Washing and ironing embroidery

So you finally finished that embroidery project, and put in so many hours of work! But before framing, you wonder if you could remove those little stains and markings…
Can you even wash an embroidery piece, and if so: how do you proceed?

Why would you want to wash embroidery work?

In general, there are three main reasons why someone would (want to) wash their embroidery project.

The first reason may be that you used a water-soluble pen to draw out a pattern or add some guides. In this case you have no choice but to moisten or wash your fabric to remove these markings.

Second reason could be that while working on your project you accidentally made some small stains on the fabric. If these are very noticeable, you will of course want to get rid of them. The best option here is to wash the entire project, maybe even with some light detergent.

Finally, there are many embroiderers who wash all their finished projects by default. The reason for this is that while embroidering, you might producte invisible stains, due to your hands naturally being a bit sweaty or oily.

Although these ‘stains’ are not immediately visible, it is possible that they might appear over time due to discoloration of the fabric (e.g. in sunlight). You can prevent these stains by washing and/or ironing your project before framing.

What are the risks of washing embroidery?

  • If you’ve used a transfer method which is non-removable, like a regular pen or even a pencil, it is possible that the ink (or graphite) will run while washing. This can cause stains on your fabric, or might even stain light embroidery floss. If you’ve used a heat-erasable pen like a Pilot Frixion, you’ll want to ‘erase’ the ink first with a hairdryer and then wash your work in lukewarm or warm water.
  • If you haven’t secured your stitches properly, you run the risk of loosening stitches
  • Often cheaper embroidery floss is not colorfast. The inks from the thread might cause discoloration. Therefore, I always recommend not to save on embroidery thread and to use quality materials such as DMC. This brand’s embroidery floss is colorfast and waterproof. There might still be some colors (like bright reds) that could run a bit, even with higher quality threads.
    If you are not sure if your embroidery thread might run, cut a small piece of thread, hold it under the tap and put it on a sheet of paper to dry. If the paper changes color, do not wash the embroidery pieces that use this thread!

Some tips for washing embroidery

If you really need to wash your embroidery, follow these tips:

  • Always take your fabric out of the hoop first
  • If you want to remove marks made with a water-soluble pen, first try to spray lightly with a water spray. It’s possible the ink will already disappear. If that is not enough, you can use a clean wet rag to dab a bit. If this still isn’t enough to remove the marks, you’ll have to rinse the whole thing in water.
  • Preferably don’t put your embroidery in the washing machine, but wash by hand. Because of the power of the washing machine your threads at the back and your stitches at the front can come loose.
  • Be careful if you want to use detergent to remove stains. If possible, use only water or, if necessary, a very small amount of light detergent.
  • Do you need to completely immerse your embroidery in water because it is very dirty or because you have used soluble canvas? Be sure to use a clean bowl of water. Do not leave the piece in the water longer than necessary. For drying, roll it into a soft and clean bath towel.

Can you iron embroidery?

After washing your embroidery, there might be some folds or wrinkles in the fabric. Therefore you can iron it very briefly. Always do this between two bath towels.

  1. Lay out a towel on an ironing board and put your embroidery on top
  2. Cover with another towel and iron on top of the second towel, on a medium setting (without steam!). Try not to apply too much pressure. This process ensures that your stitches keep their shape. If you wouldn’t use a towel, you’d iron your stitches flat, causing your work to lose its beautiful texture.
  3. Let the embroidery cool down between the two towels.