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

Daughter’s Favorite Afghan Needed Help

Katy L from New Jersey texted to ask if I did repairs on afghans. Her daughter’s much-loved granny square afghan, done in pale yellow, baby pink, mint green, and periwinkle blue, needed some TLC.

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square out

My first challenge was to find matching worsted weight acrylics for the job. For some squares, I could harvest the yarn and re-crochet with it, which is the way to keep the color as consistent as possible. I do this when the yarn is in good enough shape, but not when it is old, brittle, fuzzy, etc.

Actually, I had *this* much that I removed as I pulled out areas that had been destroyed/come loose/needed redoing:

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I did have to shop for more yarn, though, and had trouble finding the same shades as were originally used. Ventured out to several stores (Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, and a few yarn shops) before I found what I deemed satisfactory.

So the crocheting began. And yes, I’m left-handed, so it’s backwards to what you’re probably used to seeing:

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Had to make up several squares–I forget how many–but I know I crocheted at least eight. At one point, I sat at my 94-year-old Aunt Dot’s house, with Mom and my husband, and worked away while discussing the family history. My aunt used to produce the most lovely hand stitching—beautiful crewel work pillows,  cloth dolls whose seams and clothes were lovingly stitches by hand. Oh, she could work a sewing machine, but like me, she preferred the more tactile approach, cloth against the palm of one hand, needle gripped between forefinger and thumb.  I must’ve inherited the gene from that side of the family. Recently, I saw on an ancestry.com census that a great great aunt was listed as “Seamstress” for her occupation.  Oh, and while we sat that day in my aunt’s all-Victorian-furnished sitting room, I asked her for the one thing I really, really wanted to inherit from her: the set of chair covers that she had embroidered. She got right up and went to get them, saying she was happy that I wanted them. I knew where she kept them. I watched her go slowly over to that chest in the corner, where she’d shown them to me a few years ago. Her back is hunched now, her Collins blue eyes blurry now from macular degeneration.

Would you like to see what I wanted to remember her by, one day?

Let me run take some photos!

And here are my treasures:

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Aren’t they great? They’re Erica Wilson’s designs on linen. I don’t have them on chairs yet. I don’t even own chairs to put them on. One day, I’ll buy some, though, just for these. Or I’ll frame them, I haven’t decided yet. I just know when I look at them, I’ll picture Aunt Dot sitting there, looking down at her needle going in and out of that linen, over and over. And I’ll remember her handing them to me, and telling me, as I thanked her, that she was happy I wanted them.

I really digressed! But to bring it back to my customer’s repair, let’s just say that the crewel I inserted in here illustrates just why I have customers in the first place: needlework means something to people. It means someone cared enough to create something and pass it on.

And so, I work to complete the repair on Katy’s afghan. Once I’ve completed new squares, I sew them in:

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This picture below shows *a few* squares out at that time. There were others.

afghan with damaged square out

Not a bad match! My stitching is newer, so it appears not as, soft? as the rest, but it’ll all even out over time.

And once we’re all seamed up again, as I often do, I tuck in some loose ends. This takes a while, but it’s well worth the time and the expenditure. When yarn or thread has been cut too short when it’s tied off, as is often the case, that knot can pull loose SO much more easily then when the original crocheter leaves long ends. So I pull the knots out, take it back out of stitches, add yarn or thread, and then re-knot and re-stitch or replace within a seam. I hope that makes sense! Here is what I’m talking about. I did a LOT of these. Like, 40, maybe? Many were pulled out, pulled back, added to, and recrocheted. You get your money’s worth with me. Seriously.

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And finally, finished!

completed repair

Apologies for the dark photo. This was off my iPhone.

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.

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.

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

 

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:

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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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Customer Review

Dear Melissa,

Guess what I received today?! The needlework is beautiful! I am so appreciative of your abilities. I was reluctant to try this myself because I was afraid that it wouldn’t look professional. It was interesting to read that you practiced the stitches before working on the piece. My husband is good at framing things so I’ll get him right on it. My New Year’s resolution was to finish things that I had started but am glad I extended it to include those projects of my mother’s which are yet to be completed. Thanks again!

Gayle K.

 

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.”