Frances Normandin’s Beautiful Crewel Work,1: Treatment

This beautiful crewel-worked textile circa 1930-1940 is a family heirloom,
a stunning example of good design and perfect execution.

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.

Finally a clean towel absorbed the excess water, and the piece
was blocked and left to naturally air dry.

Next time, working with color, and yarn infill!

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Victorian Firescreen Textile Treatment

This Victorian firescreen, circa 1890-1910, is a family heirloom,
created from petitpoint, needlepoint, and cross-stitching, quite lovely when new.
Originally it might have attached to a wooden or metal stand,
standing in front of a fireplace to shield the family from too much direct heat.

It came to us after years of hanging uncovered in rooms with wood smoke,
oil smoke, and a cigarette smoker, all of which contributed to the the overall feeling of grime and brittle texture of the textile’s linen grid, or warp and weft.
The family wanted it cleaned and infilled with new yarns, readying it for life under glass.

Before proceeding, we test cleaned the lower right-hand corner, in an area which was likely to be removed due to excessive holes in the tapestry which were the most expensive areas to be treated, and the most unremarkable area on the textile.

The test went well, the dyes stayed in place with minor migration,
and as you can see, tar released onto the paper towels.  It was safe to proceed, above.

We vacuumed the piece gently with textile attachments to remove surface debris,
then cleaned the entire textile with several rounds of short soaking
in a mild surfactant solution, and removed layers of grease and grime,
rendering the textile to a brighter color than it was before cleaning.

At this point, as per our agreement with our client, we reassessed the piece, and offered our final estimate with various approaches.  Our client decided to eventually remove or hide the bottom band and so did not conserve or restore that area.

The textile was created with wool and silk yarns on a linen grid.
After finding suitable matches for the yarns/threads, Kate began stabilizing the woolen edges, which were the sturdiest part of the tapestry, above.

However, as she moved into the silk thread areas she discovered a surprise:
the silk threads were sheered yet had not dropped out of the grid during cleaning, as has happened on other projects!  Now if any adjacent areas were infilled,
the other stitches literally dropped, above, when touched.
What might have been a simpler infill of stitches here and there
and a small area on a sleeve, became large swaths of stitching infill!

There were no huge areas where the grid, or linen warp and weft,
needed to be completely rewoven, which is good considering the fragility of the tapestry.
Instead there were 21 areas of 2-4 places of broken warp/weft, and two where there were holes created by 4-6 broken linen threads.  The adjacent grid could not take reweaving easily, and so the areas were cleverly infilled with the needlepoint.

Also, the grid was too fragile for cross-stitching, which meant double the number
of times a needle would pass in each hole, threatening to pop more linen threads, and so Kate chose to infill using a needlepoint stitch gently pulled, not tightly pulled.

In each area, cut silk threads were gently lifted using a dull-tipped needle, then picked up with tweezers and vacuumed before the new stitching began, above.

The factors that seem to have lead to the cut silk threads are the combination of heat and smoke the piece was subject to over a century, combined with the sturdiness of the wool next to the silk thread.  Overtime, the wool pulled gently on the brittle silk.

While Kate was not hired to infill the lower area that would be covered,
she did give our client a bit of free time because the line across where the piece
might be cut or turned under needed stabilization.  Kate did not take the time
to color match the green-golds in that bottom band.

As part of the documentation bits of the historic fibers are placed into
document bags.  In addition, extra bits of the threads used were also
given to our client in case a small bit was necessary.

This is not a museum object, which if it were, might be approached a bit differently.
The truth of the historic fiber colors would have yielded a garish contrast to
the now faded threads if Kate matched the threads she found buried on the back our client’s textile.  Instead, she choose to strike a balance, knowing that the piece was
once a vibrant rendition of a woman sitting under a canopy of trees and possibly an arbor, on a bench, with a bright picnic spread ready to share.  It has pink, red, turquoise, bright blue, and brilliant red-golds in the figures under vibrant green trees.  Kate choose a warmer, darker version of the Autumn colors, and browned versions of the
pink and red, in order to create a pleasing piece for the family.

The textile is ready for the next leg of the journey, which is framing to preserve the work done and the tapestry,framed by Deann Holtz, who trained in proper textile framing.

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Washington State Flag 8, Mixing Paint

I created test sheets for oil versions of George.
Two coats of shellac seals the paper for the oil paint.
It is nice to use up old shellac which can no longer be used on furniture!

