by Tegan Kehoe
In Part I of this series, I shared examples of crewel embroidery conserved at MTS and the early-20th-century Needlecraft Magazine article teaching needleworkers how to practice this craft. In Part II, we explore two more textile genres.
The July, 1934, issue of Needlecraft has an article about the timeless art of quilting. It features a quilt with a similarly geometric, symmetrical floral pattern, called “posies round the square.” The patchwork squares in both quilts are interspersed with sections of white quilted background.
The example above shows a quilt from this time period that was recently conserved by Museum Textile Services.The beautiful and intricate quilting pattern in the white section of this quilt is similar to some of the patterns used in the quilt shown in Needlecraft, and to patterns “J” and “G” at the bottom of the page. This quilt was wetcleaned and repaired by us in 2008 so that the owner could continue to gently use it on special occasions.
An article titled “Darning on a Filet Ground” appears in the February 1935 issue of Needlecraft, displaying work using the same technique as a set of place mats that MTS conserved, also in 2008. This craft is alternately called “filet darning,” “net darning” or “filet lace.” The article says that because the process is simple and quick, a set of curtains or placemats would be “by no means an over-ambitious undertaking even for the woman who has only a little time to give to needlework.”
The pieces that MTS conserved were a little more complex; instead of darning onto an existing net mesh, they were executed in filet crochet, which has a similar visual effect. One of the ways to tell the difference is to look at how the edges are done. Needlecraft Magazine explains how to finish the edges of the square mesh net that forms the base of the work by turning the edges under and hemming them. However, in the piece we treated, the edges have a crochet scalloped finish. Perhaps Needlecraft magazine would not have recommended crochet filet “for the woman who has only a little time,” but the effect is quite delicate.
These place mats were made by the owner’s grandmother. They came to us quite stained, and we washed them in Sodium Borohydride, an effective and gentle method of bleaching. At the completion of the project, the owner kept four of the place mats as they are, and had two of the place mats framed to give to her children.
Looking through Needlecraft Magazine is a blast from the past, and is also a reminder of the timelessness of so many of the textile arts that we are fortunate to conserve at MTS.
by Tegan Kehoe
Museum Textile Services recently acquired a number of issues of “Needlecraft: The Home Arts Magazine.” The magazine was published in the first half of the 20th century and these examples are from the 1920s and 30s. Several articles feature the same needlecraft techniques as those in some of the textiles that we have conserved!
One example, from the February 1934 issue of Needlecraft, shows crewel embroidery, or crewelwork. Crewel, as the article explains, is distinguished from other styles of embroidery because it is done with wool yarn rather than silk or cotton thread. The result is a bold pattern that can be made with a wide variety of stitches. Most articles in Needlecraft do not include the patterns, which were sold separately, but they do include detailed descriptions of the process. This article describes patterns for a set of bookends, a cushion, and a handbag.
One crewel embroidery object that Museum Textile Services has restored is an early 20th century chair. The embroidery was done by the owner's grandmother, who was no doubt exposed to magazine articles such as ours. The family still uses the chair, so the goal of conservation was to repair and stabilize the fabric for continued use.
Both the chair and the patterns from the magazine are reflective of Jacobean style, which hearkens back to 17th-century England but has stayed popular for crewel embroidery over the centuries. This style was especially popular during the early 20th-century revival of interest in colonial-era crafts. Jacobean embroidery features stylized plants and forest animals, such as the flowers, birds, and butterflies shown here.
More recently, the MTS study collection received a donation of crewel-embroidered curtains made by the mother of one of our clients. The client is downsizing her home and can only fit part of her mother's impressive needlework legacy. What makes this donation all the more meaningful is the discovery that the client graduated from Oberlin College in the same class as Camille's mother!
Stay tuned for more examples of textiles conserved at MTS that we learned more about from Needlecraft Magazine.