When Good Thread Goes Bad
Thread is what holds it all together, the unsung hero of any sewing project. That's why it's important to take care of your thread stash; so your thread will take care of you.
Good Thread Gone Bad!
Have you ever picked a spool of thread from your stash - thinking it is the perfect color only to discover that underneath the first layer is a completely different color? Or, maybe you used thread from your grandmother's basket only to find that it breaks apart as you start to work with it. These are both examples of thread gone bad! Thread can be damaged by any number of conditions, and symptoms can include faded color, bleaching, brittleness, and weakness, which can lead to (gasp!) disintegration. Let's break these conditions down into two main categories; storage and environmental factors.
Tossing thread spools willy-nilly only leads to tangles and can cause loose, saggy spots as well as stressed spots on spools. It may go without saying this is not a good way to store your thread, but I’ll say it anyway! Don’t store your thread loose in any bag, pouch, container, or drawer. Good thread storage keeps each spool supported and separated from other spools, keeps the thread from tangling, and can protect thread from environmental factors.
Thread racks have rows of spool holders, and can sit either on a flat surface or hang on a wall. I've seen plenty of handmade racks - from pegboard and pegs to wooden boards with dowel rods. Racks make it super easy to see and access the thread. However, racks tend to collect dust and can lead to fading thread if located in direct sunlight or near bright task lighting. If you use a rack, put a little extra thought into where it will be located in your sewing area, and give the rack of thread an occasional dusting.
These storage boxes have lids to keep the thread covered, and individual spool holders or small compartments to keep thread separated. Thread boxes are great for organizing, and clear plastic boxes makes it very easy to find what you're looking for. The closed box keeps dust from settling on your threads, and can be easily stored on a shelf.
You can turn a drawer or most any box with a lid into thread storage; just make sure each spool is supported or separated from the others. Storing thread in a closed drawer or container will keep dust from collecting on the thread. Not sure about your storage method? If the thread doesn't tangle and you can easily find what you're looking for, then it's all good.
Plastic bags or Ziplocs are no good to store thread long-term. The bad news begins when you seal the bag. Along with your thread inside the bag are particles of dust, humidity, and other particulates floating in the air. Add to that the chemicals that seep out from the plastic bag as it sits and sits in storage, and you've got a recipe to accelerate the deterioration of your thread. Mind you, this process takes a long time, but things tossed in a bag can quickly become forgotten.
The only acceptable use for plastic bags is temporary storage, like using the bag to carry thread to a class or event, or separating threads to go along with fabrics for sewing projects. Although there ARE plastic bags made of archival materials, thread needs to breathe – don’t suffocate your threads. It also goes without saying that spools clunking around in a bag can tangle, so keep your thread ends in check with a bit of paper wrapped around the spool held with a small piece of tape.
When it comes to destroying threads, the three environmental axis of evil is light, temperature, and relative humidity.
The main properties of light that zaps the strength from your threads are the intensity, the ultraviolet spectrum (the same rays that are bad for your skin), and the length of exposure. Try leaving a spool of thread in direct sunlight for a couple of months. Can you guess what you'll see? Yup, the side of the spool facing the sun will become faded, and possibly weakened. Fluorescent and incandescent light bulbs CAN cause the same damage, depending on how close the thread is to the light and how long the thread is soaking up rays. In general, exposure to too much light can shorten the life of your beloved thread.
RH is the same as the humidity level that the weatherman reports each day, it is a measure of how much water vapor is floating around in the air (indicated in a percentage). Too much humidity (RH over 60%) can promote mold and mildew growth and speed up deterioration of threads; too little humidity (RH below 20%) can suck the life right out of threads, making them brittle and break. Keep your thread at a stable relative humidity (like in the main part of your home); the attic can become too dry, and the basement can become too humid.
Temperature actually goes hand in hand with relative humidity. Higher temperatures promote higher levels of relative humidity, and lower temperatures create a lack of relative humidity. Follow the same advice as above; store your thread where the temperature is stable. Avoid large temperature swings within short periods of time (like storing your thread over a heat vent or right next to an air conditioner).
The Big Chill
Speaking of temperature, some people are advocates of storing thread in the freezer. Please don't put your sewing supplies in the fridge! This misplaced advice may have started because museums do keep some textiles in cold storage because it greatly slows deterioration and makes it less likely for any harmful biological attack (like from moths or mildew) to occur. Let's make this distinction very clear: museum collections are rare, historic artifacts stored in a way to be preserved for hundreds (if not thousands) of years. Your thread that you just bought down the street at the sewing store will last far longer than you’ll need it if you follow the storage guidelines in this article.
USE IT OR LOOSE IT
It’s not at all a bad idea to occasionally purge your thread stash. Pick a time once a year or so to carefully take stock of your thread. Inspect each spool for fading color, spots of mold or mildew, loose thread on a spool, or brittle, fraying thread. If you find a spool that’s gone bad, toss it right away. If you find some colors or types of thread that you don’t think you’ll ever use again, consider making a donation to a sewing charity. After organizing and purging, you’ll have plenty of space for some new thread!
IT’S ALL GOOD!
To keep your threads from going bad, keep them organized and away from bright lights, direct heat sources or drastic swings in temperature. Take an inventory of your thread collection at least once a year to get rid of any bad spools, and make room for new threads. Above all, use your threads well, and sew onward and upward!
Here's some help to get you started on your search for better storage, check the links below. There are some clever storage ideas from other sewers! Search the web for "Thread Storage" to find tons of racks and boxes, there are just too many to list here.
The Domestic Diva's Thread Organization
Organized Home's Sewing Room Tips
Matchbox Car Box/Thread Storage Tips
Make Your Own Thread Rack
Quilt Robin's Favorite Thread Storage Solution