Friday, March 15, 2013

Sewing supplies for the prepper

In the mailbox this week I received a great question:

Ms. Susan,

I had a question and hoped you could answer. We were putting a sewing kit of sorts together and disagreed on the type of general thread to use. Disagreement between silk and cotton or cotton blend. I had acquired some wooden spools for a project and observed the cotton or blends easily broke and the silk was still very strong. Granite, this thread is about 30 yrs old...

Which type of thread would you use? Is there a man made thread that would be a better choice? I recall my grandmother kept silk thread in her first aid kit which her mother did..mine said she'd just take us to the doctor.

We always kept those little gimme sewing kits you can put in your purse, so we have plenty, if the thread lasts.

It may be surprising to some that thread does, indeed, age and become fragile.  Sometimes it'll 'knot' up as you try to sew with it, by by hand and in machines.  Newer sewing machines are even more picky about the quality and age of thread, jamming up easily and messing with the tension.

I've had some experience with old thread that worked poorly in my 30-year old sewing machine, but worked okay for light hand-sewing such as mending small tears or replacing buttons. Some was so bad that it stuck to itself and 'clumped', and was unusable.

However, I don't have extensive sewing experience, so I'm throwing this subject out to you, the readers, and asking for input.  I also have a few friends who are very into sewing, and I will ask them too, and post their answers here when I hear back from them.

Please leave comments below, or email them to:



  1. My minimalist kit goes in my 72 hour kit and is very basic and consists of one of the gimme sets as mentioned above that has a selection of threads a few needles, buttons, and a pair of useless scissors. To this I added a large needle and one with a sharp tiangular tip, plus a thimble and small sharp scissors. A small amount of heavy duty thread is also useful.
    As our main family plan is to "shelter in place" I have at my disposal large amounts of sewing supplies, several sewing machines and am currently refurbishing a treadle machine for use without power.
    Silk thread was widely used before nylon and polyester became available and is still used in some suture thread. It can still be purchased but is more expensive than modern threads. As Susan has found the silk threads do deteriorate with time and are best avoided in emergency kits, even if you do plan on suturing some wounds! That subject is best addressed under first aid.
    In our RV which we would use if we anticipated being away for a longer period, I have simply added spools of threads in a selection of basic colors, better scissors, some fabric scraps, more buttons and other fasteners, an awl and heavy duty thread. although I won't need to carry it I have kept it as compact as possible to save space in it's own clearly labeled container. Anyone who knows basic sewing will have most of the things they need already in their home.
    Even if you can't sew it still good to have the kit, as you may find some one who can. If all else fails a tube of super glue will hold things together

    1. Thank you for the excellent reply to this blog post. It wounds like you have a well thought-out and well rounded emergency plan.

      What kind of thread do you store in your RV? Do you rotate it like a person would with food storage? If so, after how many years do you replace it with fresh thread?

      It may seem silly to discuss such a thing but I have had old thread be impossible to sew with.

  2. I am an avid sewer of many years. Any kind of thread (cotton, silk, poly, poly/cotton blends) will store well for many years if kept out of light and, preferably, dust-free. For a polyester thread stored in this way, I'd never replace it. For a natural fiber (cotton or silk), I'd replace it every 10 years or so. I would avoid rayon, "invisible," and embroidery thread, as they are too weak.

    The key is to avoid cheap thread, because it will break, knot, and generally give you headaches; I have always had good luck with Gutermann polyester thread and Coats and Clark poly/cotton blend thread found at JoAnn's Fabrics, Hobby Lobby, etc.

    As a general rule for home sewing threads, polyester thread is the strongest, then polyester/cotton blend (poly core with a cotton sheath), then cotton, then silk, then rayon and embroidery threads. For a general guide to the different kinds of threads and their strengths, see


  3. I sew for a living and have lots of threads here. If you can get a piece of beeswax or soap to keep in your sewing kit you can wax the thread and it will have less tendency to knot up. Ideally you would wax it and iron it but I do understand that you might not have the ability to use an iron or even heat a flat piece of metal to press it. I do find the embroidery floss does keep quite well and is pretty strong. Cotton/poly thread is pretty good too. I would not recommend polyester thread either nor cheap thread. It is only a waste of your money. Better to spring for the better thread.

    1. Thank you for this great information! I'm sure it will be helpful for many of us. I never thought of waxing the thread, but it sounds like it would work.