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  • Kat Waskett

How to Wash and Press your Cross Stitch Pieces

Picture the’ve finished a cross stitch piece (yay!), but it’s looking a little crumpled and maybe even got some dirty marks on it, so what do you do?

I'm sure you've already guessed my answer...wash and press it!

But, do you always need to do this?

And if so, what's the best way to spruce up your piece in a way that's safe and gentle for your delicate cross stitch.

If you would prefer to watch rather than read (and see the washing/pressing process in action!) then this video contains all the same information >>>

Is it worth washing and pressing your cross stitch?

The short answer is yes! 100%. Always.

Ok, almost always…because you know I am not about hard and fast rules; there’s always space for exceptions!

If we are talking about a tiny little piece that I’m making into a gift tag or greeting card then I might well skip the washing stage. That’s me just being honest and telling it like it is. But I always iron it no matter what because it simply just looks better. Even if you have only spent a short time stitching on a piece it will likely have creases, so will look much nicer with those removed.

But, anything that I want to finish up for display in an embroidery hoop or have professionally framed, or that is a gift that I’m anticipating being kept… then absolutely I am going to wash and press it. Every. Single. Time.

I just feel that if you have spent time and effort to create a beautiful piece of art why not give it some love to make it look 100% fabulous.

If you have any visible dirt or marks on your cross stitch then washing it will be a bit of a no brainer, but even if you can’t see anything there will be invisible dirt and oils from your hands on it that could cause your threads or fabric to deteriorate over time.

Washing and pressing will also remove creases so your work will look far more professional.

And finally your stitches will just look brighter and more plumptious...and yes, that IS a real word.

And I reckon that it’s a good idea to do this even if you’re not going to make your stitching into a finished article right away. In fact it might be even more important as any dirt or creases will be much harder to shift after it’s been tucked away in a drawer or cupboard for months or years.

By the way, I want to say that it’s totally ok to put your finished projects into storage and not feel guilty about this. Sometimes you just don’t know what you want to do with it yet, or sometimes you enjoyed the stitching of a piece but don't feel the desire to put it out on display.

But I do recommend you wash and press it before storing it so it doesn't deteriorate in the meantime.

To safely store away my finished pieces after washing and pressing I like to place the fabric between layers of acid-free tissue paper, roll it around a cardboard tube, such as the inner from a roll of wrapping paper or kitchen paper, and pop it in a dry cupboard or drawer.

A finished cross stitch piece layered between 2 sheets of tissue paper being rolled up around a cardboard tube

And yes, I definitely have quite a stash of pieces are still stored like this!

When is it better NOT to wash your cross stitch?

The main situation where I would actually recommend not washing your finished piece is if there is a high risk of the colours running, either from the threads or fabric.

If you have used hand dyed threads or fabric then it might be best not to wash these as they may not be colour-fast.

Printed fabrics is a slightly tricky one; they almost always state not to wash them, but I do have one where it says it can be washed with cold water but not to use any washing products with it. So, definitely check for any instructions provided with the fabric.

In addition to this, if you have beads or embellishments on your finished piece they might not appreciate being soaked in water, but you could wash it before you add these.

You might also wonder if you can press pieces with metallic threads or beads on them, and the advice I have read suggests you can, but extra caution is required. I generally use less heat when pressing work that has metallic threads in it, but have done so with no problems. This might depend on the brand of metallic thread; I have ironed projects with DMC Light Effects and Rainbow Gallery Treasure Braid in them.

I have yet to wash or press projects with beads on them but from the advice I have read so far I would likely wash and press the project before adding the beads and if a final iron was required afterwards I would just use an extra thick layer of towels underneath for the beads to nestle into.

How to check if your threads/fabric are colourfast

One reason some stitchers don't wash their finished pieces is the risk of colours running, most commonly from the threads but also potentially from the fabric if it is a dark colour or dyed/printed.

Some colours of thread are known to be more prone to running such as reds and pinks, and it’s also more of a risk with unknown thread brands. I have never had it happen with DMC threads, which is one of the many reasons I prefer to use this brand.

The thought of dropping your finished piece into water and seeing the colour run out is actually pretty terrifying but there are a couple of ways to test first to give you more confidence doing it.

1. Take small pieces of the threads you used and potentially a small piece of fabric to drop into water and watch to see if the colour runs out.

A small glass dish with tiny offcuts of coloured embroidery thread in some water with skeins of thread arranged around the dish

2. Take a damp paper towel or white cloth and very gently press it onto your stitches and fabric to see if any colour comes off on the cloth.

If either of these tests are positive then you probably want to skip washing your project.

How to wash your cross stitch

This is really easy; you’ll just need a clean sink or bowl, a mild washing liquid and a clean towel.

My first piece of advice here is to wash each of your pieces separately in a fresh bowl of water; don't put them all in together. That way if something unexpected happens like the colours running then you haven't ruined more than one piece of work.

Secondly, the product you use to actually wash your cross stitch with is really important. It's a good idea to use some sort of washing product because water on its own isn’t likely to be enough to shift those invisible oils and dirt. But it’s best to avoid any harsh chemicals including things like hand wash liquid for clothes or wool wash liquid such as Woolite because the chemicals in them can interact with the dyes in the thread and fabric and could cause the colour to run. Some residue can also stay on the threads and fabric even after rinsing and could very very slowly degrade the fabric or threads over time.

