Four trapunto quilts arrived at Museum Textile Services this winter for conservation. Three belong to Hammond-Harwood House of Annapolis, MD, and a fourth is being donated to the New England Quilt Museum, in Lowell, MA. These wonderful examples beautifully showcase this historic style of quilting that was popular in America in the mid-nineteenth century. The quilts varied in condition, but were all treated in a similar way and exhibit a wide spectrum of this style of whitework.
Similar to other textile art such as mourning pictures, images quilted in these such as urns, cornucopias and flowers hold symbolic meaning and can tell a story. Traditionally, the threads would be moved aside with a needle from the back of the quilt and tiny amounts of stuffing or cording was pushed into the voids made by the quilting pattern. This created a raised effect that was beautiful, yet subtle. Once an area was stuffed to satisfaction, the threads at the back that had been moved aside are again worked back together to make the entry area invisible. One of the Hammond-Harwood House trapunto quilts has a more delicate backing fabric, which allowed it to be more easily stuffed.
This style of quilting is believed to have originated in Sicicly in the the 14th century, and continued to be popular across Italy and Europe through the 18th century. Immigrants brought the technique to America with them and it enjoyed popularity from the early 19th century, peaking mid-century. It became less common by the 20th century, as it was so time consuming and the country was being vastly changed by the industrial revolution. The trapunto quilt belonging to a private collector is a fine example of one made in America in 1823 and prominently has the name “Elizabeth North” across the top, possibly having been made for her as a wedding gift. It also features two urns of flowers and an overflowing cornucopia of flowers.
Cleaning discolored textiles is always rewarding, and restoring the legibility of these three-dimensional trapunto quilts is no exception. Viewers will enjoy seeing the results of conservation when the quilts are exhibited in their museums.
As cellulosic textiles age, hydroxyl groups (-OH) are converted to carbonyl groups (=O), which contribute to a dingy brown or yellow color. The chemical process known as reduction adds electrons to the cellulose fibers, stabilizing their molecular weight and returning carbonyl groups back to colorless hydroxyl groups. The combination of dissolved soils and cellulosic degradation often turn the wash bath the color of strong tea. The reaction of the sodium borohydride with water is also produces hydrogen gas bubbles, and the bath may give off a smell reminiscent of sulfur or chlorine. It is important to agitate the wash bath regularly to allow all sides of the textile to come in contact with the surface of the water where the chemical reaction is taking place.
If you are a textile conservator with experience in wet cleaning and bleaching historic artifacts, you may be interested in our MTS Handout, Bleaching Textiles with Sodium Borohydride, available on the MTS website.
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.
With the arrival of spring in Massachusetts came a flurry of activity surrounding the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. Several regional museum exhibits will feature textiles conserved by Museum Textile Services. You can read about three projects here, but nothing takes the place of visiting a museum and seeing the actual artifacts for yourself!
One Foot Square, Quilted & Bound at the New England Quit Museum includes rare and never-before-displayed Civil War artifacts and fabrics. One of the highlights is a rare glazed-cotton "potholder" quilt from Portland, Maine, on loan from the Brick Store Museum. Prior to exhibition, this quilt required stabilization to the splitting silks and reinforcement of the stitches that hold together the twenty individual blocks. This quilt is on display through July 10 at the Lowell museum, 18 Shattuck Street. Read more in the Eagle Tribune.
When Duty Whispers: Concord and the Civil War features an extremely important flag on loan to the Concord Museum from the near-by Middlesex School. The First National colors of the Massachusetts 55 Volunteer Regiment was issues in July 1863 but was not used on campaign. It was given to Middlesex School by Col. N. P. Hallowell, who a trustee there from 1902 until his death in 1914. The flag was restored by Hallowell's daughter in 1972 and was on permanent exhibit at the Warburgh Library for almost 40 years. A successful fund-raising campaign allowed Museum Textile Services to conserve and remount the flag, which will now live in a custom display case built by Spokeshave Design. The Flag can be viewed at the Concord Museum through September 18, 2011, before it is returned to Middlesex School. Read more in the April 3, 2011, Boston Globe.
Commemorating Our Role in the Civil War 150 Years Later is the title of this summer's exhibit from the Framingham History Center. Among the historic artifacts on display will be the "Citizen's Flag," a Civil war-era garrison-sized American flag made of wool bunting with cotton stars. The flag was donated to the town of Framingham in 1892 according to vintage printed labels on either side of the hoist binding. Before entering the museum's collection, the flag was exposed to extreme soot which left it discolored and brittle. Museum Textile Services was able to remove the sooty deposits with gentle wetcleaning and then stabilize the flag and install a Velcro hanging system. The visual impact of this large flag hanging overhead is not to be missed! It is on view from June 11, 2011, at the Edgell Memorial Library, 3 Oak Street, from 10:00am4:00 pm. A full calendar of Civil War events in Framingham is available here.