8 steps to cleaning needlework

Cleaning needlework isn't as simple as it may sound but it can be done with a little care. Techniques vary according to the age of the piece and its fabric. To clean needlework less than 15 years old embroidered on cotton or wool, follow these steps.

8 steps to cleaning needlework

1. Consult a pro

  • If you are unsure of an item's age or fabric, consult a pro with proven experience, particularly if it is a family heirloom that has sentimental value.
  • Ask for advice from your local needlework shop or from a textile conservator at a museum.

2. Take it apart

  • Use care in taking the item apart, whether it's cross-stitch in a frame or needlepoint on a pillow.
  • Zigzag any cut edges that might unravel, on a sewing machine, before cleaning.
  • Measure the piece so you'll be able to return it to its original size.

3. Wash it

  • Fill a clean sink with slightly warm water and a squirt of gentle wool wash. (If you're unsure whether the threads are colourfast, use cold water. Red threads, in particular, are notorious for running colour in warm water.)
  • Gently work the soapy water through the fabric, squeezing and agitating the piece.

4. Eliminate stains

Use a spot remover made for cotton or wool, or presoak the piece for at least 30 minutes in the soap and water solution.

5. Rinse carefully

Dip the item several times in clear, cold water, making sure you get all the soap out so that it doesn't turn the whites yellow.

6. Wrap & roll

After you've thoroughly rinsed the piece, place it on a cotton towel, roll up the towel to remove excess water and unroll.

7. Measure it again

  • Using a blocking board, pin the piece face down at its original measurements so that it will return to square as it dries. (Check your work with a T-square.)
  • Blocking boards are scarce, but you can make your own by using a cork board or the kind of foam core board used for matting artwork.
  • Cover it with muslin, and secure the muslin with staples.

8. Be wary of dry cleaning

  • Dry-cleaning isn't the best choice for cleaning needlework, as dry-cleaning fluids contain chemicals that could damage the piece.
  • This is especially true if you're unsure of the type of fabric you're cleaning.
  • In addition, the steam machines used by dry cleaners will take the sizing out of the piece, making it extremely difficult for you to block again.
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