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Baseball Stitches – Uncovering the Threads of History

Did you know that the craft of stitching pre-dates the sport of baseball and it has evolved along with the changing course of civilization?


The methods of binding, stitching materials, and stitching tools all reflect a diverse history that dates all the way back to the fossilized remains of Neolithic skills!

The timeline of a “modern” stitching report dates back to 30,000 BC when eyed needles first appeared to have been used to close an open wound.

Baseball Stitching Needles

The stitching needles were initially crafted from bone, then in later time periods, upgraded to metals such as silver, copper, and aluminum bronze.

Thread needles use today, whether for sewing clothes or skin, are made of strong steel (btw, two steel needles are used to stitch a baseball today).

Evolution of stitching needles

Stitch Patterns

In 500 BC, a comprehensive guide to wound closing techniques and suture materials was provided by the Indian physician Sushruta.

Later during 400 BC, the Greek physician, Hippocrates (who is famous for the Hippocratic Oath that doctors invoke – do no harm), and the Roman Aulus Cornelius Celsus, described suture techniques which bear striking similarities to the current baseball stitching pattern found on all baseballs.

Surgical Baseball Stitch – knot
Surgical Baseball Stitch – loop
Surgical Baseball Stitch – finish

Suture or Stitch Threads

The threads used for these ancient sutures paralleled those found in the baseball stitch.

The ancient suture threads were initially derived from plant materials like jute, flax, hemp, and cotton as well as animal materials such as hair, tendons, arteries, muscle strips, and nerves, even silk and catgut.

The catgut suture, a creation of the 2nd-century Roman physician Galen, was akin to the strings of musical instruments like violins and guitars, and even tennis racquets.

Vintage Catgut Sutures

A burgeoning chemical industry during the 20th century led to the production of the first synthetic thread in the early 1930s, much like the development of the cushion cork center in a baseball.

This gave birth to a plethora of absorbable and non-absorbable synthetics, as well as modern weaving techniques to produce stronger cotton threads.

Modern Baseball Stitch Cotton Thread

Today, almost all base balls are stitched with a waxy, red cotton threads, though some less expensive baseballs will use synthetic fiber mix as the their baseball stitching material.

The American Thread Company

In 1898, the American Thread Company was incorporated in New Jersey, a combination of thirteen New England firms- the largest being Willimantic Linen Company, carving a significant niche in the textile industry, particularly in the creation of base ball stitches.

The American Thread Company Logo

The parent company of this “American” company was none other than English Sewing Cotton Co with Lyman R. Merrick being the first president. At the time, Mr. Merrick himself had 40 years of experience with his own firm, Merrick Thread Company.

These mergers of British-based companies made it even harder for U.S.-based companies to compete. There was fierce competition and price-fixing during the next 15 years.

In 1901, Hopkins testified that the main competitor for American Thread was the Coats operation. American Thread was founded with a capital of $12 million. Much of the financing came from Great Britain. Hoskins explained to a later US commission that not only was the Coats group owned by the British, but a significant part of American Thread was owned by the British.

The intertwining of these British companies and their American subsidiaries was complete. Fully two-thirds or more of all thread used in the United States was produced by these companies.

Finally, the U. S. Government filed suit in 1913, alleging restraint of trade in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. By 1914, this action modified the structure of the ownership by splitting the management of all the Scottish-owned mills, but their technological advantage continued to hinder U.S. competition.

American Thread made it through the First World War with factories in the north. The first Southern factory was built in Dalton, GA in 1925. By 1928, American operated five plants in the North at Willimantic and Stonington, CT; Fall River and Holyoke, MA; and Milo, ME. The Hadley plant in Holyoke was sold in 1928. Later, in 1945, a plant was purchased in Clover, SC.

In 1985, life in Willimantic, Connecticut – and in the other old industrial cities and towns of southern New England – changed forever.


The American Thread Company, the city’s signature industry, closed its Willimantic Mills plant and shifted operations to North Carolina and later Mexico. The closing exemplified a larger trend.

Tribeca Citizen has an interesting perspective on the relationship between American Thread Co. and NY City,

The American Thread Company and Baseballs

The story starts with baseball’s search for uniformity. Initially, baseballs were handmade, with varying materials and techniques. In 1872, specifications were standardized, and the figure-eight stitching pattern was introduced.

By the 1930s, American Thread Company stepped up, producing a robust red cotton thread that not only held the cowhide cover securely but also withstood the rigors of the game.

This high-quality thread became the industry standard for baseball stitching, used in all Major League Baseballs because it was durable, colorfast, and capable of maintaining a firm grip on the ball, allowing pitchers to execute their pitches with precision and players to perform at their best.

Through the decades, despite changes in baseball’s design and manufacturing processes, the one constant was the red cotton thread from the American Thread Company. The company’s commitment to quality maintained their place at the heart of baseball production.

It produced the original, iconic, waxed red thread used in baseballs under the Kingston and Merrick Cotton Baseball Thread brands, manufactured at their Jillson Mills complex in Willimantic, Connecticut.

As stated previously, although the American Thread Company ceased its operations in the 1990s and synthetic fibers dominate the textile industry, all baseballs continue to be hand-stitched using the red cotton thread by other manufacturers, still honoring a tradition steeped in history and a tribute to a company that helped shape the game of baseball.

Unraveling the Thread

Baseball stitching threads look very simple in its appearance but there are lots of intricate technical specifications that go into making them.

