Craft-folk: I need cleaning tips for an old embroidered work

Way back in 1960/61, my mother embroidered the face of a clock. It’s been mounted with glue on the backing ever since. The frame of this clock recently came apart, and before repairing it, Mom wants to clean the embroidered piece, if it can be done without damage. I’m not sure what it’s mounted on - either heavy cardboard or thin wood.

So, any suggestions? Or warning about things to avoid? Even if she can’t clean it, she’ll just vacuum it and have the clock reassembled.

Can the Teeming Millions come through for my mom?

My mom used to do counted cross stitch all the time. Whenever she finished a piece she would handwash it clean by using Woolite and some warmish water.

BTW: I’m asuming you mean to unmount it before you wash it - otherwise my advise probably won’t work! You’d just have soggy cardboard.

Unmounted, I’ve had good luck getting out just about anything by soaking it in a lemon juice and water solution.

I can’t imagine how you’d go about cleaning a mounted piece, though. Might have to find a professional.

I wonder if an OxyClean solution would work. I also wonder if the fabric is at all dryrotted.

I don’t think she can remove the fabric without damaging it. I’ll be up there the end of the week so I’ll see then.

i was wondering about an oxyclean type product too… see if you cn test it on an inconspicous spot

I would avoid Woolite. I’ve heard that it can cause dyes in embroidery floss to run, though something is nagging at the back of my mind about it being “modern” dyes–I’m not sure if 60’s embroidery floss qualifies.

In any case, if the dyes do run, don’t panic. Just blot, blot, blot. I had some blue run on me once, and by dabbing it with paper towels, I managed to bring it all up.

What type of material is it? Wool, cotton, synthetics? I’d say your best bet is to take it to a drycleaner (check first to see if they know how to do it of course). If that’s out of the question, cold water and dishwashing liquid. But I (speaking as an embroiderer mesel’) would take it to a dry cleaner, especially if there’s glue residue on the back.

The first thing to pop into my mind was cornstarch – sprinkle it on, let it sit for a while, gently brush it off.

Might not work, but I don’t think it would do any harm.

I’m guessing it’s cotton. And it’s not a matter of glue residue - it’s still glued to the backing. My mother is afraid to try to remove it lest she ruin it.

I’ll share all these suggestions with her - maybe we can brainstorm something while I’m there. I appreciate all the ideas - thanks!

Just a bump to get a little more attention from the morning folks. I didn’t get any inspiration in my dreams, so I’m still collecting ideas and suggestions. Last time I’ll ask, I promise!!

Well, depending on what type of glue she originally used, a good long soak just might release it from the backing. Or it might not. You never know.

What I would do would depend on whether or not I wanted to remove it from the backing. If it’s glued to cardboard, I probably wouldn’t even try. Soaking it in water would certainly remove the cardboard, but again…depending on the glue…you may never get the glue out of the fabric itself. After a good vacuuming, I’d probably try spritzing it with a cleaning solution of some kind (oxy clean was the first thing that came to mind) and then extracting the moisture somehow. Probably with the shop vac since it’s the only vac I have that can suck water. I would definitely cover the end of the nozzle with a couple layers of cheesecloth or an old dishtowel to drastically reduce the suction and protect the stitches, and keep moving the covering, spritzing and extracting until I wasn’t getting any more dirt out of it.

I do know that there are cleaners available for old tapestry and silk wallpaper restoration that require no water or moisture at all. Some of them are dry powder type stuff and some are like a putty that you dab or rub over the surface. Where to get them I’ve no idea, but they might be what you’re looking for if you want to protect the backing and the glue.

FCM – Remember to report back and let us know what you tried and whether it worked. I’m really curious about this now.



Ok, I’ve seen this thread for a few days now and was hoping to hear a final solution because I have an old embroidered piece sitting on my desk that has gotten absolutely filthy over the years.

I just took it into the bathroom and rubbed plain old borax and a tiny bit of warm water into it and rubbed it around with my fingers and quickly rinsed it. Then I dried it well with paper towels and it looks almost as good as it did 25 years ago. All the colors are still there.

Mine is embriodered on thin cloth which is in turn stitched to a thin piece of leather.

I hope yours turns out as well.

bare - thanks for being the brave one! I’ll show Mom this thread on Friday and we’ll plan our attack.

try using just the foam of a gentle cleaning product. foam is what you are suppose to use on couches, chairs, and rugs. ya know stuff that can’t get really wet.

you gently touch the tip of a damp sponge to the foam and dab at the item you want to clean with it. it does take a while but it does work.

So FairyChatMom – where’s the update you promised?

Yoiks - I forgot this thread. Anyway, the embroidery is glued to a piece of hardboard (isn’t that the name of the stuff that they make pegboards out of??) and there’s no way to remove it without damage. We were afraid to use anything wet on it, lest it be stained by the backing. So my mom was going to try cornstarch. I don’t know if she has done it yet - I’ll find out when I visit her next month. It’s in pretty bad shape, tho - I don’t hold out much hope for it.

At the museum I work for, we use a dry paint brush to remove as much surface dust as possible, then, if the cloth is sturdy, blot gently with a slightly dampened cloth or sponge. For smudges (again, the cloth must be sturdy) sometimes we use an art gum eraser to gently rub them out.

The prospects, I’m sorry to say, for a piece that is glued to backing aren’t that good over the long term. Eventually (possibly 50 years, or so) the glue will give way, and the cloth will fall off the backing. Depending on the nature of the glue, the fabric could turn colors, or crumble from the chemicals therein. If this is a piece that you pass down through the family, you may want to have an expert look at it, and determine if there’s any way to remove it without damage. Your local museum may have conservators which would be happy to take a look at it for you, and discuss the options.

It may be possible to steam it off, and then sponge out the glue. I know there are glue solvents that can remove the glue without staining the cloth, but you’d need to know what kind of glue was used. Again, I’d take it to a museum and have a conservator look at it, and tell you what you can do.

I never thought of referring her to a museum - thanks for the suggestion!