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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