sewing machine then surely you could use it for Hand sewing or Tacking or Tailor Tacks or has everyone skipped the old ways please dont just bin it.
Happy sewing or should I say Happy Tacking lol lol lol

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LeeAnn

I always use old thread for using to cut cinnamon rolls off the roll of dough. You roll out your dough, spread butter, sugar, and cinnamon on it, and roll it up. Cut off 15″ or so of thread, slide it underneath the end of the roll, wrap both ends around about 1″ from the end, and keep pulling both ends until it cuts all the way through. No more squished rolls!

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Anna M. Bucciarelli

And to slice through cheese cake too. I was told once to use dental floss to slice through cheese cake but most of it comes ‘flavored’ so I thought of my white thread. It works great.

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Rebecca

Lol. I always tell people purple thread works best for cutting rolls. Amazing what people believe. That’s just the spool I keep in the kitchen. I even truss birds with it.

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Frances

I have a box of threads that were my grandmothers, some of them are well over a hundred years old. I have used them in my machine and for hand sewing without any problems. Some of them seem to be far stronger than modern threads and very very smooth, lovely to work with. But I will remember your tug test next time I’m using them just to be sure.

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Claire

Frances – me too! Lovely to be able to use my grandmothers threads there are a lot and I couldn’t bear to throw them out. I haven’t had any problems with it either . I have used for quilting and dressmaking . The odd reels which are a bit faded I just remove the top layer and it’s good underneath .

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Barbara VonSchroder

Recently, I bought 75 spools of cotton thread in beautiful colours at the local thrift store.
I put them in a mesh colander and very gently steamed them as most of the threads were at least 50 years old and I was afraid the thread and spools were a little dry. . I only steamed them a minute or two at the most as to not wrinkle their paper labels. They seem to be fine.
I noticed the shimmery quality of them with very little fuzziness to the thread. I am glad I have them to use in all my sewing projects.

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Linda

My daughter gave me a thread holding container. Love it. It’s see through plastic , holds about 60 spools of thread or more. Love it!

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m brown

If the thread cannot be used for sewing, but on a really nice old spool, why not just put into large jars as an accent in the sewing room. I’ve box of really old silk with which I intend to do this. Otherwise I do check for strength of the thread before using. Some colors seem to be worse than others, possible due also to the dyes.

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Pam

Love your idea. I have a large mason jar and am going to put all my old thread spool in it.
Fun idea?

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matha

m brown, this is exactly what I did with some old (vintage) spools of thread. They look really lovely. I also made a few vintage mason jar pincushions and put the vintage spools inside, they were beautiful!

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Denise Adams

I have a couple of antique canning jars full of old thread that I display in my sewing room.

I also use old thread when I am practicing free motion quilting or trying out various sizes of stitches for grid quilting.

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Katrina

Thank you thank you and thank you. I have a small tote full of thread and just used it and the item fell apart. Now I know how to test it. I find that the old thread works very well in cross stitching and embroidery especially for those small details.

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Sharon Wilson

I had some spools of thread that were sun bleached – used them in machine embroideries for small mandala designs and crazy quilt top stitching. The colour variations went quite well, and the strength of the thread was not an issue.

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Judy Compton

Thank you for the thread information. I grew up in a household that everything is important wither it was old or new, and to never discard it. After making many errors with my machines and the cause being the thread I very carefully care for my thread and use my old thread for projects that the thread can be removed. I just a person just learns as they age. I love your tutorials and all the information. Keep up the good work.

Judy Compton

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Janet Hammond

I have never tried this but a tip I picked up to ‘rejuvenate’ old thread that you think might have dried out a little, is to wet some ordinary paper towels – those used to dry your hands – squeeze out the excess water and pop them into a resealable plastic bag with your old thread spools. Then put the bag into the freezer for a day or so. When you lift the thread out and it has thawed a little, it has been rehydrated and good to go. Has anyone ever done this? I must give it a try one day.

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Wasp54

I have a metal thread display cabinet with glass doors, antique, that I have my old thread stored in and it works perfect – only wooden spools. My sewing thread is kept in drawers.

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Alison

Use old threads to wrap the balls for making Japanese temari balls.

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Wendy Benton

I read a similar tip as Hanet. Put spoil in a plastic bag with damp cloth for a few hours. I never heard about the freezer but it is worth a try. It seems to me that sewing can be so costly when it use to be a way to be thrifty.

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Sandra McHugh

I’m a quilter, knitter, sewer, and a weaver, too, sporadically. I collect baskets, boxes, pottery, china….and thread, yarns, and fabric….My sewing room is a mix of old and new so the “unuseable” accumulations of old threads and yarns and fabric swatches and whatall that might imperil the integrity of a new handmade piece (and ALL THAT invested time!) automatically become the interesting filler for these beloved collected pieces that surround and remind me of the places they came from, and especially, the givers of the items; the friends and relatives to whom they once belonged and whose loving memories surround me with warmth and colors of happy times in other favorite places with friends and family. These objects don’t have to do a thing except BE THERE to bring joy to my life and inspire me! Just like the memories of the people they bring back to my heart. I don’t need to USE great-gram’s black wooden darning egg to remember her curly red hair, hearty laugh, and fantastic hugs! But if I don’t keep it in the wooden bowl, how will my children even know WHAT it is, much less all about my tiny grandma who used it?????

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