Phthalo Green and Chromium Oxide Green mixed match the green silk.
I want to paint the paper I am doing trials on green, because paints will change considerably when painted on bright white, cream, or the lovely green of the silk.

I also painted a sheet to go behind my mixing tray.  I tore the rectangular sheets so
they created the square on which I would paint George’s face, leaving me test papers.

I am mixing the paints today, and they will completely dry before I venture close
to the historic flag with the sample sheets.  NO chances are taken, ever!
It appears the darker colors will be the ones I want to double-check
against the historic flag, because the darker blues and greens and browns
tend to change radically when a flash hits them, shown above,
and I am mixing against images, not the historic.

A side note: I had a color blind friend who decided that he wanted to please himself in his apartment, instead of having someone else pick paint colors for his friends to see.
I won a bet against my whole tribe of architectural buddies that I could match exactly the hideous salmon pink paint color he painted his kitchen!  This is to say I am fairly confident I will come close in these colors, to blending the right mixes for George.

I have a few zones of color to explore in matching and blending:
coat (collar and body, buttons and epaulets); hair; skin; background, which is a green
that changes over the body of the medallion from a greyed-green to a blue-green.

The collar is a blend of Naples Yellow, moving to a creamier version with the Titanium-Zinc White, and going darker with Raw Sienna, Asphaltum, or Burnt Umber.  I will want to hold up the darker mixtures to double check them against the original flag.
The buttons and epaulets demand brilliance with added Gold Ochre.
(Gold Ochre is the second from the bottom; Yellow Ochre below is too dull.)

The blues were hard to see when looking at the images.
I see the body of the uniform as an Indanthrone or Prussian base,
with Cobalt Blue added to either to mix.  The blue is not one color,
but changes across the uniform as the light and shadow play.

I was prepared to mix George’s skin tones, but Gamblin’s Caucasian Flesh was a
such a good base match from which to mix.  George’s face is a challenge to reproduce, because I am not adept at portraits, and his is full of color!  I am looking it not as if it is a face, but a landscape to reproduce.  For the slight blush or ruddy skin tone it will be Cadmium Red Light or Medium.  Gold Ochre plays into areas around the eyes
and just above the eyebrow.  I played with the d=shadow, adding Asphaltum,
Burnt Umber, and Raw Sienna… none were quite right.  I remembered Robert Gamblin talking about Torrit Grey, and squished all my palette paint leftovers together,
and mixed them into a grey — THAT GREY looks like the right shadow color!

The green background moves from a darkened Phthalo Green (slightly blue)
to Chromium Oxide Green highlighting his face, lifting your eyes up.
The greens chosen to mix (bottom of the blues) are the second, fourth, and fifth —
with a little Naples Yellow thrown in!

George’s hair is not pure white, though he has a good deal of white in it.
I see touches of grey, and Gamblin’s Warm Grey or a blend of Naples Yellow and Titanium-Zinc White.  In shadow at the bottom of the curls is Paynes Grey.

I cannot hope to create an exact replica, but I am attempting to recreate
the painted medallion with the types of strokes and colors and looseness
the original artist used when s/he painted George.

Note: 2 test sheets were created
so the DAR can have one copy.

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

MPFC will be posting from time to time as we make interesting progress to share;
sign-up for posts if you are interesting in following the progress.

Visit our next post, Washington State Flag 9, when published!

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

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Washington State Flag 7, Tracings

The Flag Room is staged for the duration of the project.

Black foam-core lines the walls waiting for the silk to be stretched upon.
The silk will be attached to the foam-core for stability.

The center table, currently used to lay the historic flag upon while the tracings
are created, below, will eventually be a work table, and the historic flag, for the time
we are allowed to keep it, will rest on the far table, covered and wrapped as it was delivered to us, with one exception.   The historic flag came to us folded in two places, leaving pressure marks on the face of the flag, a pitfall of not having a
conservator properly pack the flag.  Fortunately, as it was not stored folded for a long time, these were temporary marks and released over a few weeks and with gentle pressure placed across the surface.  We advise against folding in any case, as every time
the historic flag is folded it wears on the old silk and passementerie.
Textiles become brittle as they age even in the best circumstances, and the tiny breaks from folding are often not noticed until they grow to a noticeable tear.

The fold marks brought to our attention the stiffness of the silk, and we wondered if the entire flag was sized, not just the painted medallion. However, without testing that will remain conjecture.  Note the line made, right.  We assume it is a guide line.  Note the color of the silk, imperceptible unless one is searching, on both sides of the line. If only the medallion was sized, the silk would change color in this area.

