Removing Water Stains from Embroidery

Is there a way to remove a water stain from an embroidered sampler?

Q. Dear Donia,

My mother embroidered a sampler about 55 years ago and it has been in a frame for more than 20 years. I had it stored in the garage, and unfortunately, it got wet at the bottom and now has a water stain. Is there any way to take this stain out of the sampler without losing color in the embroidery floss?

A. Dear Mary,

Embroidered textiles can be very difficult to wash without losing color as many embroidery flosses were not meant to be washed. A caveat: Washing is a very touchy treatment that has many, many pitfalls. It would be best to take it to a conservator who can help to ensure that you don't lose anything more of your mother's sampler.

If you feel you really want to tackle this yourself, the first thing to do is to test the floss: take a cotton swab that has been dampened (not dripping) with water, hold a different damp swab on each color  of floss for a count of 10 to see if any color comes off. If any color comes off, stop. Any washing will damage the item and if you want the stain removed, you will need to consult a conservator (The Gerald Ford Center in Omaha would be a good first stop).

If you carefully test everything, and no color comes off, test again in the same spots. If not color still comes off, you can very gently wash the sampler in a large flat tray with a screen (nylon window screening works great) for support and a little water and an anionic soap like Orvus (available from our sponsor Hollinger-Metal Edge and others). Follow the directions on the Orvus jar and use cold water and have a lot of towels ready. If you see any color coming out, immediately take the sampler out of the wash water on its screen, rinse gently, and blot with the towel, do not rub or twist.

Let the sampler air dry flat on a raised screen or on towels that get changed regularly so no moisture is held in the textile too long.