Repair of Grandfather’s Crewel Embroidery

Jed C. had inherited a large, beautiful crewel embroidery that his grandfather stitched in the early part of the century—a pre-stamped pattern of a house surrounded by flora and fauna. It had typical issues for its age and wool factor, including moth damage to the crewel yarn, and lovely, heavy linen fabric that had yellowed. Still, it was so large and wonderful and well worth saving. Here is a photo:

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I own a lot of vintage yarns and threads that I’ve collected from various places—mostly from thrift stores and antique malls. They work great for blending in with others of their generation. The biggest problem I face with vintage wools is that very few of my repairs involve the vivid pinks, blues, greens and yellows of the 1970’s, and yet I seem to find a lot of those tones. However, I did have most of the colors I needed for repairs on Jed’s grandfather’s piece. I sourced the borders’ olive green and peach colors, locating them 8 hours away in Cincinnati, while visiting my sister. I used Appleton’s, whose strands are thinner, so I used double ply (double the strands) where the original was single.

Here are some photos of my border work. You can see a slight difference in the color, but it was close enough:

I faced a major issue with this repair, and the weird thing was, I didn’t notice it at first. Having never had bug issues before, and because this piece was “busy,” with lots of colors and areas, I couldn’t tell what was happening until active moth larvae started munching on my border wools I *knew* I’d already added. Soon as I realized what was creating more work for me, I researched and researched (hence the earlier blog on pest damage) and discovered Grandfather’s crewel needed to go into the deep freeze. So off we went, to wait a while until I could freeze and thaw it repeatedly. That is THE solution for all stages of bugs in needlework. I had bug bombed my craft room and put down powdered borax around its perimeter, but though some adult moths died afterwards and showed up under this piece—didn’t need that added evidence by then because I *knew* the buggers were in it—my battle would not end until crewel picture plus all wool or silk in my office went through a deep freeze. If they weren’t in Ziplocs (I store many in sealed baggies) then they went into the new, used box freezer in my garage in polyethylene, aka Space Bags. Space Bags tolerate the cold without cracking like regular plastic bags.

When all was out, we started over with the repairs. A lot of bites had been going on for a few months and I kept thinking, “Is it me, did I miss something, or is this worse off than when I took it in?” My work on the piece ended up being far more hours, but in the end, all involved knew we had conquered the beasts living within and that the embroidery was saved.

More Before and After photos of my work:

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And finally, here are some views (thank you, Jed, for the photos) of Grandfather’s crewel embroidery all framed and in the C’s home:

Coxon's embroidery in their home        more Coxon in home

Crocheted Bedspread Repair

Jon M phoned to ask if I could clean and repair a white cotton spread he had purchased at an estate sale. He said it looked just like one he’d seen here on my site—and amazingly it was the same crochet pattern as my customer, Kay’s. When he brought it over, I couldn’t see it very well in the den lighting, but once I got it into my sunny, well-lit crafting room, I saw that it had a lot of yellowing. This was probably due to having been stored in plastic for many years. Plastic is not a good thing to store fabrics in. It prevents air circulation and can actually trap dampness in there with the fabric. Here is some advice directly from the Smithsonian (online) about textile storage:

“Textiles should have no direct contact with wood, blue tissue, regular tissue, or other wrapping paper. Most paper tends to be acidic; acid is especially damaging to textiles. Instead, textiles can be wrapped in clean, white cotton cloth, such as an old sheet or pillowcase, or in muslin. Because textile fibers need to be in an environment where there is some air movement, fabrics should not be sealed in air-tight plastic bags or containers to prevent damage from moisture condensation. Also, because some plastics give off fumes as they decompose with age, they should not come in direct contact with antique textiles. After wrapping the textiles in cotton muslin or sheeting, they can be loosely encased in an unsealed plastic wrapping. The best place to store antique fabrics is on top in a drawer. Storing them at the bottom of a drawer under heavy items can cause sharp folds, which may be difficult to remove and which may cause splits in the cloth.”

Jon’s repair job involved tucking in all the loose ends of thread that for some reason the bedspread maker hadn’t sewn in, or maybe they’d come out in washing? Not sure, but there were a LOT of them left out. Also, the store-bought tassel trim was loose where it had been whip-stitched around the finished crocheted spread for its border. And finally, there were a few (very few) places where I caught some stitching that had come loose.

