This section is from the "A Complete Dictionary of Dry Goods" book, by George S. Cole. Also available from Amazon: A complete dictionary of dry goods and history of silk, cotton, linen, wool and other fibrous substances,: Including a full explanation of the modern processes ... together with various useful tables.
Sewing Silk. The present manufacture of sewing silk is a direct development of the colonial fireside industry, and formed the first factory silk product of the United States. Immediately after the Revolution when money was a scarce article among our gallant ancestors the women of New England adopted silk culture as a means for obtaining a livelihood. They reeled the lustrous thread from the cocoons upon the clumsy hand reels, spun the thread on spinning wheels made for wool, dyed the precious skeins at home and bartered them for merchandise of various sorts at the country store. In the lack of money skein-silk took its place and the Legislatures of New England provided a fine of $7 against any one convicted of offering for sale "any sewing silk, unless each skein consist of twenty threads, each of the length of 2 yards." Twenty-five skeins made a bunch and 4 bunches a "package." Previous to the invention of the sewing machine, silk thread was all made into skeins, being formed of two strands twisted from right to left. It was sufficiently smooth for the needle used in hand sewing, but would not answer for the sewing-machine. After many experiments the discovery was made that this defect could be obviated by making the thread of 3 fine strands, and twisting them harder and closer than the skein thread for hand-sewing. The latter at present has completely taken the place of the former, except with merchant tailors and other makers of clothing. In the United States alone $15,000,000 worth of sewing thread and twist is consumed annually, nearly all of which is made in New England. One establishment in Florence, Massachusetts, employs 60 automatic spooling machines, each winding 110 dozen a day. Skein silk, which is sold by the ounce, is weighed out by automatic machines. Sewing silks and twists are dyed in two different qualities - "pure dyed" and "standard dyed." In the first case, one ounce of dye matter is added to 12 ounces of scoured silk; in the second, 4 ounces are added; equalizing, it is claimed, the gum subtracted in the scouring. Beyond this proportion, if the silk is weighted with dye, it is not so strong as its weight would imply. Spool silk comes in 50 and 100 yard lengths. Black is made in sizes 000, 00,0, A, B, C, D, and E, from fine to coarse in the order named. Colors are made in size A, only, that being the medium and most used number.