Johanna's Needle Stitches


Floss Tips

* Prewashing floss

Prewashing your floss is a way to avoid the unpleasant surprise of completing a project only to have one of the colors bleed. Most floss colors these days are fairly color fast but there are always exceptions. (Colors to be wary of: reds, dark blues, dark purples, dark greens, bright yellows, bright oranges.) To be safe, prewash your skeins of floss one color at a time, in a small bowl or sink. Wash it with a gentle soap like ivory or baby shampoo in warm water. Woolite™ actually contains bleach and is not a good choice. The best is ORVUS™ soap. This soap is used by museum conservators because it is non-abrasive and free of harsh chemicals. Rinse thoroughly. If any of the floss colors begin to bleed, continue rinsing until the water remains clear. For colors which are bleeding, you can add a little vinegar to the rinse water. (DO NOT add vinegar when rinsing a completed piece. You will set the bleeding color where it has bled into the project.) Lay the wet floss on a white towel and roll it up in the towel. Lay it out flat to dry. Be sure the floss is completely dry before stitching with it.


18" strands of floss are convenient lengths. Use shorter strands of specialty flosses like metallics.

* Separating floss

Most embroidery floss comes as 6-ply. (Six threads twisted together.) Most patterns suggest using 2-ply. Instead of trying to pull two threads apart from the 6-ply strand, pull them one at a time. 1. It's easier. 2. The two separate strands will lie on the fabric more smoothly than if they were still twisted around one another. The easiest way to separate out the threads is as follows. Hold one end of the strand of thread in your right hand (I'm right handed if you are left handed then you can switch), between index finger and thumb. The end should be pointing up and the rest of the strand should pass across your palm. With your left hand, get ahold of one thread between thumb and index. Gently pull this thread straight up. As you pull the thread the rest of the floss will curl into your palm. Lay the thread across the arm of a chair or your leg and remember which end was the top. Now shake out the curl of floss from your right hand and smooth it out before pulling the next thread. When you have the two strands, place them together, keeping them in the same top/bottom orientation.


Floss has nap. It's not very noticeable without a practiced eye or feel, but it can affect how often your thread gets tangled or how fuzzy it gets after repeatedly passing in and out of the fabric. There are several ways to try to figure which way the nap goes. 1. In the example above when you shake out the coil of floss it will generally shake out more easily if the thread you pulled was moving with the nap. 2. Run the thread one direction through your fingers and then the other. Whichever feels smoother is with the nap.

* Anchoring floss

Never use knots in needlework. (Anchoring with knots tends to cause a bulge on the front of the fabric when the final peice is mounted.) To start, hold the end of the floss on the reverse side and stitch over it with the first couple stitches. To finish off a strand run the needle under a few stitches on the back. Avoid anchoring colored threads under white threads. The color tends to show through to the front. Trim the tails.


Another technique for anchoring floss is to separate one long strand of floss and then double it over on itself. This forms a loop at one end. Thread the two raw ends through the needle. Begin by taking your needle up through the fabric. Make your first stitch, and go down through the fabric. Take your needle through the loop. The thread is now anchored securely. I use this technique on small projects and on things that are likely to be utilitarian. I do not recommend this technique for large heirloom type projects. Remember I mentioned above that floss has a nap. So folding it back on itself will cause the nap to run in opposite directions. When the two strands of floss lay side by side in a stitch the nap will not be running the same direction. This does cause a subtle difference in how the light plays upon the fibers. In addition, the one strand that was going in against the grain will be slightly more roughed up.

Fabric Tips

* Preparing your fabric

Bind the edges to prevent fraying. The best ways are to serge your fabric edges, zig-zag the edges, or fold over and baste the edges. Some stitchers tape edges, or even use Fray Check™. However, these products contain acidic incredients which over time may damage your needlework.

