The Care and Feeding of Hardanger and Other Hand Needlework

It’s worth the time to care and preserve your Hardanger lace

It’s June, and for a lot of people, that means cleaning everything, including linens and any needlework items that see regular use (doilies, table runners, table cloths, etc.).  Cleaning these items regularly is a good idea. But how to do it safely?  The best and safest way is by hand washing.  One of the most heartbreaking things I see as a Hardanger instructor is needlework damaged by not being cared for properly.  The single most common reason that I’ve encountered for pieces needing repair is that someone tried to machine wash them.  For as sturdy as Hardanger embroidery really is, it is generally not made to withstand the agitation of a washing machine, even on the hand wash cycle, or in a lingerie bag.  Hand washing these pieces isn’t time consuming or difficult, and will keep them looking good for a long time.

The following steps will see your treasured hand worked pieces looking good for a very long time.

  1. Inspect the piece for any stains or damage.  Most stains can be pre-treated with a little liquid soap. (I like the original Dawn dish washing soap for anything that is or may be greasy, but Ivory is good too.)  A few drops rubbed gently into the spots or stain is usually enough to get it out.  Any damage should be fixed prior to washing if at all possible. *
  2. Run a basin of lukewarm water. Add a small amount of soap, and mix it into the water.  A clean sink works well for most smaller pieces; you might want to use a laundry tub or bathtub for larger pieces like curtains or table toppers.  It’s best to single layer your item(s), but in a pinch several smaller pieces can share a basin or a long one can be accordion-folded.
  3. Let soak without agitation.  Really – just let it soak for a while.  Half an hour or 45 minutes is usually enough.  If an item is very soiled, you can swish it around or rub it gently, but be careful – too much abrasion can damage the embroidery threads.
  4. After your item has soaked, lift it gently out of the basin while you run fresh, cool water.  Swish it gently to rinse, and then remove.  DO NOT wring or twist out the water!  That will create wrinkles that will be nearly impossible to remove.  Instead, lay it between layers of bath towels and squeeze the water out.  It’s actually fine to step gently on most items, but pressing firmly with your hands also works.  Unwrap it from the towels and lay it somewhere flat to dry, turning over once or twice if you can to ensure thorough drying.
  5. Once your item is dry, or even better, not quite dry, you’ll want to iron it to get out any wrinkles and restore its crispness.  You’ll want your iron to be quite hot – usually the cotton setting works well – and to be able to produce steam.  Lay your piece face down on at least two layers of terrycloth towels, and press from the back only.  A spritz of water or shot of steam will help get out any stubborn wrinkles.  Be sure to check the front side as you iron – it’s done when the wrinkles are gone and the embroidery looks like it has just been laid on the surface.  It should look quite raised.  Allow to air dry thoroughly, and display proudly!


This may seem like a lot of work, but it’s really a very simple procedure.  You can even ignore it for most of the process, so it works well for layering with other tasks.  In the end, a little time and care will go a very long way to keeping your textile treasures in good shape for years to come.

*  If you should notice any stitching becoming loose, or worse, coming off the edges of a piece, to should be looked at by someone who knows how to work Hardanger and feels comfortable repairing it.  While it can be time consuming and rather painstaking work, it can be done by any relatively competent and fearless stitcher who has done Hardanger work.

Laurie Olson Williams

– Laurie Olson Williams

Laurie teaches Hardanger and other needlework, knitting, and spinning classes at Ingebretsen’s. She has a lifelong love of all things fiber and is the the “Laurie” behind Heirlooms by Laurie.