Washing, Drying & Ironing

Having mastered the art of cross stitch you’re now looking to display it, however, there is often an overlooked step.
When you’ve been stitching a while you’ll find out exactly why washing is important; it gets dirtier than you realise. And whilst there are some people who prefer not to wash their cross stitch, we think you should. But even I would admit I never really gave it credit when I started, and I’ve seen the problems first hand.
It’s all about finger oils. Yeh, you heard me. More specifically the thin layer of oil around your fingers to help you grip things. This oil is fairly innocuous and doesn’t do any damage on its own, however, it bonds with the thread. When it bonds the thread takes on the same characteristics and can grip things. Specifically dirt.
To make things worse, if you leave your thread out in the sun it will brown (quite considerably), leaving ‘rust spots’.This can be even worse if you’ve ironed your work without washing it first!
Unless you have a house trained raccoon, you have to do the washing yourself. And it’s not obvious as you might think, but don’t worry, it’s super easy, so let’s jump in.

Washing cross stitch (source: peacockandfig.com)
Washing cross stitch (source: peacockandfig.com)


The problem with washing cross stitch is that the threads and aida aren’t treated dyes like your clothes. As a result, they can bleed heavily. Most common floss brands are treated to be colorfast, however, it’s not perfect, and a strongly colored aida can bleed as well. In addition, if you use special threads like metallics, silks, wool threads or glow in the dark threads they have metals or plastics in them which react differently. But there is a tried and tested way you can clean ANY cross stitch. This is even what you need to do if you’ve got dirt on your ironed piece.
There are two things you need. Ones a bowl, big enough to hold your piece (it can be rolled to fit, but don’t fold it). The second can be slightly harder to find; non-colored, non-bleached, non-abrasive dish soap. This is actually fairly easy to find, but its always in an obscure place to see in the supermarket, so you might have to nose around a little bit. You can also use specific “soak wash” products too, but ensure its safe for cotton before you use it.
Once you have everything, fill the bowl with water. Cold or lukewarm water. The colder the better in reality. This is the thing that stops the threads from losing their color, and if your threads aren’t colorfast this will be a lifesaver.
Add roughly 1-2 drops of dish soap per 5 liters (a normal washing up bowl is about 10). Then very slowly pass your hand through the bowl to mix it. You’re not aiming to make bubbles, just mixt the soap through the water, but it doesn’t matter if bubbles form.
Then place the cross stitch on top and let it sink. Wait 15 minutes.

  • Never use hot water as this can remove too much of the starch in your fabric and cause bleeding.
  • Carefully swish the project around in the water before removing to loosen any dirt into the water.
  • If you’re unsure if your threads are colorfast, throw the offcuts into a bowl of water for 10 minutes and see if the water has changed color.


That was washing. Simple as letting it sit for 15 minutes. All it does it wash the oils through so they are more dilute so won’t bond to the thread. As a result, you don’t need to rub it off the cross stitch.
However all that water has left the threads weak, and the aida very pliable. Drying the correct way is the only way to make sure the finished piece is flat. You often pull the aida out of shape slightly when stitching, regardless of what cross stitch frame you’ve used, and the washing will release all of that stretch, leaving your piece warped. As a result, we dry in two stages.
Firstly, it’s VERY wet, so we need to take the bulk of the water off. Get a towel large enough to place the cross stitch on, and roll from one edge to the other. Leave this for 5-15 minutes depending on the size of the piece (the larger pieces need longer, but if you’ve used plastic canvas it needs at least 20 minutes).

  • Use a plain colored towel, preferably white.
  • Use a towel without an undulating pattern, as this may transfer to the work.
  • Make sure its a new, clean, dry towel.