Here are some photos showing where the border has loosened from the bedspread:

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And here is the bedspread: I tucked in about 125 knotted thread ends, which took over 4 hours:

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My only thing that didn’t make me totally happy involved the washing of Jon’s spread. I took it to the textile cleaner I use, and she washed it white as snow. Only problem was, once she got it white, she saw that it wasn’t *all* white. In other words, someone had made some squares white and others with an ecru or off-white thread. It was nearly half and half, and randomly stitched in. You could not see the difference really well, and especially if it were in a not-super-sunny bedroom. However, I hate it that we (the cleaner and I) had no way of knowing before it was cleaned that it wasn’t all made from the same color of thread. Yellowing can make such differences imperceptible. But as they say, “everything comes out in the wash” and the thread difference was revealed.

I know why the person who crocheted the spread may have used different threads. I’ve been making my own crocheted bedspread off and on for 10 years. It’s painstakingly slow, this labor of love. And the thing is, when you go and buy individual spools of cotton at Michael’s or Hancock’s or wherever she may have purchased it back then, you get a bunch of spools that all look the same and say “no dye lot.” Well, that “no dye lot” means there can be variations in the color! I’ve had the same problem with my 155 spools of Aunt Lydia’s Fast Five, which isn’t even made anymore. I picked up spools every time I could, and as I’ve been making my 40+ squares for my knitted spread, I’ve done some that had a yellow tinge to the ecru and some that had a gray tinge.

It’s hard to get around this issue if you’re buying a textile you don’t know the history on, as in Jon’s case. Because my textile cleaner won’t clean a piece until after I’ve done the repairs. She doesn’t want the liability of splits turning into more splits, stitches coming apart more, etc,…which makes total sense.

Names/Dates Embroidered on Christening Gown

I’ve known Jan H a long time. We met through our boys from elementary school to post-college! They had a family friend who made Jan a beautiful cotton batiste christening gown. Cotton batiste is often used for christening gowns because it is soft and doesn’t irritate baby’s skin and it drapes well. Ribbons, lace and embroidery add memorable detail for special occasions.

Jan’s beautiful example is actually a gown and matching coat, the latter of which is embroidered with the names of each child who has been christened or baptized in it, along with their birth dates. It was made for Jan by a treasured family friend who has since passed away. She used to add the names and dates for the babies, and kept a tidy Ziploc Brand bag with vanishing ink pen and embroidery thread for that purpose.)

Jan’s request was a rush job, since twin grandbabies were being baptized on Easter Sunday and I had about a week to get the embroidery done. That wouldn’t have been bad, but I was, as always, backed up with work. Still, it was a pleasure to work on this beautiful coat while I thought of the babies named on it, and pictured the little twins who would share it (granddaughter in the gown and the grandson in the coat) that coming Sunday.

Below are photos of the coat. I’m sorry these shots are so dark:

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And here are some close-ups of Jan’s friend’s delicate sewing and hand-stitching:

So I begin adding my own work to hers:

I wish I had a photo of the babies, but I heard it went well, and I’m so glad I was able to help. 

Canopy Repair—Handing down an Heirloom

Bruce G. of Atlanta wanted to eventually pass some of his furniture down to his children. He had had pieces repaired, but one of the bed’s canopies needed fixing and he called me about it. As this was a quick turnaround type of repair, I told him I could work it into my lineup and get it back to him pretty fast. These canopies have been made for many decades. You can find them at Heirloom Canopies of North Carolina, in a price range of $170-225, so it’s thrifty to be able to have them repaired if there are a few knots that have slipped apart.

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Somehow, I missed a photo of the area in need of repair, but it was just that a corner had come loose where the netting fits over a post. It had to be re-knotted. And here are all four corners. Can you tell which one I repaired?

These are the corners, with the tassles:

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The Dog Ate my Needlework!

