October 10, 2011

The X-files: Restoring an older piece

Feeling Stitchy question graphic

Maybe you can help elliefunkhandmade? Over in the Flickr group, she's asking about restoring and cleaning older embroidery pieces:
[...] an advent calendar my grandmother made close to forty years ago - it is very special to me. I was wondering whether anyone had some ideas or tips about how best to wash it. It needs some minor repairs but the fabric has also stretched in places. I don't know for sure - but I think it is all cotton fabric (but I'm not sure of the stitched thread - I assume they are DMC)
Here and here are some photos of the calendar.

I'm sure others have the same question/problem, so if you have any suggestions for how to care for older pieces, please share them in the comments. :-)


  1. For old textiles you want to hand wash in a bin of detergent-ed water. Not much detergent, but enough that you can feel it in the water. You want to put it in the water and just hand wash/massage it a bit. Have another bin of plain water and rinse it. Keep doing this until it rinses clear. It would probably be best to use filtered water as well since anything in the water could potentially damage it over time. You want detergent because it doesn't leave deposits on the fabric like soap does. Hopefully this is all helpful. I took a restoration class a few years ago, but this has stuck with me. :)

  2. As far as cleaning goes, I use woolite for stains and you can also use baby shampoo as well for delicate older things. They also sell special quilt soap at most fabric places, which I'm sure would do for your textile.

    I imagine when you wash it you will be able to block the wet fabric and some of the stretching will go away. I would go easy on ironing and of course only from the back if you do use an iron.

  3. Vinegar and baking soda are great for brightening and removing stains. I use this all the time for my finished embroidery, but the ingredients are gentle enough that they would probably work on older pieces, too.

  4. Use one of the "detergents" that is recommended for quilts/knitting products. Low suds. Less rinse effort. Roll in towel...don't twist/stretch...just a simple roll motion up and down. Then yes, pin block down to completely dry...iron from the back onto a plush towel, which will preserve the actual stitching without flattening it. Have had great success doing this on a few things that both my paternal grandmother and also my mother had made years ago, that I was trying to save.

  5. Carina, Thank you so much for posting this on your feeling stitchy blog

    Bronwyn & DanaK thank you for your advice - sounds like a gentle detergent is the go. I was wondering about the iron too - I'll try drying it as flat as I can and hopefully it won't need ironing!

  6. !! Not to be overly dramatic but ~be sure~ to test the floss first to make sure the dyes don't run !!

    Take a wet cotton ball, and dab it against reds, purples, blacks, etc. See if any color comes off on the cotton.

    I destroyed a piece of my own by not doing this first. (My grandmother's old stash of embroidery floss had a skein of the perfect dark pink. I stitched with it to make a display pillow. Then, it rained at Renegade that year and pink ran allll over my pillow.) I took note.

    Many older commercially offered flosses had dyes that were not colorfast and, if this piece was framed or only hung on the wall and never previously laundered, you might want to do this swab test.

    Everyone has offered such good advice on how to clean it gently, I just wanted to urge you to take this step first!

  7. i've gotten stains out of many vintage pieces - and not damaged them - with oxy. i heart oxy!

  8. I inherited some old embroidered tea towels recently that were very yellowed. I did a little online research and found sites that recommended oxyclean. I was a little unsure but the towels looked so bad I decided I had nothing to lose. It actually worked VERY well and did not appear to do any damage.

  9. I'm pretty sure that you've already finished your project(for better or worse) but I'd like to say something about ironing.

    Don't be afraid to iron! When you've finished cleaning your item, lay it flat on a towel and roll them both up. Press on the towel with your hands -this gets the water out of your embroidered item. Unroll the towel, lay the embroidery FACE DOWN on your ironing board and iron until the piece is dry. Don't use the steam setting on your iron, if it has one.

    This really makes the piece nice and stiff for framing and helps any texture stitches pop out. If your embroidery survives washing, ironing it won't hurt it at all.