One of our new members, Theresa, asked if needle lace is washable.  I actually haven't tried to make anything to use on clothing, or that might need washing.  Would our experienced lacemakers jump in and give us their opinions about this issue.

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Of course it must be washable. The threads should allow it. Otherwise... ¿how can we clean a finished work? You can be careful, wash your hands before you take your labor, but in my experience, always my finished work must be washed. By hand, I'd not put a labor like these in a washing machine. Oh, no!
I make lace to use it, to decorate my home, to make gifts... to enjoy it .
I don't like the laces lying into boxes... they have to breath and live. And for that... suffer some powder and dirty. It's part of the life.

As Carmelina says, if the threads used are washable, the lace made with them should be washable, too.  If it's not known how safe it is to wash the thread(s) intended to be used, it pays to make up a sample piece or three, and test it/them for washability and iron-ability before investing a lot of time in making the lace.

One thing I've found is that while a hand-made lace may be "washable" technically (as in, it comes through a washing-machine cycle without the threads breaking or pulling, and without shrinking), it almost always comes out all crumpled up and needing a pressing -- even many synthetic fibers do this.  So it's best to have a plan for dealing with this characteristic, such as:   pressing the lace with a warm or cool iron, pressing it while wet, pinning the damp lace out on a cloth-covered pinning panel (such as a sheet of styrofoam) till it's dry, appliqueing the lace around its entire outline so it doesn't need pressing, or sewing the lace to a ribbon or fabric tape that is then sewn to the item, so the lace bit can always be removed for washing separately (laces such as collars are what I'm thinking of).

I've only ever made white laces for clothing (1 of medium-heavy linen thread, 1 of fine cotton, and 1 of sewing-weight polyester), so I can't speak to issues of color-fastness.

I very rarely wash any hand-made lace in a washing machine, and even then, the garment goes into a lingerie bag.  I never machine-dry a hand-made lace.  Nearly always, I wash hand-made laces by hand.  For antiques and for the very best of my own-made laces, I try to get as close to museum-level archival cleaning as I can manage at home.

I hope this helps.

museum level archival cleaning ?? can I know more about it dear ??

Beth Schoenberg said:

As Carmelina says, if the threads used are washable, the lace made with them should be washable, too.  If it's not known how safe it is to wash the thread(s) intended to be used, it pays to make up a sample piece or three, and test it/them for washability and iron-ability before investing a lot of time in making the lace.

One thing I've found is that while a hand-made lace may be "washable" technically (as in, it comes through a washing-machine cycle without the threads breaking or pulling, and without shrinking), it almost always comes out all crumpled up and needing a pressing -- even many synthetic fibers do this.  So it's best to have a plan for dealing with this characteristic, such as:   pressing the lace with a warm or cool iron, pressing it while wet, pinning the damp lace out on a cloth-covered pinning panel (such as a sheet of styrofoam) till it's dry, appliqueing the lace around its entire outline so it doesn't need pressing, or sewing the lace to a ribbon or fabric tape that is then sewn to the item, so the lace bit can always be removed for washing separately (laces such as collars are what I'm thinking of).

I've only ever made white laces for clothing (1 of medium-heavy linen thread, 1 of fine cotton, and 1 of sewing-weight polyester), so I can't speak to issues of color-fastness.

I very rarely wash any hand-made lace in a washing machine, and even then, the garment goes into a lingerie bag.  I never machine-dry a hand-made lace.  Nearly always, I wash hand-made laces by hand.  For antiques and for the very best of my own-made laces, I try to get as close to museum-level archival cleaning as I can manage at home.

I hope this helps.

Thérèse de Dillmont, in her Encyclopedia of Needlework from the 1880's, offers these fascinating instructions for cleaning lace.  Wrapping the lace around a bottle and covering it with muslin or flannel is the equivalent of Beth's lingerie bag, I guess: the purpose is to keep it from tumbling about and getting tangled in itself.  And the pinning out step is similar to blocking cross-stitch or laying out wet sweaters: you want the item to dry with its picots, motifs, etc. in the right place. 