A woman from CA emailed me to ask if I could repair a needlepoint pillow that a puppy had chewed. She sent photos, I replied with an estimate, and she then told me that my repair would be a surprise for her employer, 1940’s era movie actress Joan Fontaine (Rebecca, Jane Eyre):

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(above photos showing damaged pillow backing and cording + bite out of needleworked piece)

Ms. Fontaine had worked the needlepoint herself. I looked her up and discovered that Vanity Fair had done a somewhat recent article on her (2006.) She is still beautiful, with lovely pulled-back silver ponytail and statuesque posture. She’s now in her 90’s, and continues passionately helping dogs through the ASPCA. With 5 of her own fur babies, it’s no wonder a few household items get gnawed on. The one who ate her needlepoint pillow was a 1-year-old German Shepherd rescue. I can totally relate, because I have an Aussie cattle dog rescue, a lab/pit rescue, and two cats.  Winking smile

I always love getting to know my customers and hearing them tell about their treasured items they’ve brought for repair, and this client sure was a special one. I emailed back to Ms. Fontaine’s assistant to say that Rebecca is one of my all-time favorite movies. She plays a beleaguered new bride with a husband (Sir Laurence Olivier) whose ex-wife casts a pall over everything. Even from the grave, she seems bent on ruining the present and future for the new Mrs. DeWinter. It’s classic gothic DuMaurier novel, set to film by master of suspense, Hitchcock.

My work began with much cutting of fabric. Then I sat down to repair the needlepoint. I didn’t have a perfect match of blue for the background, but some vintage yellow I own was bright enough. My purchased canvas was a wee bit smaller squares per inch than what was originally used, but nevertheless I cut a square and put it under the original. Then I worked through both layers and after a while, I had it all re-stitched.

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Once I’d hand-stitched the bitten area, I went about the task of cutting out new velveteen for the casing, creating the piping, etc:

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And finally, Joan’s pillow is revamped:

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Thank you, Joan, for your business, for your caring for animals Dog face, and for the incredible talent you shared with the world. Red heart

 

Oops! Bedspread Returns for More Repairs

Well, I’m dreadfully embarrassed to say that one of my repair projects came back to me. My customer, Kay, was very understanding, though, and I do appreciate it. Kay’s crocheted bedspread had so much handwork in it that it is easy to see why areas would come loose and need work. After six or seven hours’ worth of putting things back together, however, I do believe that several other areas literally “came out in the wash.” My textile cleaner June does a great job, but though the spread was nice and white and looked great after its bath, it sure had many places that needed to be re-stitched. The spread is, however, so beautiful, and Kay says that her mother worked on it while pregnant with her. What a great piece to own! I know she sure is glad to have it all nice now. Here are more areas I worked on lately. The rest of this story is in an earlier post:

And here are a few more action shots of the bedspread repair. Kay marked spots with her safety pins, but I found a bunch more and marked them for her with orange thread that she can snip off once she receives the bedspread. Thanks for your patience and understanding, Kay!

Pineapple Crochet Project: a Tablecloth

Gayle K, a repeat customer, had a beautifully-worked round tablecloth in the familiar pineapple pattern. This pattern is really a lot of crochet chain, single, double and treble stitching. It’s just the sheer volume of work that makes it a long project. The pattern booklet Gayle sent with the project looked as if it came from the 1940’s. This is it in the photo to the left, I believe. I’ve already sent it back to Gayle. She also sent plenty of thread, and I used the ball that was attached:

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The pattern was pretty easy to follow. Took me a while to see where the original needle-worker had left off, and I definitely had to get to working on it before I realized how much time was involved in covering one round! The piece was probably about 70 inches already, but it wasn’t blocked. So just going the rounds I did on it pulled it out and then I did a lace finish on it. Here is how the tablecloth looked as received:

Very nice! And then the work began, and here are the first 2 (believe it or not) trips around:

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They don’t look like much but due to the pattern and large circumference took hours and hours! Each little circling of that hole you see at the hem is 24 double treble crochets all the way around (I think 22 of them) + the pineapple chains in between, x 2 rows!

So, for each double treble stitch (one row= 24×22 double trebles) here are the instructions:


  1. Yarn over hook three times, then insert hook into next stitch.
  2. Yarn over hook and draw yarn through stitch (there are five loops on the hook).
  3. Loop yarn over hook and draw through two loops (there are now four loops remaining on the hook).
  4. Yarn over hook and draw through two loops (there are now three loops remaining on the hook).
  5. Yarn over hook and draw through two loops (there are now two loops remaining on the hook).
  6. Again, loop yarn over hook and draw through the last two loops on the hook (there is now one loop remaining.)
  7. This completes one double treble crochet.

