CGT school: Colour Fastness and care instructions

Welcome to our first blog series called CGT school. In each lesson we are going to cover the CGT fundamentals. Today's lesson is all about colour fastness and care instructions. 

We will be sharing the story of Gwenda's flood damaged table runner with amazing before and after results, an in depth look at our care instructions and an age old tip for removing finger prick blood marks.

Gwenda's table runner - a symbol of hope

Gwenda Howard is 73 years old and has spent the last 9 months, as she says, “just living from day to day”.

On a Thursday afternoon in mid-October 2022, she and her husband evacuated their home of 38 years in the northern Victorian town of Rochester, as the Campaspe River flooded. When flood waters peaked 24 hours later it was clear this was the town’s worst flood event in living memory.

Bird’s eye view: An overhead view of Rochester flooding. Photo: Neil Greaves

For days beforehand, along with all their neighbours, they’d been shovelling sand into sandbags and sealing the house from the predicted onslaught of water. Before Gwenda locked up the house and evacuated, she placed precious documents as high as she could and a beloved embroidered table runner onto her lounge room sofa – well out of the way of predicted flood level.

It was 3 days before Gwenda got to see her house again. No one had been able to forecast the devastation that the flood would cause in her town. Of 1000 homes in the town, 980 were flooded. While Glenda and her husband were some of the worst affected, with more than a dash of country understatement she says now: “not many people in Rochester missed out.” 

The flood climbed over a metre up the walls inside their house, and swirled around knocking over furniture and took everything the couple owned. All their furniture, their personal mementos and papers, Glenda’s threads, even her sewing machine. She pulled her belongings from filthy flood water – stinking of mud. One of those ruined things seemed to be her beautiful table runner, a project she stitched in 2019 with CGT threads after she and a group of Rochester friends went to a stitching retreat with Pam and Katie.

Months after the flood waters receded and living in a rental house in Bendigo surrounded by boxes and trying to put her life back together, Gwenda sat down and wrote a letter to Pam asking for help.

“My beautiful table runner was on the back of my sofa and as the water came up high it fell off into the water and as you can see the dye ran. I put it in hot water as soon as I could but it didn’t help. I was wondering if I sent it to you, you may have (an) idea to help me. I am so upset about it…”

When the letter and damaged table runner arrived here at CGT, there was something in Gwenda’s understated words and the care that had so clearly gone into the piece that made us want to know more and to help as much as we could.

When Pam had finished, all the dye runs had vanished, leaving only a slight shadow of staining from something that came into contact with the piece during its immersion in filthy water.

“Over the years we’ve rescued a few pieces of work that seem like a lost cause at first. The problem is always that the work has been left in contact with cold water for a time and the colour simply hasn’t had a chance to be rinsed away,” says Pam, “and it’s totally understandable that you wouldn't want to wash the work in fear it will make it worse, when a good hot wash is just the remedy it needs”.

When Gwenda received her table runner back in the mail last week, she was both relieved and delighted. She told us that she’s still waiting to return to her family home in Rochester. She’s found the months since the flood to be totally overwhelming. Right now, she’s agonising over finding new replacement furniture for the beloved pieces that had been with her for her entire married life. But how do you replace things that carry so many memories and mean so much?

Gwenda told us that even though she’s not yet home, she’s recently returned to get togethers with her stitching community from Rochester. The Rochester Patchies have met for years on the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month. For this group of around 20 women, Gwenda says their meetings are an opportunity to bring sewing projects and sit with each other. Baked goods were always on the menu, although Gwenda says that since the flood no one has working ovens, so they make do with store bought bickies, although it’s not quite the same. But it’s the comfort of being able to sit and stitch with friends that means so much. 
Every one of these women have been impacted by the floods – enduring evacuations and displacement to other regional towns. Many are still living in caravans, but with a temporary home in Rochester’s SES headquarters, the Rochester Patchies are stitching their group together again. And looking forward to a time when everyone is back in their home and the relentless flood water is just a memory.

