Textile Conservation: Victorian Beaded Angel Needlepoint


One of the sweetest pieces we ever treated.

A widow had several items conserved for the children in the family.
This lovely beaded needlepoint had many condition issues: dozens of
moth-eaten areas, ripped or broken canvas, a good deal of lost bead work,
and also an unusual condition Kate had not seen before.
Some of the faceted metal beads had “melted” from heat exposure or eroded from a caustic situation, shown best in the last two images above.  These beads not only eroded, but many had fused together and into the warp and weft of the needlepoint canvas.

The piece was surprisingly clean, however, and only needed spot cleaning:
in this case Kate treated (repaired) the piece before cleaning,
as there was too much to lose during a cleaning process.


A search did not yield matching beads for the metallic beads nor the
milky-pink beads of the skin, but we were successful with many other beads.

Kate is taking you through one of the most dramatic repairs, where the metallic beads “burned” a hole into the mesh, showing remaining “melted” beads.


The rips and missing mesh from the disintegrated beads.
It is almost as if a caustic substance was released from the beads and burned the mesh.  This is where institutional conservators have a bit more leeway and
funding to test and discover chemical interactions; private clients are more
interested in a proper restorative experience than research.


The first step was to gently hold the mesh into place during reweaving of the grid.


Counting the grid, the mesh is rewoven all over the back before Kate begins on the front.


Having repaired the mesh, Kate could now gently remove, sort and salvage,
then clean the metallic beads for reuse where possible. Our client left it to Kate’s discretion to reuse the beads or substitute beads, depending upon their condition.

Beaded needlework is a slow process and requires design skills when parts are missing.
A tiny needle picks up one bead at a time and weaves them in a tent stitch pattern.
This is important as this is the original design of the piece:
the beads once lined up like needlepoint stitches.
Over the years some have twisted, but this was not the way they were originally stitched.

The next problem was the moth eaten field.
Kate was able to steal a few bits of original yarn less than one inch long, and with a tiny crochet hook (her grandmother’s) was able to weave these tiny bits into larger holes.

But what to do with the many single missing stitches?
Kate proposed to dot the field with a clear bead, almost like stars around the angel.


The piece is completed, and spot cleaned.
The back tells the story of the many repairs.


Adding beads in the areas where a small moth hole was a good idea;
they appear like tiny stars in the sky. and clearly differentiates
the original from the conservation treatment.
Our client had the piece properly framed for a lovely family heirloom.

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Repairing Trigger

Whether you are a fan or not, a unique look at repairing Trigger.

Part 1

Part 2

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Washington State Flag 9, First Drafts, Paper

Beginning with the test sheets,
I created test paintings of oil on paper.
The paper was primed with shellac to prevent oil seepage.

New tracings from our master tracing are created each time so the marks are fresh.


My first draft was a portrait of George on plain shellacked paper.

The lovely background is not noticed much in our original because the original bright green silk has faded to the colors of the background.
The background was created so that it appears a light is coming from behind George.

The draft on shellacked paper helped to fine tune the paint formulas.


Okay, I had a bit of fun at the end of the day giving him cat’s whiskers!


The original paint mixes when painted in the portrait draft were changed slightly.


Pasty face also taught me not to let the paint dry, but to mix shadings in the moment…
I painted the draft slowly, using a 50/50 galkyd/linseed mix to thin when needed.

The next four images were done in one day, so the shadings were created properly.


Building up the face.


The hair and lacy shirt…


Adding the green that matched the silk…

A few final tweaks, and the first draft was completed, shown here against the original.

A second test was on green painted paper to work the colors again, over green.

Painting over a base of green changes methods just a bit;
the green tint bleeds through the paint.  Green George gave us laughs as his eyes followed us everywhere; I was a bit sorry to have to finish him!

Working green George I became much more comfortable with the paint colors
and the techniques to create his likeness.  His face needs to be a bit thinner and
his hair is a bit wildly curly still.  Painting George has prompted me to review other
images of Washington, because really, while I am creating a likeness of the flag,
I am not a forger and have come to realize the painting will have my hand and strokes
no matter how I attempt to reproduce it.  What I want is his eyes to look at you in the manner of the flag and his smile (which has degraded) to be accurate to his personality.