As for the olive oil... yikes!  I'd be leery of trying that step.  On the one hand, I know that older lace was usually made of linen, a fabric that becomes brittle if not properly cared for.  Olive oil would act as a conditioner for the fibers.  And I know that oil cuts through oil--just yesterday I used a paper towel dipped in veggie oil to de-grease the clear plastic display on a stove, and I used to do oil facials when I had bad skin in high school.  On the other hand, doesn't oil stain cloth?  Shirts I've spattered with hot cooking oil are always stained for good.  I don't think I'd subject a piece of antique lace to an olive oil bath without first testing the method on less valuable fabric. 

Anyway, Dillmont's method seems to be to soak in oil to soften and condition the fibers, and cut through the greasy stains in the fabric, then wash very thoroughly to remove dirt, stains, and oil altogether.  Then to dry it, pin it carefully so the picots are placed right and the thing is shaped right, and let it air dry or cool iron with another cloth between. 

As for me, I have not washed my first sampler yet, but I intend to wash my current project by hand, while it's still attached to its backing fabric.  No need to pin it out if it's already sewn in place, right?  Then I'll let it air dry, and remove it from its backing when dry. 

I think the point of wrapping the lace around a bottle is so that it wouldn't  become distorted by being pulled in one direction or another.  It would keep all the threads pretty close to their original orientation and positions.  

But as for the rest, the best advice is NOT TO FOLLOW any advice in an old book.  Any book older than 40- 50 years probably does not have the result of the special research and study into threads that museums have done recently.

Sorry for shouting.  When I hear olive oil on lace I can hear the universe beginning to crack, my brain starts to boil.

after reading the discussion here.. I so in awe.. not only the production of a lace is tough it's maintainenece too needs special knowledge :O

Lorelei Halley said:

Sorry for shouting.  When I hear olive oil on lace I can hear the universe beginning to crack, my brain starts to boil.


Ha ha!  So my initial doubt was well-founded!  I also thought Wouldn't olive oil stain it?  I think gentle soap makes more sense. 

Jeri Ames recommends Orvus paste, I think, as the washing compound.  It is veterinary shampoo, the point being that it is pH neutral and doesn't sting an animal's eyes.  The pH neutral is also good for lace.  Failing that a gentle dish detergent (like Ivory) without dye can also work.  She also recommends using distilled water, not tap water, because the latter may have dissolved minerals such as iron, which can stain the threads over time.  Since our water here comes from lake Michigan, I don't worry about that too much.

You are discussing a subject that interests me GREATLY.
I am from Flanders in Belgium.

I inherited a lace collar. It must have been my grand or great grandmother's. It has been kept for YEARS in an old enveloppe, a green one, addressed to my grandfather, postmark 1926!!!!!

The collar is gorgeous, I think it is a mix of bobbing lace (Flanders!) and needlelace. Maybe it is 19th century Brussels lace. I may be mistaken of course. It is in a perfect state, no dammage at all (as far as I can see), except it is yellow. very yellow. It has been kept plied in 4 for at least 50 years (my grandmother died in the mid 1950s).

If I post pictures, could you all help me with identifying the lace and how to care for it? Now that I own this gorgeous piece of lace I want to take proper care of it. It looks so terribly delicate.

Certainly, post pictures in the IDENTIFICATION-HISTORY group.  Several of us will comment.

Lorelei Halley said:

Jeri Ames recommends Orvus paste, I think, as the washing compound.  It is veterinary shampoo, the point being that it is pH neutral and doesn't sting an animal's eyes.  The pH neutral is also good for lace. 


Would baby shampoo work, as well?  It's usually unscented/uncolored/un-eye-stinging. 

As for the distilled water, that's a good tip.  The water where I am now is very coppery and leaves blue stains everywhere. 

I don't know about baby shampoo.  If it has skin lubricants mixed in, those may be oils, which you don't want on the lace.

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