* Holding fabric

It is good practise to avoid touching the front surface of your fabric. If not using any kind of stretcher/hoop you can roll your fabric from the bottom up with the back outside and hold the roll in your off hand, unfurling the roll as you go. For some stitches it is important to have the fabric held taught. This can be done by using hoops, scroll frames, Q-Snaps™ etc. When using a hoop it sometimes helps if you use fold back a corner of the fabric and use it to hold the hoop frame.


When not stitching remove your work from the hoop or release the tension on a scroll frame. This will help prevent hoop marks and allow the fabric to relax.

General Tips


Locate the center of your design and the center of your fabric before beginning. I often mark my fabric by running a single contrasting thread, along the center vertical and center horizontal lines. I go over ten squares (or ten threads in even weave) and under ten squares. This helps not only to indicate the center but also acts as a nice reference for counting. When all stitching is complete, draw out these threads.

Jo Marley suggests using a fine rayon thread as it slips out easily and does not leave any trace of dye like some of the other fibres do.


For smooth stitches maintain an even tension. Only 'pulled thread' stitches should be pulled tightly. Cross stitches should not distort the fabric threads.


Cross stitch and most other stitches should be worked from left to right and top to bottom when possible.


Don't carry threads across the back for long distances. Also avoid passing thread across unworked areas.


When floss becomes twisted let needle hang and it will untwist.

Cleaning Tips

*Washing your needlework

After you have finished stitching your needlework piece you should always wash it. Even if it does not look dirty it will have some dirt; Oils deposited by your hands will attract more. Never iron needlework before it has been cleaned. Ironing a dirty piece will make the dirt and oils a permanent part of the item. Washing will also help to remove hoop marks and let you reshape and block the piece so that it is square. Wash gently in the bath tub (or sink for smaller projects) with a gentle soap like ivory or baby shampoo. Woolite™ actually contains bleach and is not a good choice. A better choice is ORVUS™ quilt soap. This soap is also used by museum conservators because it is non-abrasive and free of harsh chemicals. Use cool water and soak the item in the sudsy water for five to ten minutes. Gently suds the piece. Do not wring or twist the piece at any stage. Rinse by dipping in successive baths of cool clear water. (Dipping is gentler than running water.) If any of the colors begin to bleed, continue rinsing until the water remains clear. (See prewashing floss.) When the piece is completely rinsed, do not wring it or twist it. Lay the wet piece flat on a white towel and gently roll it up in the towel. This should blot up the excess moisture.


Now place the piece face down on a fresh dry white towel or piece of gingham which has been washed several times (you want to avoid dye stains coming from the towel). The gingham is useful because you can use the squares to help you square the piece. You could also use a T-square. Align edges and smooth fabric. Press with a dry iron set on appropriate fabric content setting (most often a high cotton setting). I like to use a Terry cloth towel beneath the piece and a press cloth between the piece and the iron. The terry cloth below helps to keep the stitches from becoming pressed flat. Let the piece cool a couple hours before moving. After the first washing, floss and fabric should be colorfast and able to be washed as often as necessary.

*Dry clean

You can take your needlework to the dry cleaner and have it dry-cleaned. Let the cleaner know the material components of the fabric and floss and if there are stains or marks what they are. This is not recommended for antique pieces because of the chemicals involved.

*Stain removal

Try a little hydrogen peroxide on a Q-tip, to remove rust spots left by needles. Test an inconspicuous corner first.


ORVUS™ soap by Procter and Gamble. (sodium lauryl sulphate) This soap is used by museum conservators because it is non-abrasive and free of harsh chemicals. Biodegradable. Contains no phosphorus. It is used for so much from bathing horses to cleaning optical equipment. Look for it at your local needlework or quilting shop. Can't find it there? Buy it in bulk at your local farm and animal supply store.

All images, except netscape logo, are copyright Johanna Cormier, 1996-2000

Last Updated on December 04, 2021.
Copyright © Johanna & Daniel Cormier, 1996-2000
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