Before tracing, Mitchell and I made the final decisions on the particulars
of the reproduction, and these, two, are to be laid into the tracings.

1/16-inch clear rigid acrylic is laid upon the historic flag for protection.
(Two persons centered and laid it gently to ensure the safety of the flag.)
This allows us to take overall patterns of the painting and the details,
without risking marking or tearing the flag.

On heavy vellum, the entire tracing is created.
Every detail of the flag was all measured and another set of details photographed.
Along the way, notes are taken of the oddities of the passementerie and the painting.

The first oddity is that the flag itself is not symmetrical.
It ranges from 34.5″ to 35.5 inches wide, and the length slightly droops
(or so it appears, as we are not hanging the flag nor pulling on it.)

The hand-painted letters are all a bit different, one from the next,
which leads us to surmise that a template was not used.
Three different “S” letters: the angled beginnings and ends of the letter are different,
and as most “S” letters will be symmetrical in their circular form, or bottom heavy,
it appears that the “S”in “STATE” (above)
is upside down from a lettering perspective, as it is top heavy!
Four different “E” letters (above): top heavy, bottom heavy, or perfectly even.
I wonder if the same person worked on the flag from start to finish!
The “A” letters are the most alike, above and below.
My inclination is to try to reproduce the anomalies…
It is harder to reproduce anomalies than to simply pick one of each letter to replicate.

The seal and drawing of George, as I am beginning to call him,
on the large tracing is for placement only.

As we are not to have the historic flag in our studio for the duration of the project (WA DES requested it back for storage), every aspect of the passementerie must be noted.  The twisted braid (with eyelets) which was positioned by hand into the floral motif, is not evenly spaced, also evidence that the braid was not created before application, ready to place onto the silk, but hand applied by the seamstress or tailor. I note the center line and spacing of the braid, and in doing so note that the dimensions are variable, and sometimes it is not perpendicular.  While taking these patterns we are creating a final count of yardage for the various types of passementerie.

We also have worked out our various design issues, such as creating a silk loop which the gimp trim applies to, which will make the loops stronger than the historic flag loops.

Our largest pattern, above, outlines the most general items.
Notes cover our sizes.

Finally, there are the tracings for George’s reproduction.
(Sorry for the images; hard to photograph pencil!).
I have several as we are creating studies, then more than one silk set…
I want to make sure we have a good image, and this is the first time I’ve painted on silk.

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

MPFC will be posting from time to time as we make interesting progress to share;
sign-up for posts if you are interesting in following the progress.

Visit our next post, Washington State Flag 8.

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

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Washington State Flag: Gamblin Paints

Mary Weisenburger and Dave Bernard in front of the color squares at the new factory.

I might’ve struggled through trail and error and testing
on many phases, but thankfully, we are fortunate to share Portland
as our home base with Gamblin Artist Colors,
home to both the best oil paints and also, home to Gamblin Conservation Colors.

As with the NPS Mason Monterey project, Gamblin saved me money and time
on trial and error, this time offering me advice toward painting on silk.
Dave Bernard helped me choose or validated my choices on several paint colors,
especially as it came to the way the colors are produced,
and how the various ingredients will present on silk over time.
And also, those times when conservators I spoke with discouraged me from the project,
he became my cheering section, saying, “Of course this can be done!”
(He is shown above with Mary Weisenburger, who,  along with Dave,
answered questions on the Silver Circus Ball.  I never work with metallic paints!)

I drove out to pick up our order to their new location.
The new place is giving them a lot more space, and is ordered properly for a
company that knows what it needs to operate!  I went on a tour of the new digs…
which is why you are being given a behind-the-scenes at Gamblin tour.

Lauren and Kaitlin say hey from their new desks!

When I walked in I was so sad that the color swatch wall was gone!
My first visit to Gamblin to discuss the Monterey project, I’d run my hands over the squares, and said,
“This color!  And this color!”
Being able to see the paints large made my initial choices so easy!  Thankfully, they are not gone, but now brighten the wall next to the warehouse entry and the door to Pete Cole’s office (CEO.)  Looking through his door, see that art on the wall?  You will recognize it from the
various swatches on their site.

We started in the farthest corner, which is where boxes and containers  of raw ingredients come into the facility and stored.  The flow chart of the layout makes sense from the raw ingredients entering (farthest) to the shipping area (nearest the offices.)

Mark and Phil are closest to the raw ingredients because they work with them…
Pulling them and measuring the formulas for the paint into the buckets for mixing.

