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

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:

joan f pillow finish

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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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!

“Friendship is the Heart of Needlework” finished project

This project was a doozy, but I like the results:

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As I’d said earlier, my customer (Gayle) had this project that remained unfinished at the time of her mother’s death. She hired me to complete it. I followed written and graphed directions for 4 hearts that needed to be done, plus the saying and the remainder of the hearts border in the middle. Here is an example of the instructions, and also a 4×6 photo of the completed “example” piece from a workshop that I believe Gayle’s mom took (thru White Pine chapter of the Embroiderer’s Guild of America):

When I first realized that my client’s mom had taken a workshop for this piece, I was a tad intimidated. There was cutwork on here that I haven’t done before. But luckily I didn’t have to do any other cutwork. I would have simply practiced on scrap canvas until I got it right. I don’t like not knowing how to do something, and that doesn’t ever stop me.

So, here are the hearts I added to this beautiful handiwork:

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My favorite is the one on the top left, and it intimidated me the most! I had no instructions for this heart, so I had to “wing it” just by looking at the heart in the 4×6 photo, and that thing was small. I looked through my Mag Eyes magnifiers and was able to sketch out just about what was used in the original piece. I love it, and it took me quite a while to complete that heart. But they all did, because I didn’t know some of the stitches before I did them, and I wanted them to be just as symmetrical and tidy as the stitches Gayle’s mom did in her hearts. I hope she would be pleased with my results. I hope Gayle enjoys her mother’s piece for many, many years. It’s truly a wonderful needlework sampler.

Oh, and in case you’re interested, these are the stitches I did (in no particular order) and just for added interest, I’ll tell you beside them which ones I’d ever done before:

*Type of Stitch* *Had I done it before?*

French Knot                                                                     yes

Colonial Knot                                                                   no

Rosette                                                                             no

Cross-Stitch                                                                      yes

Satin Stitch                                                                       yes

Beads added                                                                     no

Backstitch                                                                         yes

Outline (Stem) Stitch                                                        yes

Long-arm Cross-Stitch                                                      no

Kalem Variation                                                               no

Rhodes Half-Drop Stitch                                                  no

Waffle Stitch                                                                    no

Woven Cross-Stitch                                                          no

Chain Stitch                                                                      yes

Herringbone Stitch                                                           no

Not having done these stitches before wasn’t a problem because 1) most stitches build on each other or are variations of the basic embroidery stitches, and 2) I enjoy learning new ways to stitch. So now I can add to my repertoire.

Oh! I forgot the most difficult stitch, and one that is, oddly, named after a town in Italy: The Casalguidi Stitch! Below is a much more intricate example, but the one I did forms the outline of the heart with the “P” initial inside. I had to resort to learning this off an online tutorial that another kind stitcher has provided. It wasn’t even in my reference library, not even in “The Complete Encyclopedia of Stitchery.”

Her Mother’s Unfinished Cross-stitch Embroidery

Gayle K contacted me. She had a partially-finished cross-stitch her mother had worked on before her death, and Gayle wanted to have it completed. We agreed on a price, and she sent the piece. It was in a stretcher frame, and came with directions and the materials I would need during my process. That included embroidery floss, Balger Braid (shiny twisted thread used for embellishment,) Watercolours (multi-colored cotton floss that’s braided,) a few large beads, seed beads, and an assortment of needles.

It appeared that my job was to fill in four remaining hearts and the middle heart border around the saying “Needlework is the Heart of Friendship.” Nice!

Here is the piece, and when I took this photo, I’d already begun the upper right heart:

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As I flipped through the pages of instructions, I could tell I was in for a trip! It seemed that Gayle’s mom had been a member of White Pine Embroiderer’s Guild, a subsection of the Embroiderer’s Guild of America. Impressive! And apparently, she had taken a workshop by someone who created this heart sampler. The instructions are written out as if the “teacher” is speaking, and the graphing is definitely done by hand. It wasn’t easy to follow. Mostly, I had to fumble around until I figured out just how she was working her graph, which lines meant to cross-stitch in which area.

And so here is the first heart, showing me working on it (left) and then completed (yes, the upper part of the heart is supposed to have un-filled-in hearts):

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Next came a heart that had TWELVE rows of stitching! This one took a while to complete! LOVED doing that waffle stitch in the burgundy. Actually, I enjoyed this one a lot.

