Upholstery Repair—Needlepoint Stool Cover

My friend Gay’s mom owns an upholstery shop in Tennessee. They had received a lovely Victorian needlepoint-topped stool that was in disrepair, and needed help restoring it to its original condition. Gay’s mom removed the needlepoint and sent to me.

 

There were holes in the canvas, plus tears in it that affected both canvas and yarn stitches, which you can view if you click on the photos above. Critters had nipped at the wool yarn and removed either all or part of the stitches. Plus, the piece was dirty and needed a cleaning. This is an all-wool work, and thus had to go into the freezer for a de-bugging before anything else was done. Next came washing and blocking (done face-down, which keeps the stitching uniform):

 

washed and blocked another angle    washed and blocked upside down

I also stitched a fine netting material around the piece, which makes it easier to pull it for blocking, and also keeps the edges from raveling. Thanks, Bid! She’s my friend and fellow needlework repairer who also designs canvases. We share lots of great tips. See my blocking table? That was also a tip from her. It’s a hollow core door from Home Depot, with a checkered oilcloth stapled onto it. That makes it easy to line up fabric.

Step 3 in this repair job was to begin stitching up the canvas tears. I had some good black tapesty wool for the job, and used some sturdy upholstery thread to reweave the canvas. Here are some photos of that work:

Once the canvas was stabilized again, I could start the actual stitch repair:

For large size canvases, you may wish to purchase a pair of canvas pliers.  The large grooved teeth are great for gripping canvas and stretching.  These are available at art supply stores.

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Plus there were other little repairs to single stitches here and there.

And here are the photos of the finished piece:

And here is the finished stool. Didn’t the upholstery shop do a great job?

finished stool--Nelms Upholstery

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

Needlework’s Enemies:Wool Moths and Carpet Beetles

Lately I’ve been about ready to scream over certain pests in my craft room, and I’m not talking about my dogs, who enjoy roaming in and rifling through my trash can to pilfer whatever, or get into my poly fiberfill, plucking it from its bag like so much cotton candy. I’m talking about those tiniest of pests, wool-eating moths and carpet beetles:

(Below, l to r: Carpet Beetles & larvae, Wool Moths and larvae and eggs)

carpet beetle and larvae                            moth egg pupa adult

It doesn’t matter *how* many times I fix a hole, re-stitch, or tuck in a seam, if I have a moth or beetle problem, and I don’t get that fixed, it’s a problem. For one, it means more hours of work. But I don’t want to send anything out of my craft area that may be infested with something, either.

And how did these bugs get there in the first place? It’s hard to say, since I stockpile natural fibers to use in my repair work.

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I’m always adding both new and vintage yarns and threads. And the repairs themselves may come in with pests in them that we don’t know about. After all, they’re coming to me due to holes or tears, rips or loose threads, etc,… That could spell “moth trouble” and such.

But why would anything stick around here, when we’re on a routine pest control by a reputable bug service? Well, because they’re resistant to a lot of the commercial sprays that get bigger bugs. And they hide. And sprays are not the be-all, end-all answer.

The thing about wool moths and carpet beetles is, first of all you may not even know if you really have them because they’re so small. AND they only like to be out at night (little vampires, sucking on my wool in the dark!) So how do you know if you’re a victim? Check your sweaters or your wool needlework, or (in the case of the beetles) your oriental rugs or wool carpeting. See any holes or missing threads? Then you’ve probably got an issue. Some recommend putting out moth traps, which look like regular fly traps. Hang them in a “suspect” room and see what you catch. You may be amazed.

Do you own pets? Then you’re more likely to have wool moths or carpet beetles. They like to munch on organic substances like pet hair, too.

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Do you vacuum regularly? That helps keep the population down.

Another reason they’re hard to get rid of is, there are 3 stages of the pests: 1) egg, 2) pupae or larvae, 3) adult. You may not see them at various stages. I recently saw a carpet beetle. Couldn’t tell with the naked eye if it was actually a beetle, but it was tiny and it was moving, and I looked up “beetle that eats wool” since it was near a repair project, and yep, I *hadn’t been* crazy, something HAD been taking out more of the wools on the project even as I worked on repairing it. GRR!!

