When disaster in the form of fire or flood happens, protecting our needlework and rugs may not be the first things on our minds. After we are sure we’re safe though, having our work safe and secure helps us to recover. Having something beautiful around us helps tremendously to lift our hearts in what can be a discouraging process and reminds us that there is hope and beauty in the world.
This kind of recovery is not my area of expertise but here are some great resources to use.
An Ounce of Prevention . . .
For many of us, repair not prevention is the important thing, but if you have enough warning here’s what to do. Move everything you can to the highest level of your home.
That means anything valuable and portable. I know folks whose rugs were saved because they got rolled up and put upstairs. On the other hand I know department stores whose entire inventory had to be written off as a loss because they got waterlogged.
Flood waters are dirty and messy. Even if it seems like a pain to move those things upstairs or into the attic, when the waters recede, you will be sold glad to have them clean and dry.
Your needlepoint and any valuable rugs are probably things you will not want to leave to general cleaners to do. They tend to use harsh chemicals and do not know how to treat many textiles. If you cannot clean them yourselves, look for cleaners who specialize in cleaning older and fine textiles.
This extensive checklist from the Federation of Historic Services covers just about every contingency and is an excellent place to start.
You will not be able to clean fine rugs yourself, but you can minimize the immediate damage until you can get them to a professional rug cleaner. The danger is the rug continuing to be wet. Use a shop vac or water extractor to get up as much water as you can. Then dry them flat, possibly using fans. This article from the Rug Chick has great advice.
For rugs look for cleaners who clean Oriental rugs. We take our rugs to a company that does this and we’ve seen them work. They put the rug, pile down, on huge rollers. They clean them only with clear cold water, rolling the rug around and repeating the process until the rug is clean.
This should work for needlepoint rugs as well. However you should remove any backing before taking it to be cleaned. You will need to replace the backing, but this is better than losing the rug. Dirt can easily be trapped between the backing and the front and damage the rug on an on-going basis.
If your textiles are washable, then you can wash them. First remove and throw out the pillow form or stuffing, you will need to buy new.
Then wash and sanitize the pillows themselves. This article from North Dakota State has advice on doing this. In the article it has recommendations for what to do if the water is contaminated. I would assume that any flood waters are contaminated.
If your textiles are fragile, you can sew them into fiberglass screening (as in screen doors) and wash gently. Use the screen on both sides. The relatively large holes allow the water and detergeant to penetrate but give the cloth some protection.
This advice only works for washable textiles. If you do not know if your pillows or the threads used in your needlepoint are colorfast, don’t follow this process! The section below covers what to do in those cases.
When you start to deal with needlepoint, you can run into many problems. You may need to consult a conservator to help you.
The first step is to get everything dry. Dry indoors, using fans for cross ventilation. If the item can be washed, follow these instructions from the American Institute for Conservation.
Many of the tips in this article from The Vintage Fashion Guild about caring for older clothing would also apply to cleaning needlepoint. Look at where the part on cleaning starts, about 25% down.
One of the things they mention in this article is Orvus. It’s a mild cleaner that you find in camping stores. Some needlework sites and even some guild chapters sell it in small quantities. It’s the best thing out there for cleaning fragile textiles and needlepoint that can be washed. But you will have to wash by hand.
Many sites recommend dry cleaning for needlepoint. I’ve always been of two minds on this. If I decided to dry clean, I would test the cleaner on some clothing first and I would ask for and call referrals. Many cleaners do not operatetheir own plants, but send their cleaning out. I would only work with a company that cleans their own stuff.
Mold, Insects, and Mildew
If you have a problem with mold or mildew, put the item outside and flat in the sunlight for about an hour. This should help.