Added Oct 14, 2008
New York, New Yo...
The "shelf-life" of thread depends on whether or not it has been stored properly. Like any textile, extremes in temperature, humidity, or exposure to light adversely affect the thread. It can literally last decades if stored properly, but if it has been in Grandma's hot, dry attic--be careful -- especially if it is 100% cotton. The best test is to break the thread. Hold it between your two hands and give it a yank. If it has some resistance before it breaks, it will be okay to sew with. If it breaks easily, it is best to discard or use for basting.
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