We tried to find the image the original makers used as a model but no luck so far…
We thought that they may have copied a famous painting.
Our research is leading us to believe the historic flag’s image was
an amalgamation of two or three images we’ve found.
If anyone has any further history we’ll be happy to share that in this post..

This has been an honor and adventure so far;
really nothing I’ve done to date has been quite like it.

I am not quite finished with this test
(hair, costume) but not sure that I will finish him; I’ve learned a good bit from
the paper tests and am now ready for the silk, next post!

To begin at the beginning, visit Washington State Flag, 1.

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Frances Normandin’s Bell Hanger

Frances Normandin, great-grandmother to our clients, designed and created the needlework bell hanger (ca 1930-1940) as a gift for her 15-year-old son,  Fred Louis Normandin, Jr., or “Bub.”  Fred was named after his father, the first grocer in the
Mount Tabor area.  (Conserved, left.)

Frances was born in 1897 and grew up in Portland, attending St. Mary’s Academy, where her artistic talent began to show itself.  She was a gifted painter, worked in the mediums of beadwork, woodcarving, and various kinds of needlework.  She lived to be 97 and was still making beadwork bell ornaments right up until the end, even though she was legally blind.  (We have another of her pieces, a crewel work of their farm in Forest Grove, conserved as well, see bottom.)

When the bell hanger came to us
it was in excellent condition:
* It had yarns missing in both the petit point  and needlepoint areas, both decorative and field (below).
* A ball nut was missing from the pull.
* The entire needlework needed to be cleaned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hanger and pull were disassembled from the needlework, and the screw piece and sample ball were sent to an excellent blacksmith for replication, Stephen Gossett.  When disassembled, we had our first  look at the original color of the field: teal green!

We began by a thorough vacuuming, both top and bottom side,
to remove deeply embedded debris and fine spider-webbing, above.
During this time were able to again inspect the piece.

Appleton Bros 100% wool yarns were bought to match the existing (faded) colors of the yarn.  I believe the piece was quite colorful with the palette Frances choose, and I am sorry that my efforts to photograph the little bit I saw through an opening between the backing and the needlework did not do it justice.  Above are the best images I captured: the biscuit colored yarn began as a rust or orange yarn, left, and right, peering into the opening, seeing the bright greens and teal and gold of the back of the needlework.

It is always difficult matching yarns; you are matching faded yarns not dyed yarns, and so, what appears a gray field was a dark teal green, and the “gray” is actually faded.  I own every gray wool crewel yarn and still could not quite match it.  In some ways this is preferable; you can see the infill from the original work.

Without taking the back lining off the piece, I could not easily repair the small amount
of missing petit point, however, I was able to infill most of the needlepoint because the linen canvas was not brittle, so there was no fear of breaking canvas threads while coming in from the side to repair the tent stitches.  Above, a thorough example of a basic repair: coming in from the back (or the side) and pulling through each stitch, including edges, until all stitches were infilled.  At the end I pulled through and clipped close,
and very little movement pulled the tip through so it is hidden.

Samples of infill above.  The majority of the needlework is the tent stitch,
and while I could not get a good look at the back of the piece, I assume it was either a diagonal tent or basketweave tent, as there is little distortion.

However, once I was creating infill and removing degraded (moth-eaten or worn) stitches, I also could see that Frances laid yarn threads under many of her tent stitches,
creating the Bayeux stitch (above).  This means the textile is both petit point,
needle work and laid work.  I was able, in most cases, to keep her original underlayer.
In a few instances where i was sure they existed but were now gone, I dared not lay
in the long stitching under the tent stitch for fear of pulling the adjacent yarns,
and so these areas are a bit meager compared to her original work.

When it was time to reassemble the hanging metal and pull, it was difficult, so we are warning our client not to do this unless absolutely necessary.  The screw hung up in the hem, and Mitchell used his long upholstery needle to open the pathway.

