Frances Normandin, great-grandmother to our clients,
designed the brilliant layout and worked the piece, a depiction of their
family farm house near Gales Creek on the outskirts of Forest Grove.
She 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 bellhanger, to conserve as well.)
The piece is stunning, and while I don’t have permission to show other examples in my blog, you can see how it stands out from other crewel pieces here, here, and here ;
and even professional pieces, here. The use of color delights the eye,
and the design moves you up the drive to the sweet little house.
The more I look, the more I find sweet details: the dog, birds,
various types of posies, and tiny mushrooms. Francis had talent!
We are conserving the piece, cleaning the stains as possible,
retying existing knots and/or infilling areas where losses occur.
At completion we will recreate a hanging mechanism for its next generation.
Crewel is distinguished from embroidery by the use of two threads of fine worsted wool
instead of cotton or silk threads, and the word may derive from the Welsh word ‘krua,’ meaning wool. The needle used has a wide body, large eye, and sharp point.
The stitches used are many of the same as in embroidery: chain, split, stem, couched, satin, backstitch, knots, and seed stitches. You can see many examples of stitches in the details of broken areas above.The wool creates a heavy texture and loft.
It is not a counted-thread embroidery but a style of free embroidery often done on tightly woven firm fabric, like a linen twill, silk linen, velvet, silk organza, and even jute.
Crewel embroidery requires the use of an embroidery hoop or frame
(large standing frames are known as slates). The material is secured and stretched taut supporting an even amount of tension so that designs do not become distorted.
The crewel textile lived hanging on the wall of the farmhouse,
uncovered with wood smoke and tobacco smoke,
all of which contributed to distorted color of the linen and the stains,
some of which appeared to be water spots on dirty linen.
Before proceeding, Kate test cleaned all the bright colors to see if the dyes moved
using wet cotton swabs (distilled water always), with paper towels underneath to catch the migrating dyes. When NO dyes migrated, she frankly retested all of them, disbelieving.
No dyes migrated! We were safe to proceed…
Kate set about removing the back lining, because it was old, even dirtier, and had to be removed to infill stitches. A new stabilization will be added. The old backing was all hand-stitched, tiny little precise stitches. Along the way bug debris was encountered, never her favorite part of a project! In this case a worm carcass had stained the bottom edge of the piece, mystery solved. In fact, insects had made their way between the linen/wool textile and backing, and probably eaten the wools from behind.
Frances must have kept a clean house, because the piece
was in excellent condition with few losses, given its exposure on a farm.
Francis had tacked the backing to the textile, and while a wise move at the time,
this has also been problematic over time, as it has pulled the linen fibers.
Thankfully the thread broke rather than the linen in each case (last image).
Kate vacuumed the piece gently with textile attachments to remove surface debris,
both front and backsides, before wet cleaning.
Kate uses a very soft mushroom brush (never for mushrooms!)
and the natural use of gentle soaking to move attached debris like the worm leaving
(first image), and also the embedded dirt along the edges. She then cleaned the
entire textile with several rounds of short soakings in a mild surfactant solution
rendering the textile to a brighter color than it was before cleaning.