Washing, removing stains

Washing old lace, rust spots, colourfastness and coloured fibre remnants.

Washing Old Lace collar

It has the Branscombe edge and fillings, but the ground is very open.  Strictly speaking, best described simply: as a Tape lace or Renaissance lace collar with Needlelace fillings.  The tape used is one of the more unusual tapes. It looks like it is been pulled out of shape badly.  Has it been hanging somewhere, do you think?

It looks a bit loose, but I think if it is looked after it will last for ages, despite being a bit frail.  What amazes me is the fragility of the thing, and yet I can’t see any obvious damage.  It would certainly not have been well treated by its previous owner – it came to me just stuffed into a padded Post Office bag – no tissue, no folding, and no care.

I’m nowhere near game enough to wash it, although it could do with a wash, I’m sure.  But I’d be too scared to try.

It is so lightweight compared to any other tape lace piece I’ve ever seen.

Have you washed it?

It looks like it would stand up to it.  The way to go would be to wrap it around a wine bottle very gently then cover it with a clean cloth hankie and secure with rubber bands or cotton tape.  Drop it into a sink of cold water with Sunlight soap and leave it there for an hour or so. Change your water and put in a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice. Leave it there for a while longer. Take it out, & allow to dry off a bit, (around the bottle in the shade) then very gently pull it into shape and allow to dry; flat.


A wash would really do it good, because it would get rid of all the dust and grease from hands etc, which will only damage it more if left there.  The bottle is a really safe way of washing.

Rust Spot

I suppose you have guessed by now.  A small rust spot has appeared on it.  The spot is only a little bigger than a match head, but it is right on the pocket.  I have tried all the usual methods – bleaching, etc. – but it hasn’t worked.  Does anyone have any suggestions?

The ONLY solution for rust stains is Oxalic Acid from a pharmacy.  If you ignore it, it will eventually become a hole.

Rust is very difficult to remove. I don’t use hot water on anything I’m restoring in the museum, but cotton can tolerate it. All soap based preparations need rinsing with lemon juice added to the water to take out the fat residue. Put it in a large jar and shake it to agitate, it is less stressful on the doily. The sun will bleach it, but it also breaks down cotton, so if it looks fairly clean after the rinse, I would let it dry flat in the shade. I too do not use napisan, not even for nappies. Sard soap or sunlight soap are better. Orvus is used in the US, I haven’t used it but they rave about it.

Dye stain running
Q.  The tops are heavy cotton, pants a bit lighter weight, but both are overdyed indigo blue.
I’ve soaked them for a few hours then hand-washed them in cool water – the water was dark, dark blue!  They’ve now dried, but still blue rubs off onto skin – and I’ve got to hold them to take the legs up! Do you think a good soak on cold water with heaps of salt would do the trick???

A.  Mum used to use a cup of vinegar in the first wash of any strongly coloured cotton cloth to ‘set the colour’ and as vinegar is a mordant (sets colour in dying) I would suggest that would be better than salt.

Perle and cotton floss are supposed to be colourfast.  But, I would still test it, especially red.  Do a little bit of stitching in red on cotton fabric, using all six strands.  Pour some very hot water (just off the boil) over it.  If it doesn’t run now, it never will.  If it runs, yes to the salt.  Salt is a fixative.  Warp the red thread and tie it very loosely so that the salt can penetrate every fibre.  Put the thread in plain water overnight so that the fibres of the thread open up and will be receptive to the salt bath.  In the morning, put the thread in a tepid salt water bath. Make sure the salt is fully dissolved before putting the thread in.   Leave it for a while.  Rinse it.  Hand wash it.  Rinse, rinse and rinse until you can’t taste the detergent when you suck the thread.  Yes, suck the thread. Your taste buds are very sensitive and do not lie.  (No lipstick or lip salve!).  Test with very hot water again.  It is possible that you will see little bits of red that are not running dye.  If you see little flecks of red, inspect them under a strong magnifier.

Colours like red often leave colour behind which is little flecks of fibre, rather than running dye.  So, if you unpick something that is done in red, black or orange the fabric might appear stained but can be cleaned up with patience, magnifier and good light and tweezers.  The tweezers with LED light and magnifier attached are good for his job.  I once spent hours taking little red wool fibres out of a silk doily of bobbin lace, which had the most beautiful tallies ever made.  I was mounting the item to linen for a friend and I saw these little red stains.  The lace maker made the item in winter when she was wearing her favourite red jumper.  The stains turned out
to be errant jumper fibres. Therefore, when threadlining a fabric, never use red, black or orange.  I prefer pastel colours.