Conserved bell hanger, above.

To follow Frances Normandin’s beautiful crewelwork through conservation, start here.

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Frances Normandin’s Crewel Work, 3: Infill and Stabilization

Continuing from our first post on crewelwork and cleaning
Frances Normandin’s beautiful crewel-worked textile circa 1930-1940,
and our second on dyes and color choices:

The process of infill and stabilization began.

Remember that there were two to three repair yarn colors around the outside, infill created at an unknown time, by Frances or other family members.  The yarns were both different colors and also the textures did not match.  Kate made a determination to only remove the extraordinarily odd infill areas, and leave the repairs which blended well.

Kate began with the two border colors, above.

In the border and the image itself,
other than the oddly colored infill mentioned above,
the decision to infill was judged based on missing yarns,
or threadbare or broken yarns (from abrasion or moths).
If the yarns were intact but threadbare, Kate might leave the historic yarn
intact and add to the piece by overlayering the new yarn.

If not, the yarns were removed, which was actually the most time consuming part of the process because it is possible to damage the piece while removing the yarns.

Three quarters of the way through Kate found the darker yarn which actually
matched the outer border, which had slipped off the back of the treatment table.
*sigh*
Of course she went back and redid the completed infill!

Next Kate turned to the various inner infill areas.
This was a bit more fun because Kate was able to use different crewel stitches!.

There were three colors that Kate could not match close enough to satisfy her design eye, though she had every one of the Appleton Bros of London 100% wool crewel colors!
One of the purples, one of the peaches, and one of the pinks.
In all cases it was due to the fading dyes not matching a current dye.

Turning to the border linen stabilization and repair, remember the disgusting bug that stained and also apparently caused the disintegration of the bottom hem edge?  (Above, reminders!)  This was only one of the exceptions Kate had to work around as she stabilized the linen for framing.  The goal was to allow the largest linen edge for framing.

A heavy 1 1/2-inch unbleached hemp twill tape was pinned to the edge at 1 3/8-inch wide.

A running stitch (locked every few inches) was used to place the tape for hand-stitching.

A locking backstitch circled the outer edge approximately 1/4-inch from the tape edge.

The rips were stabilized with a couching stitch.

Corners were stabilized with both running and locking backstitch in a pleasing pattern.

It was important to Kate that her hand-stitching match Frances’ lovely work.

Finally, all parts stabilized, we decided to use a zigzag machine stitch to give
Deann Holtz a strong edge with which to stretch the piece during framing.

Unseen during the assessment, Kate found several small rips in the linen fiber,
and darned holes and rewove areas as she worked the edge stabilization.

Before cleaning / after treatment, above;
The piece came quite clean without dyes running.
ONLY around the bug carcass did stains persist.

Details of the piece after treatment!

I recommend two prior posts on caring for textiles and/or other antiques:

Taking Care of
Your Antique Quilt

(applies to many textiles);

How do I Take
Care of THIS?

(about several antiquities, including textiles.)

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Planter’s Chair: 8 Showcover

We are properly conserving a French-made Planter’s Chair, circa 1860.
(You can begin here, if you like.)
We’ll follow the chair through excavation to the new show-cover.
We left off in the last posting with upholstery buildup
of the inside back, inside arm,  and seat.


Muslin was secured and the inside back and arms
readied for the decorative showcover.

The outside back and outside arms, as well as the
bottom band (apron) will be completed after the showcover and buttoning
is completed on the inside back and arms.

Other than the obvious — that is, our client liked the fabric
and the colors went well in her historic home —
the showcover was chosen because Mitchell knew the velvet
was reminiscent of velvets in the 19th Century,
and so was a good choice for historic reasons.
The lovely fabric is a rayon, cotton and silk pile
on a tightly woven cotton base with a dense thread count.
The gold flecks cause a shimmering effect as you move around the chair.

Trims were also period appropriate embellishments,
especially in their modest appearance with a touch of gold
to play against the gold flecks in the velvet.

