Vintage Thread Chart & Photo Gallery

Limited to Wooden, Foam, Plastic and Other Type Spools and Thread-Related Items up to 1972 (Note: We are not a source for and cannot supply prices for vintage thread)

spool size label shape

Thread Chart Picture Galleries:

View Thread Chart


Notes About Thread

The thread industry as it is known today, according to the Modern Textile and Apparel Dictionary [George Linton, 1973],
began in 1806 when Napoleon issued the Edict of Britain during the Napoleonic wars which forbade importation of silk to the
British Isles.

Up to that time all thread was made of silk; largest suppliers were Clark and Coats families based in Paisley, Scotland.
This ban made the manufacture of cotton thread inevitable. From then on, improvements in spinning and other textile
machinery inventions and operations enhanced the thread industry. See history of Clark/Coats under those headings in the
thread chart which represents a overall picture of thread industry.

It should be noted that a thread was developed by Hannah Slater, wife of Samuel Slater, in America in 1793. Slater,
known as the father of the cotton industry in America, formed the Phoenix Thread Company shortly thereafter. However,
Mrs. Slater’s thread was made from long-staple Surinam [Dutch Guiana]cotton and was not ideal for hand or machine sewing.

Thread sizes in 1912 from The Drygoodsman’s Handy Dictionary

style=’mso-bidi-font-weight:normal’>Relative Sizes of Needles and Thread style=”mso-spacerun: yes”>  [Source
1922 Singer Sewing Machine Manual]





fine silks, chiffons, lawns, batistes, etc.


200, 150, 120


Fine silks, lawns linens, cambrics, muslins, etc


100, 90


sheetings, muslins, dressmaking, etc.


80, 70, 60

0-0 , C, A

Lt. woolen goods, flanels, heavy silk, etc.


50, 40, 30

B, C, D

Cotton Yarns and Spool Cotton:
Cotton yarns are numbered from a basis formed in reeling by which a skein is made up of 80 threads 54″ [1-1/2 yds] long, also
called a lea or rap. The number of yarns is determined by the weight of hanks made up of 7 skeins of 840 yards each; one hank
weighing a pound is denoted No. 1 and all multiples are based on that. For instance, 40 hanks weighing one pound would be
No. 40 and would contain 40 times 840 yarn and so on through the yarn numbers. The following table of equations illustrates
the determination of sizes, and likewise for all numbers of cotton yarns:
1 lea or rap = 54″ or 1-1/2yd long
1 skein = 80 leas = 120 yards
1 hank = 7 skeins = 560 leas = 840 yards
No. 1 yarn = 1 hank = 7 skeins = 60 leas = 840 yards = 1 lb avd [avoirdupois]
No. 10 yarn = 10 hanks = 70 skeins = 5600 leas = 8400 yards = 1 lb avd
No. 50 yarn = 50 hanks = 350 skiens = 280,000 leas = 42,000 yards = 1 lb avd
No. 200 yarn = 200 hanks = 1400 skeins = 1,120, 000 leas = 168,000 yards = 1 lb avd

Spool cotton or sewing thread — The original basis of sizes was formed when it was spun and twisted into three-cord for hand sewing.
When three strands of No. 40 yarn were twisted together, the size of the thread was called No.40 although it acutally measured
three times as large around as No. 40 yarn. All other sizes were likewise determined. When six-cord began to be made to fill a demand for
smoother cotton for machine work, the numbers were not changed but the yarns used were twice as fine, leaving leaving the actual size
of the thread the same as before when only three strands were used insead of six.

No. 40 thread, when of three cords or strands is made of No. 40 cotton yarns; six No. 80 yards twisted together when it is six-cord
as is most of the spool cotton at present. All other sizes are likewise produced in American mills but the foreign thread markets change
their basis at No. 60 which is made up of No. 110 yarn instead of 120; 70 is made of 120; 80 of 130; 90 of 140; 100 of 150 and so on.

Linen Yarn and Thread
Linen spinning is based differently than cotton. The base of linen sizing or numbering is a lea or cut of 300 yards.
2-1/2 yds of yarn make a thread
120 threads make a lea – 300 yards
The numbering is according to the leas in a pound. When
8 leas weigh 1 lb avd it is known as 8s or No. 8
20 leas weigh 1 lb avd it is known as 20s or No. 20
25 leas weigh 1 lb avd it is known as 25s or No. 25
50 leas weigh 1 lb avd it is known as 50s or No. 50 and so on.


Silk Yarns and Silk Threads
Spun silk yarns are numbered or sized according to the number of hanks of 840 yards each contained in a pound avd; 20 hanks to the
pound being known as No. 40; No. 30 being known as No. 60, and so on. Raw or thrown silk has a different numbering which is
allowed to vary acccording to the purpose for which the yarn is to be used and also somewhat according to the practices of the
A so-called international agreement on yarn sizes is in existence and officially recognized by Germany and France but it has no binding features and is not closely adhered to by manufacturers, most of them preferring their old forms.Sewing silk and machine twist are manufactured from thrown silk, so named from an old Saxon derivation meaning to twist. Thrown silk is known as singles, tram and organzine:
Vintage Thread Chart & Photo Gallery

Thrown silk thread twists:
Tram silk, a poorer quality silk is used – figures A and D; Organzine, made from better grades of raw silk – B and C.
Textiles, Woolman and McGowan, 1926


– Singles is a single filament thread twisted. Today: twisted hard or loose.
– Tram is two or more singles twisted only sufficiently to hold them together. Today: 2 to 12 singles twisted.
– Organzine is two or more singles twisted in the opposite direction from their original twist. Today: 12 to 20 twisted.

Sewing Silk is of two strands rather lightly twisted and was originally the thread of commerce. At present, commercially, all two-strand
silk threads are sewing silk and include embroideries, knitting, rope, etc.

Machine Twist is the silk on spools ordinarily termed silk thread and is composed of three strands of thrown silk. It was first manufactured
in 1852 to meet the requirements of the sewing machine for something smoother than the old sewing silk. Machine twist is stretched by
special machinery before finishing to insure smoothness and evenness – a very important process-after which it is cleansed and dyed.
Silk is not chemically weighted.

Sizing of machine twist is not based on any reference to textile thread sizes but has an irregularity all its own. Lettering is according
to each manufacturer’s own schedule, although there is slight variation. Thread is put on spools according to weight and yardage of the
size or letter in an ounce varies according to the thickness and strength of the silk; long yardage represents a weaker thread than short

Most manufacturers prefer giving quality to mere length and false lettering. Point of starting is letter A, being the ordinary or
medium size and in the best threads should measure 900 yards in full 12-oz. goods; the sizes should increase and decrease by 100-yard
lengths, approximately. Manufacturers state the following table of sizes to be approximate but not absolute:

000 = 1250 to 1300 yards in an ounce [YIO]
00 = 1110 to 1150 yards in an ounce
0 = 1000 YIO E = 500 YIO
A = 900 YIO EE = 400 YIO
B = 800 YIO F= 300 YIO
C = 700 YIO FF = 200 YIO
D = 600 YIO G= 100 YIO



Contributors: Dana Balsamo, Thelma Bernard, Dorothy Glantz, Shirley
McElderry, Anne Papworth, Pat Roth, Ellen Ambron, Judy White, Nira Leitzke, Kimberly Wulfert, Val Magnuson, Marge Thomas, Barbara Ziolkowski, Donna May, Donald Brokate, Robin Meathenia, Joan Kiplinger



The arbitrary cut-off date for this Vintage Fabric column is 1960.

To stay within the scope of this timeframe, reference materials published up to that date are the prime source of information to more accurately capture actual thoughts of the time.

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