Baseball Thread Fiber Type

The base fiber used in a thread can be natural or synthetic. Natural fibers include cotton, silk, and wool, while synthetics could include petroleum-based materials like polyester and nylon.

Both fibers are further classified according to staple (fibers that are short and need to be spun together to create thread) and filament types (filament fibers are long and continuous).

The threads used for stitching a baseball are based on natural cotton with a glaze / wax at the end to provide strength, durability, and water-resistance of the thread.

Less expensive baseballs use primarily baseball stitching thread that is made from a synthetic, polymer-based material but they either tend to be weaker (causing the thread to break easy), or too strong (causing the stitching holes to break and allow the cover to separate from the core).

Lastly, baseballs made with Kevlar stitches are used primarily with pitching machines. Due to increased friction from pitching machine wheels, regular baseballs will not as long when compared to Kevlar stitched baseballs.

Stitch Thickness and Strength

The overall thickness of a baseball stitching thread provides strength and durability of a quality baseball.

  • Yarn Structure: There are three methods to spun fibers together to form a thread. These are single (one strand of fibers), plied (two or more strands twisted together), or cord (two or more plied yarns twisted together). The direction of twist, known as S-twist or Z-twist, also contributes to thread structure.
  • Thread Size: Thread size or yarn count refers to the final thickness of the thread by calculating the weight-to-length ratio of the thread. There are various systems to measure thread size such as the Tex system, the Denier system, or the Cotton system.
  • Performance Properties: Thread performance properties include strength, heat resistance, colorfastness, elasticity, abrasion resistance, etc. These properties greatly affect the application of the thread.

The length of a Baseball Stitching thread

The total length of the single thread used in one baseball is 88 inches (or approximately 223.5 centimeters) long.

The thread itself is made up of 4 strands using Z-twist with each end knotted to a stitching needle (forming a U-shape).

This substantial length underlines the crucial role of the thread in holding the baseball together and creating the characteristic raised seam structure.

Thread Classifications

Thread size, or yarn count, refers to the thickness or fineness of the thread or yarn. It is typically measured by a weight-to-length ratio. In other words, it defines how much a certain length of yarn weighs.

Different systems are used to measure this based on the fiber type and yarn structure. The thread size is a critical factor as it determines the durability and suitability of the thread for specific fabric types and sewing tasks.

The Cotton Count System

Often abbreviated as “Ne” or “CC”, the Cotton Count System originated in the cotton spinning industry and this measurement method is traditionally used for cotton threads and other spun threads like wool and spun synthetics.

It is a length-based measurement, defined by the number of hanks (840 yards or approximately 768 meters each) per pound (approximately 0.45 kilograms).

So, if a thread is labelled as “40 Ne”, it means that 40 hanks (each of 840 yards) of that thread weigh one pound. Therefore, the higher the count, the finer the yarn. For instance, a 50 Ne cotton yarn is finer than a 30 Ne cotton yarn.

This system can be a bit more complex when dealing with plied yarns. For example, a thread labelled as “32/2 Ne” means it’s a two-ply yarn with a Cotton Count of 32. It’s created by spinning two single yarns (each of 32 Ne) together.

It’s important to remember that each type of fiber has a different density, so the same Cotton Count may not indicate the same diameter for different fibers. This is why different systems are used for different fibers, such as the Denier system for filament yarns and the Tex system that is universal and can be applied to any type of fiber.

Ultimately, the thread size significantly influences the stitch formation, seam strength, and the overall appearance of the final product. Thus, it’s essential to consider the thread size in the context of the fabric weight and the nature of the product being sewn.

American Thread Co – Baseball Stitch Specifications

American Thread Co. – Baseball Stitch Specifications
  • a – thread construction method
  • b – Madeira color code
  • c – thread model name
  • d – thread material/purpose
  • e – thread weight
  • f – finish (Glace means glazed or waxed)

Thread materials used to create baseball Stitches

American Thread Company made Kingston 10-4 baseball stitch thread and slightly thicker Merrick 12-4 baseball stitch thread.

Kingston 10-4 Baseball Thread
Merrick 12-4 Baseball Thread

The notation “10-4” or “12-4” on a Kingston or Merrick spools, respectively (or “10/4 Ne” or “12/4 Ne”), of cotton thread typically refers to the system known as the “plied yarn number” or “indirect system” which are commonly used in the Cotton Count system.

The “10” in this context refers to the cotton count (Ne) of the single yarns that constitute the thread. This means that 10 hanks (each of 840 yards) of the thread weigh one pound.

The “12” in this context refers to the cotton count (Ne) of the single yarns that constitute the thread. This means that 12 hanks (each of 840 yards) of the thread weigh one pound.

The “-4” indicates that this is a four-ply thread, meaning it’s made up of four strands of either 10-count or 12-count yarn twisted together. Therefore, both “10-4” and “12-4” threads are thicker and stronger than its single strand counterpart of 10-count or 12-count yarn because “-4” thread are composed of four strands.

The current baseball stitch standard is 10-4.

Final Thoughts

In this post, We examined a range of baseball stitching thread materials, from traditional wool to innovative synthetic blends, emphasizing the importance of stitch counts in enhancing durability and performance.

I recommend you read my other post, “Baseball Stitches – How Many Stitches Are there” to further explore the intricate details of baseball stitching, highlighting how these seemingly minor elements significantly impact the game’s core equipment.

Please don’t forget to visit Buying Baseballs – Reference Articles page to read other fascinating information about baseballs!