When the fabric was delivered, it was immediately unrolled,
a yardage verification was performed, and the entire roll checked for flaws.
Flaws are a common occurrence, and additional yardage must be requested
from the company and/or the fabric returned for replacement.

Patterns were created, which is a lesson onto itself.

Fabric was cut.

Buttons were made (and BTW we usually make extras for our clients.)
Cut into squares, the hand-operated machine
cuts the circles for the button, then molds it onto the metal forms.
These machines are indispensable to a serious upholstery studio.
(Note these images are from another project.)

The inside back muslin was covered with
a thin layer of felted organic 100% staple cotton.
(We buy organic whenever we can.)
The batting acts as a soft buffer between the muslin and showcover,
protecting the showcover from premature wear.
The batting also acts as a dust barrier (filter) and
softens the surfaces creating a sumptuous look and feel.

Buttons were placed as shown above on (note these images are from another project.)
A very long button needle is used to place the location of the button through many layers; the button threads are in the needle in all of the images above.
Once the needle is placed it is slowly pulled through and tied (images 5 & 6).
Cotton is used to keep the button from ripping through the foundational cloth.
Once the button is set at the right length or tension (and this is not easy to do),
the folds are placed, as they rarely “fall”into a pleasing folding pattern.

Buttons were installed;
now the entire chair can be closed up.

Moving to the arms:  Mitchell applied stitching and lashing methods to the intersecting
points between the inside back and inside arms (image 1-4, above).  it was necessary to
cinch the back’s termination points tightly to the internal stuffings and steel frame
in order to prevent slipping and easing of the area where the inside arm begins.

The inside arm was hand-stitched which also allowed the seat-to-arm gully to define.  Mitchell secured and buttoned the inside arm show cover.  Note how nicely the
arm-top squares creating a comfortable support for the forearms?

Pausing to show the entire chair at this stopping point.
Note the extra fabric pulled through the seats.


Moving to the seat, Mitchell places a light layer of organic 100% staple cotton batting
placed over the muslin prior to the showcover, for the same reasons as the
cotton batting on the inside back: protection from premature wear,
a dust barrier (filter) and softening the seat ever so slightly.

Mitchell’s notes: At first glance a pattern repeat on a design like this seems
inconsequential.  It is not!  This showcover had a repeat which was visible and
demanded attention to centering, balancing and matching the motif as it related
to the contours and spatial aspects of the chair.  I notice pattern mismatches and
sloppy placement, and believe even laypersons (clients) will notice over time.

The bottom band was created.  The modest diameter
decorative rope braid was hand-stitched below the front edging
prior to padding and final upholstering of the showcover.

Stitchings and stuffings and lashings and soft cotton toppers,
all for the front decorative banding!  It is surprising to non-upholsterers what
measures are taken to ensure long-terms viability of a soft-structure object with
little rigid structure within… all hidden, all an important part of our upholstery heritage.


.

Decorative front banding was
tacked using #2 blue-tacks,
ready to be blind-stitched.

Yes, Mitchell spits tacks;
true upholsterers do!


The decorative rope braid was pinned
and secured with a locking back stitch.

The chair was turned upside down.
A layer of organic 100% staple cotton batting was followed with 400 ct percale muslin, stretched, pinned, and blind-stitched to the foundational cloth.


A final pattern of the outside back was created by Mitchell;
material was cut and machine stitched readied for application.

Another layer of organic 100% staple cotton batting
was placed over the percale, pinned to the underside
of the decorative rope braid, and blind-stitched or tacked.


Decorative gimp braid was carefully secured
using a good grade white tacking glue.


Mitchell included a secret pocket beneath conserved pieces when possible.
Provenance, a DVD or thumb drive, family photos with
the piece can be stashed in a waterproof container.


Remember the steel hoop listed to one side from a regular sitter favoring a position? Notice how the inside back asymmetrical contour lists above?
This is due to the steel hoop listing.
It also effects how the button’s elevations are seen in certain photos,
though they are level — it is an optical illusion due to the tilted frame.
In person the chair rarely reveals the listing but the still shots reveal it!


