Is It Worth Buying Second Hand Threads?

Sometimes you’re on eBay, sometimes you’re at a craft fair, maybe a car boot sale, and you see it; threads. Hundreds and hundreds of threads. You eagerly walk over and find out they’re going cheap. Probably from someone’s Grandmother who can’t stitch anymore, or excess threads someone is cutting down. And the simple thought goes through your head “Is it worth buying these second-hand threads?”
The idea of second-hand threads is a great one, they’re cheap, they’re the brand you like and it can get you far along on your journey to a complete set of DMC threads. But actually, there are things to consider, and sometimes that deal can actually be more effort than its worth.

Full set of DMC threads
My full set of DMC threads ordered by number


The first, and usually biggest issue, is the age of threads like these. In most cases the threads are being sold as they are either passed onto someone who doesn’t stitch (and very old) or are excess threads that someone is cutting down on (and are old). Old threads aren’t an issue in themselves, in fact, far from it. But threads can discolor over time. Most people think this is actually thread dye lot issues, but its actually more likely to how the threads have been stored.
Regardless of who is selling the threads, it’s always worth asking if the threads have been stored correctly. At first, looking at the threads will look OK, even discolored threads look OK, but once you get them home, you might have a nasty shock. A quick tip is to make sure DMC threads have plastic labels on the top and bottom; if one is paper, its at least 18 years old.
We would also ask if the threads are from a smoke-free home too, as it’s hard to tell tar-covered threads from normal ones at first glance.

DMC Thread Color 318 Old and New (Source: Facebook)

Not numbered/ordered

The second issue, and probably the biggest in my mind, is that its rare to get threads sorted nicely into boxes. More often than not, it’s in a big old bag of threads.
This might be a blessing in disguise; it could put less serious buyers off, but the fact remains that unless there is a nice little label on the threads, you basically have no way of knowing what color it is.

So many DMC thread number wraps…

Not one brand

In addition, that bag of threads has another issue; if there are no labels on the threads, do you actually know you’re getting the brand you want? With cheap embroidery threads entering the market, they could easily pass their threads off as well known brands. I don’t think people intentionally do this in person (they do online for sure), but someone that doesn’t know about cross stitching might just assume.

So is it a good deal?

I have no idea. Unless you can see the threads, know their condition, see how they’re labeled and trust the provider, it’s hard to tell. In most cases, if it sounds too good to be true and it’s online, it’s too good to be true. But in person, you can get some great deals. You just need to take a breath, stop seeing the low price, and think about what you’re actually buying.

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  1. Elaine

    It depends! I have no hesitation buying second-hand threads if I can check out their condition (e.g. boot sales, charity shops), but then grandmothers usually stored their threads well and rarely smoked. If you are stitching/designing professionally or looking for particular numbered colourways it’s probably not worth it, but I stitch for my own pleasure and enjoy having a large stash to choose from. So I keep my new DMC sorted by number and everything else is sorted by colour family – if I have a particular shade in mind and I can match it from stash, I don’t particularly care what brand or number it is. (Love your Hot Springs!)