I wrote a post about polyester thread on August 17 in which I said that the research I could find indicated that polyester thread probably doesn’t degrade any faster than cotton thread. There’s more to the story…
I still can’t find any research specific to thread longevity. My husband tells me that if absolutely no references to research show up in a google search, there probably are none to be found. Thread makers do post information about their own collections of thread but that’s not the same as academic research.
The one study I did find (click here to read it) compared the biodegradability of cotton vs. polyester fabric in a compost pile. Cotton fabric degraded quicker and more thoroughly than polyester fabric which indicates that polyester thread should last longer, right?
My husband, Steve, is a field biologist who teaches invertebrate biology. When I brought this study up at dinner recently he said that decomposers (the bugs and microbes that live in compost) would recognize cotton as food and happily eat it. They don’t necessarily recognize polyester, a petroleum product, as food. Of course cotton degrades faster in compost (he didn’t add ‘duh’, but I’m pretty sure he wanted to).
On August 28 the New York Times published an article entitled “These Cultural Treasures Are Made of Plastic. Now They’re Falling Apart.” Click here to find the story. It’s definitely worth reading.
I read a similar story years ago in the Dallas Morning News but I didn’t save it and have not been able to find it. I was beginning to doubt my memory. It turns out that what I remember from that article is still true… Tupperware, spacesuits, and plastic artifacts of all kinds are degrading.
There are all sorts of plastics and they degrade differently. Again, I can find no specific information on polyester or synthetic threads.
I don’t believe that polyester or synthetic threads are inherently bad, or that we shouldn’t use them. There are many times when a polyester thread is the best choice. That said, every time we choose thread for a project, we weigh a variety of factors… this is just one more thing to keep in mind.