All you need is a very mild hand soap or washing up liquid. The absolute best would be something unfragranced and uncoloured as some strong colours can affect your work. I am in the UK and I like to use Ecover Zero washing up liquid as it’s fragrance and colour free.

Step by step washing process

Step 1: Run some luke warm water in a clean sink or bowl. Using luke warm or even cold water helps to reduce the risk of any colour running and also avoids removing too much starch from the fabric which can leave it really floppy.

Add your washing liquid and you only need a few drops especially if it’s just a small bowl of water. If you use too much you are going to spend ages rinsing it out or risk leaving soapy residue on your fabric.

A mild washing up liquid being held over a small plastic bowl in a sink with a completed cross stitch piece next to it ready to be washed

Step 2: Gently press your cross stitch into the water and leave it to soak for 15 minutes. The recommendations for how long to leave it vary; it won't matter if it has a few more minutes but probably don't leave it in there for hours! If you do have any specific obvious stains on the fabric you could rub these very gently with a soft toothbrush but of course, be super gentle here.

A small plastic bowl of soapy water with a small cross stitch piece being pushed into the soapy water

Step 3: After 15 minutes, give the fabric a good swish around in the water to shake free any dirt or oils that have been loosened while it was soaking.

Step 4: Lift your fabric out and tip away the soapy water.

Step 5: Use clean cold water to rinse the fabric through thoroughly until you are sure the soap has all been removed. I like to hold my fabric under the tap and turn it over and around to allow the water to run through at multiple angles.

A finished cross stitch piece being held under cold water running from the tap to rinse it

Step 6: The temptation at this point is to squeeze the fabric to remove excess water but don't do it! This will leave more creases to iron out and can squash or distort your stitching. Instead, give it a little shake, then place the very wet fabric onto a clean dry towel and fold the towel over the top or if it’s a large piece use 2 towels.

A finished cross stitch laying on a slightly fluffy towel with another towel layer being placed over the top

Be careful in your towel selection! Pick a clean, light coloured towel as a dark towel could transfer colour to your wet fabric. Also avoid any towels that are very fluffy because you don’t want fluff transferring to your fabric. I like a slightly older towel that’s been through the wash a few times so it’s not super fluffy rather than a brand new one.

If you wish you can roll the towel up and gently squeeze it to remove excess water. Or you can just leave it to dry on it's own, which is what I do.

How to press your cross stitch

You can either do this once the fabric has completely dried or while it is still slightly damp. I have heard that ironing it whilst damp can cause colours to run even if they were ok in the washing process, presumably because there is more heat involved at this stage, but I have never had a problem with this.

I use my regular iron and ironing board for the pressing, and you may find a clean thin pressing cloth such as a tea towel or pillowcase helpful.

Step by step washing process

Step 1: Place the fabric face down on another clean towel. The face down part is super important here, so you are pressing onto the back of your work and not your stitches, as this would squash them.

This is where it can be helpful to place a thin pressing cloth over the top; something that is clean, light coloured and non-textured. The idea here is to have something to protect your work but not something very thick that will stop the heat going through and the fabric getting properly pressed. You don’t want anything textured that will press that texture into your fabric.

I like to use a pillowcase for this, but a very thin tea towel would also work.

A completed cross stitch piece laying face down on a slightly fluffy towel with a thin pillowcase being placed over the top

Step 2: The recommendations vary for how hot to have your iron but let’s be honest, if you don’t have it hot enough then it’s not going to work! I tend to have my iron on a medium heat but if in doubt, start with it set lower and you can always increase it.

If your fabric is still a little damp you don't need any steam from your iron. If your fabric is completely dry you may want a little steam, or what I prefer to do is leave the steam off but spritz the back of the fabric with a little water to dampen it again before pressing. I’d rather not have the steam constantly going from the iron but a little dampness in the fabric is helpful.

Start to press the fabric with your iron, and the way I like to do this is to place the iron on top and then move it over the fabric very very slowly. If you drag the iron around really fast over your work this can pull at the fabric and distort it.

Often the advice is to keep the iron constantly moving but I have not found this to be necessary and will leave the iron resting in place on my work for some seconds before moving it, as this helps to get a really good press. Of course, don’t leave it in place for too long!

An iron pressing down on a thin pillowcase which is over the top of a cross stitch piece (not visible) which is in turn laying face down on a fluffy towel

Step 3: Gently lift up the pressing cloth and check your fabric to see if it is looking crease-free. If you can still see some creases, press it again paying close attention to those areas.

Now, this could be a little bit controversial but I often take the pressing cloth off the back at this point and iron directly onto the fabric. ONLY ever on the back still but I just find that sometimes I can’t get a good enough press to fully remove creases even with a thin pressing cloth in-between the iron and the cross stitch fabric.

One occasion I would shy away from doing this is if I have used metallic threads as the direct heat could make them shrink or melt, and I would avoid using steam for the same reason here.

I hope that’s shown you how simple it is to wash and press your cross stitch pieces and how lovely it will make them look. But if it really isn’t something you want to spend time on, then I am not here to tell you that you ‘should’ and as always, it’s important you do whatever makes you happiest.

So, where do you stand on this issues; is it a must-do for you or a waste of time?

Until next time... happy stitching!


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