Double treble is a fun stitch that adds the needed fan appearance on top of each pineapple. But since adding whole pineapples at that point would’ve involved *far* too much time/hourly expense, Gayle and I opted for a nice finish that was a little lace border. Here is more of it, but then a final finishing row pulled the pineapple tips down a little more, which you see below in the last photos:

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Once the hand work is done, it’s time to clean the piece. I enzyme-washed the cloth and then block stretched it to shape it. It dried overnight. I actually blocked it twice because after the first time, I was not happy with the level of lightening on some of the dark brown “rust” stains so I spot-treated them to get them lighter and lighter, carefully using various stain removing agents. If you attempt this at home, I would suggest you do your research first, as there are plenty of times I won’t clean an item and instead will refer people to a textile cleaner I know. Too much room for error, in my opinion.Below are the dark spotted areas. Overall, because the cloth was stored in plastic, there was a lot of yellowing that would come out in the wash:

And now for the finish! Here are the results! Nice and white-clean, and with a little border that looks feminine. It fits on a round 4-seater table or I’ve shown it on a little parlor table.

Cleaning Dolls for a New Granddaughter

Marsha Y emailed asking if I could clean two of her dolls from the late 1950’s-early-1960’s. She wanted to could give them to her new granddaughter. Smile  Yes, I said, and met her to do the “pass-off” in a Walgreen’s parking lot.

Marsha’s dolls had their original clothing on. One she said was called “Marge the Teenage Doll,” and the other was a ballerina. Both dolls’ outfits were in good condition, though one dress was badly yellowed. I suggested that Marsha take the clothing to my textile cleaner downtown. She did, but the cleaner didn’t get the yellow out of the dress. So my client decided to use Oxyclean and she was happier with those results. It all depends on what you would like to accomplish with the clothing. The textile cleaner errs on the side of caution, knowing the chemicals and the fibers’ reaction to them. But for general bleaching, yes, Oxyclean and other agents (like Borax) will also lift stains. I leave that part to either the pro cleaner or to my customers.

I also asked that Marsha keep all the dolls’ accessories (shoes, hair ribbons, flocked hair flowers, nylon hose, plastic shoes, undies.) This is so nothing gets lost in the exchange, and she can keep them with the doll’s box or label them for the appropriate doll.

With the now nude dolls in hand, I set out to clean them. Here are the two of them, prior to cleaning:

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Here are some areas that were cleaned:

There were mildew spots and some discoloration from dirt on the face, eyes, torsos and limbs. Both dolls’ wigs retained a good level of shininess, but after bathing the dolls, I carefully (so as not to get water inside the head) shampooed each head of hair. Once that’s completed, the wigs are brushed out with a detangling agent and then set with curlers (for Marge doll) or styled in a bun (for the ballerina.) The ballerina’s wig was totally made for a bun, as only the outer hair was long. The inner hair near the scalp was only made to have the outer hair pulled over it. So back it went into that style. 

The Marge doll had a split in her rubber face at the chin, and I tried to glue it with special cement for gluing rubber, but it did not work. I ended up getting it together with a simple stitch (beige thread) knotted on both sides. This will work well for a “shelf sitter” type pretty doll, but not for one that will be played with.

Both dolls looked great once I was finished. I’ve just been too busy to get photos from Marsha (and forgot to take them like I always do) but will post soon with “After” shots. Until then, here “Before” photos of their wigs. As stated, the ballerina’s (Left) went up into a high bun and the Marge doll’s went back the same way, but with more curl, and with her bangs smoothed down and more evened out:

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Okay, Marshas sent these “After” photos! Don’t the dolls look great?! I just love how she had all their accessories. And the ballerina’s dress did wash up nicely.

One Mother, Two Beautiful Bedspreads

After I had repaired Bob of CO’s crocheted spread (see previous post) I was very happy when his sister Kay from CA contacted me. She, too, had a beautiful bedspread their mom had made for her about 75 years ago. Hers was in need of repairs as well.

