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Linen Thread - advice needed, please!

Posted: Fri Oct 28, 2005 10:26 am
by Lucy Cassidy
I'm making linen shirts, and I'm having trouble getting the right thread.

What size of thread should I need? I did some research on thread sizes, decided 16/3 would be about right, and it's somewhat too thick (it's like string!!), so what "size" should I be looking for?

Also, should it be waxed, or not??

All advice very, very gratefully received.


PS Anybody interested in some lovely STRONG linen thread, 100% linen, beeswaxed, just great for, er, er, bags? Tents? Shoes??

Posted: Fri Oct 28, 2005 12:33 pm
by PaulMurphy

See for some tips - waxed linen thread is usually used for leatherwork, where the wax both eases the passage of the thread through the leather, and waterproofs the stitch hole as it goes.

Best Wishes,


Posted: Fri Oct 28, 2005 2:11 pm
by Lucy Cassidy
Hi Paul, many thanks for taking the time to respond!

Hmm, so Kentwell now accepts linen clothing sewn with cotton thread, do they? *pulling humorous face with one eyebrow raised* Maybe I'll do the same, and just use good old Sylko.

Does anyone know if there is a shrinkage problem with linen-fabric-cotton-thread?

I was assuming that if you used one, you'd have to use the other....


PS any archers out there looking for STRONG linen thread for their bows??

Posted: Fri Oct 28, 2005 3:16 pm
by Scraggles
bought a reel of linen thread from one of the traders at some market, works fine, have not got any idea on the size, except that it just fits my needles :)

Posted: Fri Oct 28, 2005 3:22 pm
by Lucy Cassidy
Hi "Scraggles" (bad hair day?)

Yup, that's really helpful!

I can't get to traders thingies, I can only work mail order, so that doesn't help.... but I'm encouraged to hear that suitable linen thread does indeed exist.

"it fits my needles" harumph.

*sighs heavily and goes to put the kettle on. Mmmph! It doesn't fit me at all.*

Linen Lucy

Posted: Sat Oct 29, 2005 10:13 am
by Auntiedom
I use some fab stuff made in Belfast for all my shirt, shift and outerwear needs. I'll sort out a spool and see what it is actually called and what the thickness is. If I have any spare, I'd be willing to sell you a spool, if it's suitable of course!

Goodmans Linen also sell thread and they will be at 'The Original Reenactment Market' at Ryton-on-Dunsmore, Coventry this weekend. They may also supply by mail order. Their website is

Of course, there may also be a supplier at the National Living History Fayre too.. but the Goodmans are the only suppliers I know of personally.

Regarding shrinkage. In my experience, linens experience anything between a 5 - 10% shrinkage in the first wash. The moral of the story? Always wash your fabric before starting your project! :wink:


Posted: Sun Oct 30, 2005 2:25 pm
by Lucy Cassidy
Auntiedom (Auntie Dom?) you are a sweetheart, yes please let me know what the "size" or identifying criteria of the thread is. And I may well be interested in buying a spool, as I'm really keen to get on with these shirts!

Many thanks for the link, too - what a great site! I love the Valley programme, it's such a pleasure to see reality TV done properly, carefully, thoughtfully, and so nicely presented. I love the way they speak modern language without attempting Tudorese - makes it so much more accessible, don't you think? I came into the series part-way through, so I didn't see the intro episodes, thus I didn't know who any of these people are (except Stuart, of course). It's nice to find out a bit more about them. It's also great to see people with the courage to present bare faces to the world, as well (that's the girls, obviously), something I always lacked the courage to do wholeheartedly.

Having been reading all the other threads on the forum, I realise that most people here will be away over this weekend, so I'll check back a couple of times next week and see if there have been any additions. And, hopefully, to hear from Auntiedom again; but no rush, I'll be very happy to hear from you when it's convenient for you.

Here's a thing - what about E-Bay? I've always considered it to be the realm of cheapy cheapy fancy dress (*blushes shamefully and admits to selling non-authentic shirts on E-Bay: well, now and again I enjoy making something with a lot of fabric in it!*) but there is someone selling great big spools of what they call linen thread, allegedly from a mill closing down in Ireland. Type in "linen thread" and there's a whole list of them, but they describe their thread in "leas", whatever they are. Has anyone ever used anything similar? Is it any good? All comments welcome!

And I hope you all had a really great time at the Re-enactors' Market.


