There was a time when rainwater fell through clean skies and was regarded as the best water to use when laundering very fine needlework. That is no longer the case. Also, washing instructions in old embroidery and lace books are completely out-of-date. Even new books, authored by people who should know better, neglect to specify distilled water. Please mentally remember that I really – really – mean distilled.
Let us think about textiles made of natural materials. This means linen, cotton, silk, and wool. Not synthetics. When preparing for stitching, I pre-rinse them in hot distilled water which is as hot as used when laundering. This removes the stiffening put in by the manufacturer as well as pre-shrinking it. The water looks cloudy. That is how you know that the stiffeners have been removed. I usually line/back with lightweight semi-sheer cotton, and that definitely must be pre-shrunk before you attach it to cotton, linen, silk, or wool.
Why a backing? Because dark-coloured threads sometimes cast a shadow that can be seen when viewing embroidery from the front. A backing prevents this and gives an extra place where you can anchor thread ends. It will/can be of a tighter weave, so if you are using counted techniques or a loose weave fabric, your stitches will not slide around. If you are an embroiderer, you know exactly what I mean.
I always, always, always back my embroidery fabrics usually with cotton batiste or well-washed cotton fabrics. Embroidery fabrics used to be of good quality but now they are so flimsy that there is little substance to support the stitching. Ann
It must be noted that you should not line/back table napkins and linen towels. When you place an embroidery face down on a fluffy towel to iron, it is the cotton lining that will first feel the heat. It gives scorching protection to the fabric below.
Pre-shrinking the embroidery fabric can make it more difficult to stitch. If you choose to not preshrink it, you absolutely must pre-shrink the lining. If you do not, the first time you wash the item you will have to cut out the lining. Reason: Different textiles from different manufacturers will shrink at different rates. In the worst case scenario, you can salvage embroidery without a lining, but not without the embroidery!
Professional conservationists and restorers often have access to de-ionized water. You will have to improvise and use distilled water that can be made at home.
Distilled water can be purchased in grocery stores, but becomes expensive in large quantities. Do not confuse distilled with spring water. To distil, you have to convert water to steam, and then back to water. I have a one-gallon Kenmore Countertop Distiller from Sears 25 years ago. Computer search “countertop water distillers” and you will find several manufacturers and videos.
Fill the canister with tap water. Boil it at a high temperature so that the steam rises into an upper chamber. It will then return to water that comes out a spout. A separate container is set below the spout to collect the distilled water.
City water contains added chemicals meant for other purposes that will lodge in textile fibres. This water is from lakes and reservoirs fed by acid rain. Well water may be heavily “laced” with iron particles (which are not visible to the human eye). These remain inside textile fibres and might appear as rust spots years later. Water may also contain manganese (which is what turns white household linens yellow). The liquid that remains at the bottom of the canister is – My best description is: it looks like a Coca Cola syrup!
Jeri Ames in Maine USA (81)
Lace and Embroidery Resource Center
Jeri, My thanks, and OUR thanks for all this information. Many people are unaware that they should consider the additives in fabric and the chemicals in marking pens. We all appreciate your words gained from experience. The world and the goods available to us have changed radically over the last few decades. What used to be reliable and works, no longer does.