So much for learning about them. I *have* them. So now that I know that, how do I get rid of them. I began Googling furiously, hoping for a quick fix for a big problem. I’d already been worried about getting any type of pest in my craft room, since I regularly take in other people’s projects + own a lot of vintage yarns + am always bringing in more fibers, and especially tasty wools. Recently, I’d even purchased a big Ziploc bag full of wonderful, fragrant dried lavender blooms, which I’d made into little sachets and placed on and around anything with wool or silk in it. But the professional response to this homeopathic moth/beetle repeller was shot down by just about everyone. Same with cedar. Sigh. At best, most experts said, these easy-to-find, natural fixes won’t work on really hungry pests, they’ll only deter a few of their friends.

Best advice was to wash the items in hot water, then seal them in something with really good seals like a Rubbermaid tub. Next, vacuum the room regularly (to get rid of any eggs or pupae around) and then use the moth paper or a fly paper with wool or hair stuck to it for attracting beetles and see if you’d gotten everything. They said to repeat this process every so often, since eggs can hatch and the cycle start all over again.

Ugh!

This is not great news. I cannot wash most vintage and antique pieces because the dyes will run. I can’t risk that.

Finally, after much research, including reading many customer reviews on the usefulness of any of the specific control products out there, I sent the hubby to Home Depot for a simple Raid fogger product that kills household pests, leaves no residue, and specifically states on its label it kills black carpet beetles and moths.

Raid Concentrated Deep Reach Fogger, 4 ct

We followed label directions and fogged, then waited 4 hours. Then we aired out the room. We’ll repeat this two more times, or whatever I go back and review online, I forget the specs, but we’ll do whatever it takes to make sure nothing else comes back.

 

 

Addendum: got a small freezer and am doing the freezing process. Do it for 72 hours in polyethylene bags, remove, thaw, repeat a few times. This is supposed to really knock out the pests for good. And from now on, EVERY repair project that comes into my shop will be freezer-processed before I begin work on it.

 

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):

dog damagefront dog bite

(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.

pulling back of damaged threadsstitching through two layersalmost completed re-stitching

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:

showing dog bite finishfront with sides onfront and back

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

 

Needlepoint Repair: Family Crest

My client had a small, framed needlepoint family crest that he wanted repaired. When I received it, I could tell that there had been some damage over the years from heat or sun—the two usual culprits. Much of the wool on the front of the piece had become sparse, especially where the piece folded over at the edges for framing:

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The background was a dark green. I happened to have a good-sized hank of the color. Still had to purchase another hank, plus use yet another that I owned. It took a LOT of stitching all over the background to get it to looking full again. Plus, I wanted to fill in well on the edges, in case the client wanted to frame a slightly larger amount of it:

Once I had the background filled in, however, I was able to return the jocket atop the crest to its original color and also to reinforce all the other crest details with new matching threads. The only thing I didn’t touch was the red, as I didn’t have that color and could not find it. The color was still vibrant and in good shape, too. Here is the finished product:

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and here are some other shots of finished work:

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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!!

Punch Needle Art Piece Now Stabilized & Acid-Free

My client, Christina from MA, sent these photos of a piece she had recently purchased that needed help:

Embroidery1 Embroidery2

It’s a beautiful piece, very well done by the needleworker, and I don’t think it was from a kit at all. The way the stitcher used a lot of different colors of silk thread for shading makes it special. The problem lies in the deterioration of the fabric she used to punch thousands of little loops through to create the picture. It’s dirty, has holes, and was attached by very rusty nails. The wood it was backed with is also acidic, and it needed to be off there as soon as possible.

removing tacks tacks removed

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Pictured above are the nail tacks, and here is the wood the piece was tacked to. The plan was to make the whole thing acid-free and to stabilize it. The photos below shoe where, once the stitching was taken out of the frame, little pills came off and some of the piece was in danger of being lost.

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Now we get to work. First I took matching thread and sewed into the loose side of the picture (the side showing above.) A lot of sewing up into the layers actually secured the pills in place and kept more from coming off. Once I was sure that side was firm enough to add some border fabric, I took washed, unbleached cotton muslin and machine-sewed it to all four sides.

Below, you can see the new border fabric. Then the gray is the original fabric, which was trimmed a bit. You can see my seams on both fabrics. My finger is holding back a new cotton backing that was hand-stitched (at sides) to the piece (actually to the border near its seam, because the gray original fabric is still too unstable to hold new stitching.

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Next, a piece of foam core board (acid-free) is laid against the new backing, and the new border is laced fast to the back with cotton string. The edges are slip-stitched down:

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Here is the final result. Most was saved and now it’s in good shape for its future and ready to be framed!

