Somehow I went from looking for basting thread to a trip down memory lane the other day. I decided to hand baste a silk project because it would be easier than machine basting or fusing and thought I could use some old (and I mean more than 50 years old so it counts as antique) thread. I chose this vivid green.
My mother and grandmother both sewed, so I inherited bits of their sewing supplies. (I still have a tin of darning eggs and thread.) I’m sure I’ve thrown out lots over the years as the elastic lost its snap and seam tape turned odd colors. Spools of thread don’t take up much space so I hung onto them. Besides, I’m fond of wooden spools.
As I rummaged through my boxes of thread (beautiful Shaker boxes that were gifts) I pulled some out of the wooden spools to test thread strength. The thread almost cut my fingers before it broke so I used it for my basting, and then pulled out all the old spools I could find.
The oldest seemed to be the Belding Corticelli wooden spools of cotton marked size 50, 19 cents (15 cents in one case.) I surmised that the spools made of some composition material were next oldest, followed by the plastic spools. The last were the dread cotton covered poly threads. Over the roughly 20 years represented by my sample the price of 150 yards of cotton sewing thread climbed from 15 cents to 50 cents.
I did the thread strength test on all I found. The oldest threads turned out to be the strongest. One, by American, a manufacturer I never heard of, was almost impossible to snap. Once Belding Corticelli became other companies (Belding, Belding Lily) thread quality went down, judging by how easily the thread broke. The old Coats & Clark’s cotton thread fared about the same. The cotton poly thread proved to be tough. I recall using it during the sixties for my make in one hour outfits.
So, as long as a thread seems strong I’ll continue to use it whatever its age. I’ll pitch the threads that break easily and make more room in my thread boxes. Besides, I see that entrepreneurs on Etsy and eBay are asking at least $3 for old wooden spools.
Footnote: I’ve tried to research the history of the Belding Corticelli Co. and found this on the Belding component. It seems that mergers in the 1920s and 1930s resulted in Belding Corticelli. For those interested in the history of the U.S. silk industry, here’s a link to “American Silk, 1830-1930.” A very personal take on the changes in thread manufacturers can be found on an undated blog post by Harry, Coats Plant Maintenance, Hendersonville, NC.