(thinking about selling off the thick linen thread on E-Bay.......)

Posted: Sun Oct 30, 2005 5:24 pm
by Lady Mitch
Had a look on E-bay and it says that 14 lea is 4200 yds to a pound. Does that mean that 4200 yds weigh a pound?

Mitch x

Posted: Sun Oct 30, 2005 8:09 pm
by Auntiedom

I do indeed have some spare spools. The thread is Barbour's no. 35 'Best Quality Linen Thread'. Made in Lisburn, Northern Ireland. Check out the name on Google. It's pukka stuff, goes through the eye of a standard sized needle (but not a fine embroidery needle!) and does sew beautifully.

It is white thread and each spool weighs just under 3/4lb. I *think* each spool holds around 2000yds of thread. Unused in original packaging. Each spool measures approx. 9.5cm tall, 7cm diameter, 24cm circumference. Hope that helps a bit!

You can have one for £7.00 plus 1.20 pp.

If interested email me at auntiedom (at) hotmail (dot) com

Best Regards.

Posted: Mon Oct 31, 2005 9:34 am
by Zachos
Apparently back in the day they took a thread from the cloth they were stitching and used that. It makes the thread practically invisable, because it always matches the colour. However, that technique can only be used on certain materials. It won't work on something like felt for instance.

Posted: Mon Oct 31, 2005 9:38 am
by Alice the Huswyf
The Tudor Group would have been my first suggestion, too. Quartermasterie also do a selection of linen and silk hreads - if you have to work mail order, invest in a copy of Call to Arms which lists everything, groups, demonstrators, retailers, manufacturers or kit etc (entering Call to arms into google will get you details) or the costumier's directory "The Garter" done by Frances. Both may seem costly but are worth their cost in pure reference information and time saved surfing and phoning.

A light beeswaxing of handspun sewing thread - especially linen thread - stops wear on the length as it is drawn through (as few of us sew with practical, short lengths). Mercerising of commercial modern thread has replaced this step. Either process limits fraying, twisting, knotting and breakage. Thread the end that you have cut off to further minimise problems (although this depends on which direction your thread was spun in).

Posted: Mon Oct 31, 2005 10:34 am
by Uncle Bulgaria
Try a PM to Fishwife. She will probably pick up the thread later but I know she isn't travelling home from the market until later today.

She stocks loads of linen thread and will be able to help with great advice.

Posted: Mon Oct 31, 2005 7:57 pm
by Handbag
you can also try texere yarns they do every single thread and yarn you can think of from linens to silks and wools . find them at they do a really good catalogue with samples for about £4 which will let you see exactly what thickness and tension is best for you.

Posted: Mon Oct 31, 2005 8:52 pm
by madjon
dont forget to have a look in charity shops where they stock a range of old linen threads,usually with sewing bits and old buttons, they usually cost about 50p . just make sure it hasnt rotted by giving a bit a tug

Posted: Tue Nov 01, 2005 12:12 am
by Tuppence
I quite often use Guttermann's linen thread. Comes in about half a dozen colours - can be quite hard to get, (though hobbicraft do it), but you can e-mail the company for suppliers.

That and Barbour's are probably the best around.

The cotton thread and linen fabric shrinkage problem should be elimeated by pre-washing the linen on the hottest setting of the machine (I ignore the care instructions for that bit), and then always washing at a cooler setting.

The use of wax on thread also helps to prevent the thread tangling, and strengthens it. Probably still used only by hand sewers and tailors, but once once v.v. common.

Posted: Tue Nov 01, 2005 6:58 am
by Edmund the Marshal
Don't know if you found what you are looking for yet have you tried;

I've used them for linen thread for leather work. If they havent got what you want in stock they will order it in.

good luck

Posted: Tue Nov 01, 2005 9:43 am
by Steve Stocker
My linen shirts are stitched with 25/3 linen thread. I sell it.

For those of you who want to know:

How Thread Sizes are calculated

Taking for example a "18/3" thread:

The "3" refers to the number of yarns that have been plied together.
The "18" indicates that it takes 5,400 yards of such yarn to weigh a pound.

It can be seen why bigger numbers mean smaller thread -- the thinner the yarns, the more of them it takes to make a pound.

No.1 yarn is 1 pound of flax spun to a length of 300 yards.
No.2 yarn is 1 pound of flax spun to a length of 600 yards.
And thus;
N0.18 yarn is 1 pound of flax spun to a length of 5,400 yards.