Blocking, or pinning as its sometimes called due to the sheer volume of pins you’ll use, is the second stage, and is where we remove the warping the piece has. By only leaving your work in the towel for a short time, it’ll still be slightly wet and pliable. However when it dries, it’ll dry in the shape its been left in, and we’re going to use this to our advantage.
This stage could have a whole entry devoted to itself, there are a lot of different ways to do it, and people have come up with some creative ideas. However, I’ll tell you general idea with some tips along the way. In short, we’re looking to stretch the canvas out and pin it in place until its dry.
Firstly, you need a flat surface you can pin without damaging. There are a few options here, but a lot of people use foam floor mats. These mats come in roughly 1-meter square blocks than can clip together. The advantage here is they can increase to the size that you need, you can pin them without damaging them, they’re high-density foam, so won’t warp, and they’re waterproof. You should be able to pick them up for under a few dollars too. Other ideas are foam plasterboards (the type used in crafts), cork pinboards, pegboards, or specific quilters blocks.
Take your cross stitch and place its face up this time, on the board. Put a pin in a corner. Then in the opposite corner pull it as far as possible, and pin it. Repeat this for the other two corners. Once done get your ruler out. You’re checking two things. Firstly that the lines are straight, but also that they are square.
Not being square means you need to remove the bottom (or top) two pins and redo them again. Once square, you can work on making sure things are straight. Now take a pin and place it in the center of any two pins. Place more pints every inch/2 cm along this edge. Then do the same to the opposite side. Get your ruler out and check that the lines are straight. If they aren’t, you need to move the pins on the side out, or in, to stretch the fabric straight. Repeat on the two other sides.
Finally, let it dry fully. Depending on where you live in the world, this can take a few hours to a few days, but make sure it’s fully dry before removing the pins as it can warp back.
Prefer not to pin it? That’s OK, some people just hate it. A lot of cross stitchers prefer to hang their work up somewhere to let it naturally dry, and in theory, straighten up. Just use a few pegs and you’re done. Hang it up somewhere indoors, and be aware it can drip.

  • Use dress pins and insert them at an angle towards your work, this will hold better than a pin placed directly down.
  • If you’ve used Zweigart fabric, remove the edge with the orange stripe before blocking.
  • Using a right angle ruler can help with ensuring its square.
Blocked cross stitch (Source: suduck.com)
Blocked cross stitch (Source: suduck.com)


So now its washed, dried and nicely square; great. Now it should be somewhat protected from the sun browning finger oils and it will look nice and neat framed. However, what happens if you spill something on it? If its something like fruit juice it will stain. However, there is a super-easy way to stop this (or at least help you remove the stain). Ironing.
Ironing the work will seal the threads using heat. Unlike wool fibers, there aren’t oils within cotton, but the heat naturally closes pores in the threads, meaning you’re less likely to get foreign liquids damaging the threads. It’s not foolproof, but it gives you a fighting chance against stains. It also looks neater ironed.
The first thing you’ll need is two clean white towels, our preference is kitchen towels. Lightly sprinkle them both with water (or lightly dampen, but make sure it’s not dripping wet), and lay one down flat on top of your ironing board. Then place your dried cross stitch (or if you prefer a slightly dampened cross stitch) face down on the towel. This face down part is super important. If you iron your work face up, you’ll crush the stitches and it won’t look as good.
Lay the second towel over your work, and then iron the top. You should set your iron to its highest temperature, and use a large amount of firm pressure. Make sure the iron is moving at all times and isn’t catching on the work (as you may iron in a crease). Also, resist the urge to use steam.
Some people prefer instead to press their work, rather than iron. Its a very similar process, but instead of moving the iron around, you place the iron down for a few seconds, then lift move to a different area and repeat. The advantage of this is that it doesn’t pull at the fabric, in the same way, meaning you won’t distort it, however, it also needs a lot more care as you’re applying your iron to the work for longer.
Remember I was talking about getting dirt on your finished piece? Well, now any dirt should just wash away (in theory)!
Not too hard, was it? Just need to frame it now or if you have too many like me; you’ll need to store it somewhere.

  • Make sure you wash your work before you iron it, otherwise you’ll trap the dirt and it’ll stain.
  • Don’t directly iron on the fron of your cross stitch, only the back, and only if nessassary.
  • If you need to iron tha back of your work, be careful not to snag any threads.

Things To Remember

You should only follow this method if you’ve used standard cotton embroidery floss. Metallics, hand-dyed threads, silks and wool threads have specific washing instructions and differ between manufacturers.
NEVER put your cross stitch in a washing machine, or get it dry cleaned. The chemicals of dry cleaning will ruin your work, and the washing machine is just too aggressive.
If you do get a cross stitch stain, its not the end of the world, it can be fixed!

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Gail Jahn

    A good soap for delicate cleaning is “Soak”. You can find it in most yarn shops as it’s the soap used before you block your hand knits.

  2. sil

    Hi! Should you rinse the work with clean water after cleaning it with the soap?

    1. LordLibidan

      It depends on how much soap you add to be honest. If you use a few drops only, then no, but if its a heavy soap mix, then rinsing out is suggested.
      It shouldn’t damage the work, but it might leave residues.