With Kay’s spread, there were quite a few split threads in the cotton, simply from age and use. That doesn’t bother me a bit, since why *have* a bedspread if you don’t use it? There is SO much work involved in crocheting or knitting a bedspread/counterpane. So many hours. When people go to the trouble to make them, they imagine many, many years of gracing someone’s bed. Which reminds me, I once made some felted slippers for a dear friend, and when she opened the package, she said, “You *made* these for me? I’m putting them right up in my closet.” I said, “Um. You’re supposed to wear them.” And she said, “Oh, no way. You made them for me!” I appreciated the thought, but really, when people make you functional items, they intend for them to be used.  Smile

And so the repairs began, on various double crochets, single crochets and chain stitches. (the popcorn stitch (baubles) was all intact):

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Some are re-weaves and some are crocheted chains where a chain link is missing.

There were many hours involved in this project, as I had to very carefully check each motif area and see if there were any loose threads at all. And there were many. If I had to estimate, I would say there were at least fifty tiny spots that needed some sort of repair. Some of the splits were more evident than others that just needed to be tacked or reinforced. All of the fringe was in good shape, and there were only a few areas at the border that needed to be whip-stitched back in place.

Once my repairs were completed, I put the spread on one of my beds so that Kay could see how it looks now! It’s a really lovely spread. There are small “rust” spots in several places that my textile cleaner partner, June, will remove for my customer. June is a very talented woman who has been cleaning every type of textile imaginable for over thirty years, and she did Bob’s bedspread and he was amazed at how well it came out!

Here’s the spread, repairs completed and before going to June, as displayed on one of my beds:

Cotton Counterpanes–Bedspreads of Yesteryear

My client’s crocheted bedspread repairs are completed, and it’s ready to go to the cleaner’s. Here are a few more steps I took while finishing up my work:

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The above photos show a bad place that needed repair, and the 2nd photo is taken from further away but shows the reweaving/re-crocheting.

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These two photos also show an area that needed repair and was fixed

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This (above) is a shot of the pattern. Shows the lovely popcorn stitching

 

Now everything is coming together in the main counterpane. On to the fringe repair:

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The fringe had several issues. First, parts of the crochet chain stitch to which it was knotted had come undone, so I had to repair that. You can see it in the left photo just above this writing. Once that is repaired, then everything has to be unknotted. See the little fringe hanks that I’ve taken off? They all follow a knotting pattern from the top, down. So you have to un-knot the top ones and take them off. Then un-knot everything else. Re-do the top knots, and then re-tie the other two levels.

And now, here is the bedspread at it looks with all the repairs completed!

 

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This got me to thinking about my own counterpane/bedspread, for which I once accumulated over 150 small balls of Aunt Lydia’s Fast Five cotton thread!! (Yes, it IS in a very large plastic tub in my attic.) This particular counterpane pattern I’m knitting is from Knitting Counterpanes by Mary Walker Phillips, c.1989. I know I began working on mine around 1990. I think I have 24 squares (the quarter units of the big square.)

I’ve pulled it out lately to see my progress. When people ask me how long something takes to complete, it’s really hard to gauge because I do have things I do other than knit or do needlework. However, I’ve noticed that with my busy schedule, when I’m only working on a knitted square for my counterpane, it takes a whole week. Each ball of thread is ONE unit, and each unit is ONE-FOURTH of a complete square for the pattern stitch.

So, here are a few pictures of mine, which Ms. Phillips created based on her sketches and photos from a late 1800’s counterpane she viewed in Larnach Castle, New Zealand:

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This (above) is 4 units (each unit taking 1 week to complete) sewn together into one pattern square

Look how many I’ve done so far:

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Once I complete all my quarter units + sew them into the larger squares, then I have to do a border insert. Once the border insert is completed, then there is a lace edging to be done.

Three thoughts:

1) I am a glutton for punishment, as I always choose ridiculously complicated projects for myself

2) There is a reason why Montgomery Ward, Sears and such began manufacturing bedspreads in the turn of the century

3) Why oh why did I have to do this for the king-size bed and not choose at least to do a full size instead, for the guest room?

4) Denise, I should listen to you and just make what I have right now into pillows, but no, see Thought #1 above

5) No dog or cat or grandbaby (way off right now but by the time I complete this project I’ll surely have some) will ever lie, sit, sleep, get a diaper changed, throw up, etc,… on my counterpane!!