Unfinished embroidery projects, embroidered household linens, little embroidered keepsakes, or even just plain fabric you plan to use for your needlework - all these items require, believe it or not, special care, especially in storing them. So I wanted to share a couple tips with you that I've learned either through experience or through that Fountain of All Useful Knowledge & Wisdom - my Mom.
For the following tips, I'm generally speaking of embroidery projects that are used in the home, that are worked in cotton on a natural fiber fabric, such as linen or cotton. Certainly, silk (whether used as a floss or as the ground fabric) and synthetics may require completely different care!
Cleaning your embroidery project requires special care. I suggest hand-washing with a mild detergent such as wool-lite, or even with a mild dish soap. The best scenario is to work carefully and avoid having to wash it at all, but if you're making cloth napkins, dishtowels, or household items like dresser scarves and so forth, you're going to have to wash them at some point.
I've gotten several questions about getting stains out of linen. For linen embroidered with white only, I generally use Biz if I've got tough spots. For really tough spots, as a last option because it's kind of a pain in the neck, I use cream-of-tartar in boiling water. Boil a pot of water, add a few teaspoons of cream of tartar, stir, submerge your item, wait ten minutes and rinse. I stir it now and then as it soaks. This works pretty well for me with linen that isn't embroidered in heavy colors, even removing old wine stains, etc. So that's an option. I've never tried it with dark colors, though I have with pale, and it works without damaging the color.
Never dry your embroidery projects in your dryer! Hang them or lay the flat to dry. This goes as well for vintage embroideries, etc. I think dishtowels are ok for the dryer, but finer projects are better off laid flat or hung to dry.
What about ironing? That project you just spent hours and hours on, and you've finally completed, and you are so proud of --- don't just throw it on your ironing board and go at it! Oh, no! When you press a piece of embroidery, you need to do it with care.
Use a clean, soft white towel or other cloth to line your ironing board. Residue on your ironing board cover may not come off - but then again, it just may. Why risk it?
Use another clean cloth to cover your work before you iron it. So you need two cloths, at least.
Starting with the right side up, lay your piece of embroidery on the cloth covering your ironing board. Put the second cloth over it. I use a light steam setting - some people debate this, but the covering cloth protects the embroidered piece and the steam helps press.
Do not "rub" the iron back on forth when ironing the front - rather, lay it on, then lift it, then lay it on again. This way, you avoid displacing any stitching. If you have a highly textured embroidered surface (lots of French knots, etc.), you may wish to skip ironing the front altogether.
Then turn your piece over, front side down on the cloth covering your board, and now you can either cover it or not with the other piece of cloth. If your iron isn't trusty, I'd cover it. I've got a great iron (a Rowenta professional - made in Germany, not China as some of the cheaper Rowentas are), and I've never had to worry about a water misshap or anything like that.
When ironing the back, you may "rub" the iron, but do it with care.
For highly textured pieces of embroidery, use several layers of soft cloth on your ironing board. This gives your stitches something to sink into and keeps them from getting squashed flat.
To starch or not to starch:
If you've embroidered napkins, tablecoths, or other household linens that are used frequently, starch them. The starch helps protect the fabric from dust and such that can discolor your work or make it look grimey.
If you don't use the pieces frequently and keep them stored most of the time (taking them out for special occasions only), don't starch them until you iron them for use. Afterwards, clean them, let them dry, and put them away without starching them. Starch can lend to storage discoloration, and can also cause undesirable creasing that's really difficult to remove.
For storing embroidered works, here are a couple tips:
Don't fold them! Either lay them flat or roll them on a cardboard tube that's either acid-free, or covered with a piece of acid-free tissue paper (or even with a piece of white linen).
Do not store them in plastic. It doesn't breathe. You can get mildew and whatnot - or just a plain stinky smell - from storing in plastic. You're better off with a lined cardboard box (they make archival boxes that you could use), or just a drawer.
However, if you are storing them in a drawer, beware of the wood! Wood will discolor your fabric over time. Line your storage drawer with white tissue paper or with white linen. I prefer tissue paper - it's cheaper!
Alternately, you can roll your pieces up (as mentioned above), and then wrap an extra layer of tissue around the roll.
Well, those are the tips I've gleaned over the years. What about you?? Do you have any tips or tricks for taking care of your work? If so, please share! Also, if anything above looks strange to you, or hasn't worked in your experience, please do let the rest of us know!