In conclusion.
A 35/3 thread is made of three yarns, each made from 1 pound of flax spun out to 10,500 yards and then twisted together.

Linen sewing thread is made from straw of the flax plant. The stems are fermented in water to remove resinous matter. The fibrous material is then separated from the woody matter and spun into thread. The cellulose content is quite high at between 70 and 80%. The fibres are very tough, can be bleached white, and take dyes more readily than cotton.

The long winter evenings just fly by.........


Posted: Tue Nov 01, 2005 7:06 pm
by Lucy Cassidy
Firstly, thank you SO much, all of you who have responded. This kindness to a complete stranger is so welcome, and I am very grateful.

Auntiedom has sorted me out with a reel of her "spare" linen thread, so that will get me going (phew!) and I've made a careful note of all the other sources mentioned, just in case Auntiedom's thread can't take the speed at which I hammer along on my sewing machine!

And Steve, just to help those long evening flying by, I've been given the following calculation by the "string" supplier: try this at home, everyone, and I will be asking questions later:

"To workout the length of a known weight of thread, you apply the
following calculation:

Lea size/cord x 600 = m/kg
example: for a 250g cop of 25/3 thread - 25/3 x 600/4 = 1250m/250g cop
(There are 4 x 250g cops in a kilo)

16/3 = 800m, 40/3 = 2000m"

There, was that clear enough for everyone?

Going back to my shirts, I did remember to wash the linen before starting construction, (he he, not completely daft!) I washed a length of it at 40 degrees, and the fabric shrank about an inch and a half in the metre. This suits me nicely, as, being oldfashioned, I can only work in yards. So the metres of fabric conveniently turn themselves into almost-yards. I hadn't thought of washing them in a hot-hot-hot wash to get all the shrinking over & done with. This seems like a good idea...

Madjon, that's an excellent idea, to look for odd bits in charity shops: presumably the reels would have the word "linen" on them somewhere?

Zachos, thanks for your comment: yes, I'd heard this, and indeed I've sometimes done it myself when unable to get thread to match - that's when altering modern clothes to fit my, er, less-than-perfect figure. The overlocking often un-zips itself if you can get the right end, and you can extract long lengths of crinkly thread for washing and re-use. As the man said, those long evenings just fly ......

Thanks again!

Posted: Wed Nov 02, 2005 9:01 am
by Steve Stocker
Thanks very much for the fomula, people have been asking me how much cord is on the linen bobbins and cops I sell and I have not been able to answer. Now I can :D


Posted: Thu Nov 03, 2005 1:16 pm
by Braidwoman
Sally Pointer sells linen thread suitable for sewing, in white and natural. You can contct her via her website

Posted: Thu Nov 03, 2005 2:29 pm
by gregory23b
Yep Fishwife - Mulberry dyer has a perfect sewing thread, fine but strong - but the others suggested are good too.

Posted: Fri Nov 04, 2005 7:47 pm
by Ann
You can make your own thread if you have a drop spindle. Flax tops can be bought from Wingham wool work
It's not easy to spin, I have a special small light spindle I made, which I use for silk as well, but if you oil the flax slightly it helps. You will need to ply two spun threads together to make a thread you could sew with. Alternatively, you could spin a fine wool thread and sew with that, wash it before sewing to make sure it won't shrink later.

linen thread for shirts

Posted: Wed Nov 09, 2005 9:41 am
by tailordrews
I am late again, but have 2 pence worth of the topic.
I make very fine linen shirts for myself for 18th century reenacting. I wanted the finest linen i could get, and imported from Rotterdam a very (expensive :cry: ) and fine hankerchief weight linen.
For this shirt i used 120/2 linen thread. Such thread is available in lace suppliers shops. It is to my knollege the finest linenthread available today. I wash the linen fabric first, and the linen thread wont shrink that it matters to the sewing. I also use this hankerchief linen for my stock cravats. This summer i was on vacation on Madeira, and i found another fine linen, not as fine as my Rotterdam, but very suitable for shirts anyway much cheaper. I payed about 30 pounds a meter for it. Madeira has a big embroidery industry these days, i think it was ment to make embroidered hankerchiefs with it.
For the fine 18th century laces they used a thread nr. 600/1 can you imagine this? And we think we have a fine developed society today! We can only make 120 linen thread. Laugh out loud!!!!