Cleaning and Storing

Obviously, when it comes to cleaning needlework on bibs, towels, clothing and napkins, do whatever it takes to get the piece clean. If this means throwing it into the washing machine with detergent and bleach, so be it.

However, the heirloom-to-be deserves special treatment or it may become the heirloom-that-never-was. Here are some suggestions that are very conservative and cautious. It seems safest to list many things that a stitcher might want to know. You are then free to use or ignore whatever you choose.

While you are stitching:

  • Always wash your hands before stitching, and keep them clean while you work. Don't use hand lotion before stitching. Keep your hands out of your hair, off your face, out of the popcorn, away from the pizza and far from the chocolate bar. See section "26. Soft Hands" for information on how to overcome the effects of all that washing.
  • No smoking near the project.
  • Watch out for ink from highlighters, and toner from photocopies.
  • Needlework projects, especially those in scroll frames, make very nice cat beds. You may choose to view any fur that works its way into the project as part of the design. If not, try using a lint remover or tweezers.
  • Don't store linens or fine fabrics in plastic for the long term. The plastic can trap moisture and, over time, release chemicals. However, storing projects in plastic while they are in progress can help to keep them clean. This is assuming it takes less than 5 years to complete the project :-).
  • If you want to store a project-in-progress for a more than a few days, roll it rather than fold it. Wrap it in cloth, preferably white.
  • If you use a hoop, remove the project from the hoop after every stitching session.
  • Put your project in the hoop or bars backwards. This method is sometimes called having the project "in the well." It prevents the front of the design from touching anything when the bars are set down. It also provides more room on the back of the project for ending threads.
  • Try not to hold on to the project in a way that leaves your hand touching the front of the fabric. For example, fold any extra fabric forward and hold the project there. Some people like to use a layer of tissue, white flannel or plastic wrap on top of the project, with an opening in the centre to stitch through. These can be fitted into a hoop, and provide something to hold onto.

Pam Holmes <> suggested...

I am right handed and usually hold my work with my left hand. To prevent stains, I wear a white cotton glove on my left hand. It works wonders :) I just completed a bell pull (6 months of regular contact) and there were no dark stains lurking anywhere :}

When you are done stitching:

  • Launder the project when completed, unless you used non-colourfast fabric or fibres. No matter how often you wash your hands before stitching there will be skin oils left which may cause stains and damage later on.
  • Avoid anything which cause the project to have long term (many year) exposure to chemicals. For example, don't use Scotch Guard.
  • Do not dry clean if at all possible. The chemicals can be gritty and may have long term effects. If the piece is lost at the cleaners, you will only be reimbursed for the cost of the materials. Some fabrics and fibres (wool and silk) may require dry cleaning. If this is the case, go to a very reputable cleaner, and have a long talk about the best way for them to do the cleaning.
  • Hand wash each piece individually in cold or lukewarm water. For extremely delicate objects, use room temperature distilled water. To clean, use something which is pH balanced and has no whitening agents. This means something like Orvus paste (also used for washing horses and cows), Quilt Soap (which is Orvus soap packaged in small containers for people who don't need a gallon of it), Treasure Wash, etc. Orvus is actually a trade name for sodium lauryl sulfate. Try using one teaspoon per gallon of water. Do not use Woolite, strong detergents or chlorine bleach as they may make the colours bleed. Let the project soak for several minutes. Rinse thoroughly, but don't scrub or wring. If the colours run, repeat the process immediately until the water rinses clear.
  • Remove the piece from the water and place it on a clean, white, terry cloth towel. Roll it up like a jelly roll, to remove the excess water. While still damp, lay it face down on a couple of towels and iron with a dry iron at the wool or linen setting until it is dry. Try not to move the iron back and forth. You may use a pressing cloth, in fact you should use a pressing cloth if there are metallics. The process of ironing until dry prevents uneven drying and puckering of the cloth and threads. Let the project air dry another 24 hours before framing.


When catastrophe strikes, all the tips listed above should be ignored. Just do what you have to. People on this newsgroup have used detergent, bleach, hydrogen peroxide, Goop and ice to remove soda pop, rust, mold, vomit, catsup and bleeding dyes.

Bleeding Floss

You look down at the lovely counted cross stitch picture that took you six months to complete. To your horror, you see that the dye from one of the floss colours has "bled" onto the fabric. What to do?

If the fibres aren't washable, you may be out of luck. But if they are washable, or if you decide that things are so bad you have nothing to lose, try the following.

If the bleeding happens while you are washing the project, don't let it dry. Rinse and soak the project in cold water. Keep rinsing and soaking it until the bleeding is gone and the water rinses clear. The process could take a few minutes or several hours.

If you see bleeding on a dry project, put very cold water into your sink or a flat, nonmetallic pan. Have the water just deep enough to cover the project as it lays flat on the bottom of the sink. Pour in a layer of ice. Let everything soak without any scrubbing. Replace the water and ice as needed.


From melaina, who posted using a friend's account, on treating rust stains:

...I had a brand new white cotton sweater that was laid to dry over a chair (dumb I know) but it had about 20 different rust spots on it some were about 1 inch square. Anyway my mom found a remedy in an old stain guide. AND IT WORKED!!!!! First make sure to test it that it does not make the colour run or fade. Here it is.............


I just dabbed the stains with a clean cloth soaked in the solution and then they faded away to brand new white again. After it dried I washed it and all was fine. I have washed the sweater a few times and the stains have not reappeared. I do not know what this will do to needlework cloths or if it will cause any premature discoloration or breakdown of the fabric though in some cases it may be worth a try,huh.

oh yeah, you can buy the oxalic acid at a pharmacy, or a chemical place. It was really inexpensive ($0.79 canadian for 25 grams).


For pencil marks, try an art gum eraser available from most art supplies stores.

Miscellaneous Stains

Mary L. Tod <> credits Barbara Knaupf, the owner of The Stitching Post with the following recipe:

This is the magic recipe I got from the Stitching Post when I discovered blotchy green stains all over my "Angel of Grace" at the time I took it in for framing. (The stains were a STUPID error caused by my using a brand-new, never been washed, green towel to dry). I just about lost it when I noticed all the spots. The recipe worked like a charm! Piece was saved, and so was my mental health! Here goes:

2 Tbsp Ivory Snow
1 Tbsp Snowy Bleach
1 gal warm water

Make however many gallons-worth to cover your fabric, and soak overnight, or for as long as it takes! Mine came out in 24 hours. I don't know if this will do the trick for hi-liter, but they don't call it *magic* for nothing!

More Miscellaneous Stains

Tyrie J. Grubic <> reported a cleaning method that was discovered at Cross Stitch Corner in Bellevue, Washington, when attempting a last-ditch, nothing-to-lose stain removal:

Anyway, it works, does *not* damage the piece at all, does not cause any bleeding of colours, etc...Here's the method:

First of all, store the Goop in the fridge. Goop kept at room temperature after being opened will break down in a few months and be useless. Do *not* use this broken-down version on your piece.

On a clean, flat surface, spread out the piece, backside up. Cover it in Goop. Lather it on. On any especially dirty places, or any places where the stitching is dense, place it on the front side as well. Leave it for 30 minutes. If you won't be able to get it back in 30 minutes, put it in a plastic bag, but leave it open, or it will get moldy. Do not leave it in the bag very long.

Using cold water and a mild liquid soap...rinse the goop out. Continue rinsing in clear, cold water until the water is clear.

From there, continue as recommended earlier and press between clean, white towels.

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