Mary Corbet

writer and founder


I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

Contact Mary

Connect with Mary



2024 (72) 2023 (125) 2022 (136) 2021 (130) 2020 (132) 2019 (147) 2018 (146) 2017 (169) 2016 (147) 2015 (246) 2014 (294) 2013 (294) 2012 (305) 2011 (306) 2010 (316) 2009 (367) 2008 (352) 2007 (225) 2006 (139)

Hand Embroidery Tip: Care of Hands


Amazon Books

In reading through the catalog Embroidery Lessons with Color Studies (the Brainerd & Armstrong booklet on silk embroidery published in 1899, that I wrote about last week), I came across a little paragraph thate emphasizes the care of the embroiderer’s hands.

Given the increasing popularity of silk thread for hand embroidery, and understanding that sometimes embroiderers are put off by silk threads because some of them can be extra-snaggy and cantankerous, I thought I’d share the little blurb in this old book – a little blurb that reads somewhat antiquated, but that’s still relevant today. I’ll also point you in the direction of my recipe for smooth hands for stitching with silk.

Hand Care for the Embroiderer

From Brainerd & Armstrong, here’s their encouragement to watch out for your hands:

If the embroidery silk does not work smoothly and looks rough on the linen, the embroiderer’s hands or her needle may be at fault. In every case, the difficulty is pretty sure to be attributed to a fault in the silk or needle, because everyone is more ready to find a defect in some external object than in themselves, and this makes it most pertinent to draw special attention to the fact that an embroiderer should take care of her hands, to keep them as smooth and soft as possible.

I’ll be frank: I only think about hand care when I’m working with silk, and especially with filament silk. My hand-care recipe is pretty simple: olive oil and sugar. When I wrote about this, I received some good feedback in the comments area of the post, if you want to read further on the subject.

Aside from the olive oil & sugar treatment, I use lotion on my hands whenever they feel dry, but I always wash away any residue before I pick up my stitching again.

So, what do you do to care for your hands? Do you make an effort to do anything different because you embroider? Leave a comment and share your tips!


Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


(30) Comments

  1. Dear Mary, Now what I am going to tell you what I use, I have been using for ages ,so don’t laugh, this is serious stuff. I use milking cream not only for my hands, but for my heels too. Now if you don’t know what milking cream is, it is the stuff farmers put on the udders of cows. The cream we use in South Africa is lanolin based, is antiseptic, contains vitamin E and has no perfume. I put it on my hands at bedtime and on my heels after a bath or shower. It is inexpensive too 🙂 but that is not why I buy it, it is because it works so well!! Hope you have something similar in the States. Normally I buy the stuff at a veterinary surgeon. xxx

  2. You broought back so many memories for me. When my mother and my godmother had finished cooking and cleaning up they would be chatting away and both of them would sprinkle some salt into their hands, add a few drops of olive oil and then scrub their hands completely. I remember my mother saying ‘work it into the your finger tips and cuticles Sally, and you’ll never have dry finger tips. They’re not pretty on a young girl’. I still do this to this day as do my girls. GREAT exfoliator. Thanks so much Mary.

  3. to keep your hands soft use bag balm
    and for cuts and any other problems pulvex
    pulvex is great will heal any problem
    even diaper rash and is very gentle

  4. Several tips:
    Always wear gloves when doing gardening or washing up.
    Hand cream on overnight if really necessary.
    File nails, don’t clip or cut them.

  5. G’day Mary,

    I just use the sugar treatment with baby oil or even handcream. Sorbelene moisturiser is my usual. Like one of the previous post’s comments, I just pour some sugar into the palm of my hand, add a squirt or 2 of the oil/moisturiser and there I have it.

    I generally use the Sorbelene often through the day too.

    Yes, those earlier post’s comments are very helpful. My skin is a bit problematic (is that a word? It looks strange. And, no, I’m not going looking for a dictionary, it’s late enough already and anyway, I’m not at home!), hence the Sorbelene, so will be looking into those oils etc incl your Olive Oil Mary. And Mary, arn’t you glad you don’t have to mark every sentence you read like these?! You can just read them and sigh. Or grin.