 

I’m still hard at work on the sampler, and I’ll post photos when I finish. One part of the instructions are missing, and all I have to go by is an actual photo of the designer’s demonstration piece, so I’ll have to make up my own heart on that one.

What I like about this is, it’s a very, very nice piece to work on. Gorgeous, really, in its stitch details and varied techniques yet simple enough design-wise to be quite tasteful. This is a sampler that should be around, in style and cherished for many decades, in my opinion.

Needlework Repair—5 Reasons Why People Do It

People who end up emailing or phoning me generally know this: there is one main reason for getting a piece of needlework repaired: because you want to. That’s the answer in its simplest form. But for people like me, who tend to overthink just about everything, let’s break it down to five reasons from which we can choose (and of course some may overlap):

1) BECAUSE IT HAS SENTIMENTAL VALUE

This is probably the main reason why someone hires me. It’s their mother’s unfinished crewel embroidery, for example. It’s something she worked on with her own hands, that she put love and attention into. It may or may not be worth a lot to the rest of the world, but to this mother’s daughter, or this aunt’s nephew, it means “Mom” or “Aunt Trudy” made it. So it’s cherished. How do you put a monetary value on that? You don’t. It’s priceless. Therefore, it’s worth getting it repaired, framed, made into a pillow, or whatever needs to be done so the owner may enjoy it daily.

2) BECAUSE IT HAS ARTISTIC VALUE OR VALUE AS AN ANTIQUITY

There are people out there who collect things of beauty and they just have a great eye for what is fine, rare, what took a lot of work. I admire those people. I’m one of them, to a certain extent. I love trolling crafts fairs and antiques malls and seeing the things people have created, working for hours to turn a leg on an old chair, to cane a seat. Quilting is amazing, and it takes so long to cut, to piece, to sandwich fabrics and to apply all that hand-stitching that layers it and adds such interest. Some people know very little about how to create the piece, but they certainly appreciate it. And they know when something is worthy of restoration. They know restoration, preservation, completion, will add to the value of their “find.”

3) BECAUSE SOMEONE ELSE CARES ABOUT IT OR WILL CARE WHEN THEY RECEIVE IT

Some items I have worked on have been gifts that the creator was working on and hasn’t finished, but would like to gift to someone else. It’s important because the person they want to give it to is important to them.

Other items are something a client brings to me to repair because someone else they care about wants or needs it fixed. Ex: a mother bringing her child’s blanket in for repair

4) BECAUSE IT HAS MONETARY (FOR RESALE) VALUE

I haven’t really worked on anything in this area. I’d had a few inquiries that may or may not have been from dealers who had a nice textile that needed repairing. They didn’t use me to do the work, but the pieces (or photos they sent of them) were great. I imagined that they might be antiques dealers, since they had clearly found something amazing, and if repaired, they could get a good price for it. But they might simply be collectors (see #2 above) who found something wonderful and wanted to fix it and keep it themselves.

5) PUPPY FOLLOWED ME HOME SYNDROME AKA BROKEN BUT CHEAP AND FIXABLE

This is MY personal favorite, since I do it SOOOO often! I have this thing about buying things cheap and fixing them…or at least, dragging them home and letting them sit around while I daydream about fixing them, or hold them for years in my basement with the thought of fixing them, before I end up sending them back out to a thrift store. And what’s wrong with that, I ask?? LOL It does tend to add to the clutter!

Seriously, there is something really heartening in finding a little wood table with faded needlepoint and 1 out of 4  corner brackets missing, with a badly scratched glass top, and being able to 1) stitch it a new needlepoint top, 2) find a guy named Brian who works at an ACE Hardware in the mountains who’ll make my brass corner brackets (all 4 for $15!!), 3) getting a new glass top made, and putting it all back together into a cute little side accent piece—when it was purchased for all of $10 at a rummage sale! It’s all a treasure hunt, a “puzzle pieces fitting together” high that keeps me dragging home items that need TLC.

So hey, send me YOUR items. I promise to always get to them first, and *then* work on my never-ending supply of “fix me’s.”