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There are still a few places that aren’t 100% stable but once in a frame, it should be fine. Two reasons why these spots: 1) I wanted to save as much of the picture as possible, and 2) the backing on those spots was just gone and therefore the stitches had nothing to adhere to. I am going to tack the one on the right down more, for the framing. The other is fine for framing.

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A Mother’s Needlepoint Restretched on Acid-Free Board and Reframed

My customer had a beautiful needlepoint woodland scene hand-stitched by his mother that had been water-damaged. Mainly, though, it needed to be removed from the old cardboard backing that someone had originally stapled it to for framing.

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Close-up photo of water damage, acidic cardboard and tear in canvas:

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I began by removing the staples and getting the needlework off the cardboard. Next, I patched the torn area with interfacing fabric. Then I machine-stitched clean, unbleached muslin fabric to all sides of the piece. This fabric doesn’t have any starches or finishes on it and it’s very sturdy. It should last a long, long time and be “healthy” for the needlework.

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Once the fabric was on, all the seams were hand-stitched together and the edges turned under, preparing the piece for lacing it to a piece of Canson brand acid-free art board. Here it is, pinned for lacing:

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And here is the piece laced and ready to go to the framer:

Now the woodlands needlepoint stitched by Ron D of NY’s mother is finished. The frame is from Caroline Budd’s shop here in town. They put it in a protective plastic, and hence the glare and the wrinkling. I didn’t want to take it out and have to wrap it again since it is taped in the back and will ship better that way. Looks good!

Testimonial from Deborah in NY

Deborah's Victorian rocker with repaired seat

When my four year old grandson got excited watching “The Lion King” sitting in the old rocker his foot went through the seat of the beloved chair that I’d inherited from an aunt. We were both horrified and I was stymied about a repair, which I assured him could be done just to let him know that accidents happen. And I had faith, but no skill to even imagine doing it. What a blessing to find Melissa online. Not only did she ultimately do a repair that I couldn’t do in a million years, but the communication and caring that went into the process was both highly professional AND reassuring. She kept me informed as she determined the right course of action. It took a while, which was ok with me since the communication led to complete trust in her process with the task. Thank you Melissa. From now on the chair will be sat in by Eli and his little brothers only on non-exciting special occasions!

Deborah Welsh

Syracuse, NY

Ripped Needlework CAN be Repaired

Deborah from NY had a dilemma: her grandson got a little too enthusiastic over The Lion King and stood up in her antique child’s rocker, splitting its 60-year-old hooked cushion. She contacted me and asked if I could fix it. After looking at the photos she emailed, which were very good (clear and from various angles) I felt I could do the job. But once she sent me the cushion, I began to have second thoughts–especially since my own mother took one look and said, “Send it back.”

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Ah, but I love challenges, and this certainly was a biggie. How to proceed, though?

At first I thought I would have to find some similar yarn to use in the repair. I looked at a few antiques shops, and also on eBay, but everything was too expensive to use as a “cutter,” as we call the things we pilfer fabric or fibers from in order to fix or create other items.

Then I decided I might have to find some cotton yarn of similar width/weight and dye it. That raised the issue of how to dye yarn today that would match yarn that had seen some fading over the decades. A difficult task, to be sure! But after I received sample sheets from Cushing’s Dyes (a longtime New England dye-making company) I had another thought: why not pull out the yarn in the cushion and try to re-use it *before* going to further extremes?

I started the task on the way to our company’s annual conference in Florida. We were borrowing my father-in-law’s Lincoln Town Car for the drive, and as I carefully tugged to release the yarn from its linen mesh backing, dust flew everywhere! Finally, my husband told me to stop for the time being!

Back at home, once I began hooking through the torn mesh and new backing, I soon realized a regular rug hook couldn’t handle the job. Hooking through two layers requires much pulling and tugging, so that meant a size G crochet hook. That did the trick. But the cotton split quite often. Luckily, that mop cotton-thickness was multi-plied, so it didn’t much matter.

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It took quite a bit of time, but in the end, I was satisfied with the work. Toted it to the mountains to show my fellow needleworker friend up there, and she had two insights: 1) “You did a great job. I couldn’t have done that,” and 2) “I’d have chucked it.” Made my day!

Now the seat cushion that seemed beyond repair is soon to be back in Deborah’s chair, once again matching its hooked backrest cushion. I’m so happy that I could do this for my customer. I sure appreciate her patience and her faith in me.

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