    Thanks for the help again Mary. I’ve skipped a couple of posts but will get back to them when I can. Cheers, Kath.

  6. Ah, this would explain a lot concerning my silk embroidery. To often it looks snaggy and furry. I thought it was that I wasn’t getting good silk or I wasn’t using it correctly. Go figure the culprit is, more than likely, my hands.

    I am on crutches often or using a cane. The grips on those will dry my hands out quicker than anything. I will be looking in on your post about hand-care.

    By the way, love, love the new site! I’m absolutely loving it! Great work!


  7. I use Burt’s Bees’ lemon cuticle butter. If I use it after every shower, it seems to do a good job of keeping everything moist and smooth.

  8. Hi Mary,

    Nice insight into what folks do to keep their hands soft. I dip my hand into warm water to which I add a few drops of lime juice. I do this each night after all my dishes are done.

  9. I think because of all my needle and sewing work lotion has always been important for me so when I found a natural preservative I started making lotion and soap (not to sale)with all natural oils, olive oil being one of them too. I make a body butter that I use before bed and have seen a markedly difference in my hands. Gloves are a must too when cleaning and gardening.

  10. Answering your question about caring of your hands. When I am stitching or hand quilting every night before retiring after a good soap washing and drying, I coat my hands with a creamy petroleum jelly. After it absorbs, those fingers I might stab with the needle are rubbed with a triple antibiotic ointment. If you have ever had an infected finger from a needle punch, you will understand why I do this, always. It also helps considerably with callousing of fingers. thank you Mary, for bringing up this topic. New stitchers really need the information.

  11. Hey, Mary, Since I use mainly flat silk, this is a big deal for me. I’ve used the sugar or salt and olive oil, too. I use the same exfoliant on my hands that I do on my face, but, warning, it’s better to use at night not right before stitching. I use Burt’s Bees Almond Milk cream during the day and before washing dishes, etc and their hand balm at night. Some people use acid mantle which is the base for pharmaceutical creams. But, always, always, wash my hands before handling the silk. If not, it absorbs any oil, shows dirt and won’t shine.
    I also usually wear gloves when gardening, except yesterday when I was pulling some grass from the flowers in front. After cutting myself twice, I know why they call it saw grass.

  12. I don’t think ‘ve changed my routine to suit my stitching, but I usually wear gloves for washing jobs (dishes, cleaning etc) and I use Lush ‘Dream Cream’ regularly – I even have a small pot in my handbag. Great stuff!

  13. Hi Mary,
    My hands tend to get rough in the summer, as that is when I am outside gardening. I always use Bag Balm after showering, and Burt’s Bees Gardening Hand Salve after washing up when gardening. I like the olive oil and sugar, though. I may try it. Then that I wouldn’t have to buy the hand salve. I’m always trying to cut down on the variety of things to buy. It might make a good bath scrub, too.

  14. Mary, Thank you for all the great information, not only on embroidery but also on hand care. I started use salt/sugar scrubs about 6 months ago started also using a goat’s milk lotion with shea butter in it. I love the way my hands feed afterwards. When I am going to do needlework I usually don’t use the lotion shea combo however, I love using it after a shower especially during the winter months when the air is so dry.
    I just love the changes to your site. Thank you.

  15. Hi Mary, As a spinner, I found that spinning wool helped keep my hands smooth because of the lanolin. A totally different deal with silk which snags on everything. I’ve found that using latex gloves for household chores is a must. Moisturizing after washing hands while they’re wet helps, and a bi-weekly usage of ammonium lactate acid 13% lotion is a must. Utah is a desert state, little humidity – sleeping with hands slathered in bag balm & cotton gloves makes them quite soft.

  16. Oh, myyyyy, this is my main complaint about using a very fine silk floss. I always seem to have rough skin on my hands, especially my finger tips, so I’m especially appreciative that this subject is being discussed. I know a thimble would help me keep from developing a little callous, and sometimes a hole, at the tip of my needle-pushing finger…. In addition to using bag balm (in the square green cans) I keep a small piece of extra-fine black sanding paper (400 grit) close by so I can sand down any burrs on fingertips and cuticles. I am DEFINITELY going to mix up a batch of your recipe!!! Thanks!!!!