At CGT we’re just profoundly humbled to hear what Gwenda and her community have gone through. And what they’re doing to bring their community back together. 
The Rochester flooding made headlines in Australian newspapers for a short time in 2022 and then the news cycles moved on. We forget about the loss that people have suffered and how that loss goes on – with the constant daily reminders of precious things that can never be replaced. The story of Gwenda’s table runner brought us up short. That it could be cleaned and restored seems like a small symbol of hope. Rochester Patchies we salute your resilience. A box of CGT threads is on its way with our love.

So how did Pam do it?

You might be wondering what wizardy Pam used to restore Gwenda's table runner? Surely it was a complicated, multi process method coveted by dyers since the dawn of time. Sorry to disappoint, she simply used the care instructions on the back of our packaging. In this case, she repeated the process twice. Here is a little video of Pam washing a Field Journal stitchery with the same process she used to wash Gwenda's table runner. 

CGT have been tested by RMIT university and are Australian Textile Industry standard colour and light fast. In industry terms, colour fast means that the colour will remain in the threads no matter how many times you wash your work. Light fast means that they will not fade in UV light.

When we think about embroidery thread/floss and 'colour fast', it's a little different to the technical definition. Most people think about whether the dye will bleed out of the thread and stain the background fabric or surrounding stitching. 

When you think about the clothes we wear, you would be amazed by how much colour comes out on the initial wash, we just don't see it because it gets washed down the drain in the washing machine. 

We take care of this initial process with 5 soaks and 6 rinsing stages to pull as much left over dye as possible. Sometimes there is a small amount of dye left on the threads. This is dye that hasn't taken during the curing process and is no longer active. If work comes into contact with liquid and doesn't have the chance to be rinsed away, the background fabric will wick up any colour and it will appear that the colour has run and dyed the fabric. If this happens to you do not panic, it simply needs a the chance to be rinsed away by following the instructions on the back of the pack. 

Lets have a closer look at each of the care instructions and why they are necessary when using Cottage Garden Threads.

Do - Wash in hot water The water should be as hot as your hands can handle, but not hot enough to burn your skin. We recommend filling a container large enough to immerse your work with hot water and add a few drops of a soft dishwashing liquid or laundry detergent (do not use detergents with bleach or whiteners). Agitate your work for 30 seconds to a minute. If you are trying to remove colour shadowing from an accidental mishap with cold water, you can use a toothbrush to help tease out the colour from the fabric beside your stitching. 

Do - Rinse in hot water With the same temperature of water, rinse your work in a container or under a running tap until any shadowing of colour is gone. Lay the work on a dry towel and roll up. Squeeze out any excess water. If you are washing a quilt top you can spin to remove excess water in a washing machine. 

Do - Air dry hang up your work to air dry. If you don't remove excess water and encourage fast drying by air drying, the water will cool and set any excess colour into the background fabric. 

Do Not - Wash or rinse in cold water Cold water will make the background fabric of your work hold onto any excess colour that hasn't been rinsed away. 

Do Not - Spray Are you guilty of using blue wash out pens and spraying your work with water to make the blue lines disappear? What can happen when you do this is the dry background fabric will wick up any colour that has not had a chance to be rinsed away and the cold water will make the background fabric hold on to it. Rather than use a spray bottle to erase the blue lines, just follow the instructions to wash and rinse in hot water. 

Do Not - Iron wet Using the heat of the iron on wet work will encourage the background fabric to pull colour from the thread and it will not be given a chance to wash away. If you iron your work while wet to try and achieve better pressing result, try our Pressing Mat instead. 

CGT Pressing cloths also known as pressing mats 100% wool. The special density of the wool allows your stitches to sink into the surface so the background fabric can be pressed beautifully. Lay your work face down on the pressing mat and press from the back. Raised stitches like french knots and bullions will be perfectly protected. Customers love the pressing mats for patchwork, quilting and dressmaking as well. There are 2 sizes available, a larger one for your ironing board at home and a small perfect to take travelling. 

FAQ's about colour fastness and washing 

Q: Do I need to wash Cottage Garden Threads before using them?

A: No 

Q: Do I need to use colour catchers when washing my work?

A: No

Q: Will it work if I re-wash old work that I washed wrong or didn't wash quickly?

A: Yes, although you may need to repeat the process a few times. 

Q: What happens if I follow the instructions and it doesn't work?

A: Contact us through the contact form on our website, we are here to help.