The Planter’s Chair completed in our studio!

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An overview of the process, from one vantage point, below.

If you would be interested in notification of online classes
coming next year, comment and we will save your email address.
It will be used by no one else for any other purpose.

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May be reposted if our url + copyright is used as reference.

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Planter’s Chair: 7, Buildup, Tufted Back and Seat

We are properly conserving a French-made Planter’s Chair, circa 1860.
(You can begin here, if you like.)
We’ll follow the chair through excavation to the new show-cover.
We left off in the last posting with inside back excavation.


The inside back completely excavated.
Note (even if you can’t see it) the frame’s steel hoop tilts to one side,
a product of repeated sideways sitting by an inhabitant.
As we move on, it will sometimes appear as if our upholstering
was “off” when it was actually the tilt of the back’s steel hoop.


14 oz jute hessian was chosen as a replacement for the

original inside back and arm foundational membrane.

The symmetry of the hessian grain positions relative to the frame positioning
and lack of symmetry was calculated and transferred by graphite and chalk
to the hessian in order to insure the best positioning of the woven medium.
The hessian was stretched and pinned then lashed with
heavy 12-ply linen twine in a locking blanket stitch.


Mitchell placed double cross stitches along strategic
points of the hoop and vertical supports to
ensure the hessian did not move over time.

The seat and back now will be built together.

On the seat, arms and back, the buildup occurred in
reverse order of excavation; what came off last went on first.

Second stuffings (horsehair) was secured to
the conserved pod and additional hair added over the lashings
to replace original hairs broken over many years of use.
A new cotton topper was placed upon the hair.
A 7 oz cotton/hemp muslin was stitched to the pod,
making the surface ready for the new showcover.


Historic hair filled cummerbund (lumbar filler)

was lashed into position using linen twine and
covered with 9 oz open weave hessian.


Notice how the lumbar filler wraps around the inside arms,

creating a semi-firm seal between the seat contours
and the inside back and arm base.

The serpentine hair-filled crest and arm “collar” was reinstalled,
loosely stitched with linen twine awaiting amendment.
It was amended just below using polished coir
in order to add resilience to the historic roll.
Even in well-kept upholstery, some losses occur to fibers:
they break, powder, and sift through their encasements.

The serpentine crest and arm roll
were fully lashed using linen twine.

Note the definition of the contours and sloping lines,
running down to the hair pod.

The original inside back second stuffings
(cleaned and teased), was set into the conserved form.
Mitchell left the historic flocked wadding on the hair surface
so the evidence of period materials would be available for future generations.

The second stuffings were lashed into place using linen twine.
Notice the attention paid to using the historic lashing patterns,
easily seen on the outside back of the foundational hessian.

Tufting began using a 5 oz finely woven hemp hessian.
The patterns taken earlier were applied and adjusted to the conserved form.
Mitchell did not want to return the chair’s back in the form
in which our client was familiar, but rather the historic form.
(BTW our client was appraised and excited about these prospects,
but it is always advised to discuss before changing the form of a familiar chair!)

Above, the beginning stages of tufting
showing the elevations and folds defined,
but before Mitchell buttoned the tufts.

Tufts were held in place with 5 ply linen twine knotted
to the back foundational membrane.
In the first image, the muslin was pulled over the crest
and a running stitch installed to secure.
In the second image, note the anchor point for buttoning
was knotted to the foundational membrane.

The inside back muslin was also secured around each arm,
and the buttons continue onto the inside arms.
The gully continued to be defined as a decorative element.

Mitchell attached the inside arm muslin to the form
defining the final arm top and final button placement.
The outside back and outside arms will be completed
after the showcover and buttoning is complete on the inside back and arms.

With that, we move to the the showcover, next post!

An overview of the process, from one vantage point, below.

If you would be interested in notification of online classes coming next year, comment and we will save your email address.  It will be used by no one else for any other purpose.

©MPF Conservation.  May be printed for your own use.
May be reposted if our url + copyright is used as reference.

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