Cleaning Needlepoint Pillows, Art, and Accessories

Needlepoint Care
Mary Marlowe Leverette

The creative handwork of needlepoint is done by covering a woven open weave canvas grid with thread. The canvas can be made of cotton, linen, or silk and the threads can be wool, cotton, metallic, silk, or acrylic.

Needlepoint can be used to create home accessories like pillows, rugs, or wall hangings. It can also be found on creative belts, purses, wallets, and even shoes.

As with any hand-worked piece, care must be taken to preserve the work and time that has been invested.

The First Step in Cleaning Needlepoint Pieces

The first step in cleaning any type of needlepoint, whether new or vintage, should be vacuuming the surface of the needlepoint. Cover the end of your vacuum hose with a piece of nylon stocking or light mesh. Starting on the front side of the needlepoint, vacuum by keeping the nozzle just slightly above the surface of the piece. If the piece is a pillow with an insert, turn the needlepoint cover inside out and repeat the process on the backside of the needlepoint.

This may be enough to brighten the piece and give it the look you want. If the piece is still dirty or stained, it will need additional cleaning.

You can clean needlepoint yourself, but it is not recommended if you are a novice or don’t know what materials were used to create the piece. Professional dry cleaning is best if you are unsure of the fiber content; however, you are taking a risk if the cleaner does not know how to handle needlepoint. Ask questions before you leave the piece for cleaning.

If the needlepoint piece has great monetary or sentimental value, consider consulting with a professional textile conservator. Your local art museum should be able to recommend one.

Always Test Needlepoint for Colorfastness Before You Begin Cleaning

If you decide to clean it yourself, before doing anything you must check the fibers for colorfastness to prevent dyes from running and ruining your piece. Testing is simple. If there are large blocks of color, wet a piece of white cloth with cold water and gently rub it over each different color in your piece. If there are small areas, use a cotton swab dipped in water. If there is any color transfer to the white cloth or swab, don’t wash your piece at all. Washing will result in discoloration and fading.

Hand Wash or DIY Dry Clean Needlepoint?

If your piece is not heavily soiled and just needs some freshening, consider using one of the DIY home dry cleaning kits. Be sure you have done the colorfast test and then follow the instructions of the kit. Your pillow. wall-hanging, or personal accessory will be freshened and should need nothing more than a light pressing.

If the piece is really dirty, you can hand wash the piece. Before you begin, measure the completed area. You will need those measurements when you block the needlepoint back into shape. Remove the piece from the pillow, footstool, or frame backing. If the edges of the canvas have not been finished, you will need to tape with masking tape or hem the edges to keep the piece from raveling.

Hand Washing Needlepoint

If you decide to hand wash a needlepoint pillow, it is best to remove the backing and the pillow filler. For accessories like belts or purses, if possible, remove any metal that could possibly corrode.

To hand-wash, fill a deep sink or plastic tub with cold water. If you have hard water or iron bacteria in your water source, you should use distilled water for hand washing needlepoint. You don’t want to risk having minerals stain your fabric. Be certain that the sink is very clean and has no residue from cleaning agents that could cause damage to the piece. Use a liquid detergent that is gentle and free of dyes and perfumes. A liquid detergent will disperse in the water and leave less residue on the fabric than a powdered detergent.

Place your piece in the detergent and water solution, being certain that the entire piece gets wet. Gently move the piece around in the water. Allow the piece to remain in the water for about 10 minutes. Next, drain the wash water and fill the sink again with fresh water. Repeat draining and refilling the sink until the water and piece are soap free.

Blocking and Drying Needlepoint

When you remove the needlepoint from the rinse water, do not wring the needlepoint piece. Roll the piece in a towel and squeeze gently to remove excess water. The piece must now be blocked to return it to its original shape before it dries. Attach the piece to a blocking board or a cork bulletin board using non-rusting stainless steel pins. Gently manipulate the piece until it reaches the original measurements you took before washing. Pin and allow to air dry away from direct heat or sunlight. This may take 24 to 48 hours.

By taking care, your cherished needlepoint should last for many generations to come.