I just missed a batch being mixed by Matt — which I’ve seen before and it is so cool.
(Image right, shamelessly stolen off the Gamblin site.)  Green was the color of the day, appropriate for a day I was picking up the Washington Flag paints.  The raw ingredients are ground over and over on the machine until silky smooth, then loaded into the 5 gallon bucket, center.

When the machine is cleaned between colors,
the white goop on the table, above right, is used, which draws pigment to itself.

Once the paint is mixed, it looks like smooth plastic (phthalo green I believe.)
Tom is lining the tub of green paint up on the tubing machine (my name),
which was bought used from a toothpaste company and modified for paints.
Each 5 gallon tub will make approximately 500 37ml and 125 of the larger 150ml tubes.
Gamblin could do this faster using a mechanized option,
but the downside is that more air is trapped in the tubes during a mechanized fill.
I’ve received tubes of acrylics or watercolors when the air made the contents harden.

Tubes are boxed, and then go into wholesale boxes, ready for shipping.
A look back at the large warehouse with the big fans (we were about to go into a heat wave) and said goodbye to my favorite wall!

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

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Labor Day in the Finish Studio

A post from dkatiepowellart… also Kate from MPF Conservation!

Labor Day weekend and we are laborers so we are working…
We have new A/C and I have a new lease on life
in my newly cleaned and reorganized studio!
I sat close to the door and tried to draw the entire room on a break.


I use pencil to lay out perspective but that thing is, something went wrong.
When a drawing is wrong there is little color will do to fix it… but I persevered.
Damn I am a master at perspective but this is not wonky, it is just wrong!

Cropping helped…  On this page it just looks wonky.
The Del Rey table is starting to walk out the door!

I have lots of Mason Monterey and Del Rey Monterey-style in my studio right now.
I took liberties as the desk in red is going to BE Spanish Red,
but now it is an extremely damaged Desert Dust.

Oh gads here is where the rails came off.
Everything is levitating…
Thank goddess this is not so or I’d have broken lovely California tiles….

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“Memory is more indelible than ink.” Anita Loos, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
“I think not….”  Me.

   w16-9-24-pens-color-3-sq    w14-2-sick-buddha-faces-0-sq 

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Planter’s Chair: 3, Excavation, Back (Partial)

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 the Excavation of the seat.

We previously loosened the inside arms around the carvings.
Mitchell turns to the outside back, beginning with the arms,
and after noting the stitching pattern used, cuts the ties to the showcover.

Moving to the inside arms, showcover and then the secondary (not-original) top layer of cotton batting was removed, exposing the original buildup on the arms.

The last generation upholstery styling moved away from the traditional tufted back
in favor of a slip-backed style which accentuated the lumbar section of the inside back.  Mitchell cut the hand-stitching joining the lumbar section of the show cover,
revealing the original styling beneath.

The showcover drops, and we can inspect the inside back in its entirety for the first time.
New second generation layers of cotton batting and horse hair shown above.
A clue to various generations is the difference in the colors of the hair used.

The second generation cotton batting and horsehair is removed, labeled, and may be cleaned and reused if appropriate for the conservation of the inside back.

This is the original inside back, with the tufted buildup exposed.
The original upholsterer used a bit of horsehair around the buttons instead of cotton.

The top horsehair removed, the final pattern for the buttons of the tufting are exposed.
This appears to be filthy, and at first glance we thought it soot or carbon buildup,
but it is actually a topper of lint.  Flock or flocking is the common name attributed to this type of stuffing.  Flocking is lint findings left over from the cloth milling industry,
often used during the mid to late 19th century in stuffing seat squabs,
especially in England and France.  It was also occasionally teased out
onto second stuffing surfaces to act as a soft malleable batting.

A 17 oz hessian membrane was used in the original foundation work,
stretched across the steel hoop and lashed along the edges.
The stamped letters are likely to be from the mill for the hessian burlap.

Several things happen at this juncture.  Instead of the complete excavation, which is more typical, Mitchell took extensive patterns of the original inside back, above, which will be covered in the post on Upholstery Buildup.  He then chose to temporarily encase the entire inside back within a muslin wrap until frame repairs, finish repairs, and the seat buildup was completed.  This protected the historic inside back stuffings from losses in information through easing of the fibers during those treatment procedures.
Mitchell prefers to have the information from the excavation in his head as close
to the buildup/conservation time of a given part as possible…
in this case, after the seat buildup he will turn to the excavation of the inside back.

We move to the frame conservation, next post!

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

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