  17. Hello Mary.

    Funny that. I heard only this morning on the radio about rubbing your hands with salt, rinse and add cooking oil. The cows udder cream is well known here, but I don’t find it all that good. I normally have very dry hands, but EVERY night, last concious thing I do, is rubbing in a cream called Nivea SOS hand cream. My hands are now never dry (unless I’m careless and do the washing-up without rubbergloves).
    Best wishes to everybody from Norway and and me;

  18. Dear Mary…sorry I have nothing original to offer in the way of hand care. I am, however, grateful for your old home remedy. They really are always the best!! And my particular problem is dried, cracking, ripping cuticles. Clearly olive oil and sugar will help there….(at least the olive oil)…and a heck of a lot cheaper than some of the crap overpriced lotions on the market. Thanks…Judy in Pittsburgh.

  19. I’m an olive oil and sugar person, too. I used to use salt and olive oil, until I thought that maybe the salt might be drying. I do like the Burt’s Bees Almond Milk also at night before going to bed.

  20. Gloves, gloves, gloves, emery boards and handcream.I have each of these items stashed everywhere.Even for Non-wet chores, Gloves are a must if doing embroidery.
    Love the new site and my daily “fix” of inspiration 🙂

  21. I can’t wait to try this on my husbands hands! His hands get so dry and actually crack open in places – very sore. Of course I’m going to try it too. Thanks Mary!

  22. Good subject ~ my hands can get like sandpaper , especially when it is windy – which we have had alot of lately. I like “Burt’s Bee Milk & Honey.
    I use it last thing before I got to bed, again in the AM before leaving for work. That way is after I have stitched and the AM is hours before I will have a chance to pick up the needle work again.
    I hadn’t heard of the olive oil and sugar – do you use them together ?

    1. Hi, all! Thanks for your input – so many good ideas. By the time we’ve exhausted the subject, we’ll all have “perfect” hands! Thank you!

      Bag balm! Oh, yes, I know the stuff. I first discovered it in my dorm mates room in college. I thought it was such a pretty green tin, with red strawberries on it. Then I got close and realized they were udders! I thought it was a joke, because I was city girl, and all the girls in my dorm were rural! But I was slowly made aware of the benefits, when I experienced Kansas winters for the first time and my chapped skin and lips revolted!

      Sharon – yes, you mix the sugar with olive oil to make a thick sandy pumice and scrub your hands up with it. Then you rinse them well and pat them dry.

  23. I can’t wait to try your tip. My rough fingers also are annoying when I am appliqueing. I have tried many expensive creams but have found a friend in Vaseline cream products. I usually use the store brand to save money for my needlework projects and books.
    I want to try you simple approach. I know that sugar makes a great exfolliant.

  24. hello mary,
    i love this website.i have learned so much from this website.thanku once again for launching it!:D

  25. Hmmm!! “… always wash away any residue before I pick up my stitching again….” I should have done that before stitching on Saturday; fortunately, I was only stitching an outline, & will stitch over this, but it was in pale pink, so it became grubby very quickly.

  26. I use Satin Hands by Mary Kay. Before my husband passed, I used to get a manacure every 2 weeks. Now the budget just won’t stretch that far. My manacurest gave me a Satin Hands gift pack and until that runs out I’ll use it. After, though, I’m going to the olive oil.

    I use olive oil on my face and hair all the time. It gives me a glow and a lot less frizzies here in the FL humidity.

  27. This is the handcream recipe that I use: 6 oz liquid oil (olive, almond, vegetable etc.); 3 oz solid oil (coconut, crisco, lard etc.); 1 oz beeswax. Mix together over hot water until liquid (Oils can be one oil or mixture as indicated). Pour oil mixture INTO 9 oz water which has been heated to body temperature. Use handmixer on high until thick and creamy. Stir in 50 drops of essential oil if desired for scent. I use tea tree oil and/or rosewood.

  28. I have found that Fruit of the Earth — the Vitamin E version NOT the aloe == is the best for hand work. It needs to be rubbed in and dries with no residue in about 5-8 minutes. A very small dab goes a long way. i still wash my hands, but the times i wasn’t thinking or when in the car it left no stains or residue.

More Comments