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.

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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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.

wool threads

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.

pets

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.

 

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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What I Do in My Free Time

I learn something new! Upholstery class is my latest lesson. Yep, that’s what I do for fun and to save money (but lose blood)–I work on my own furniture. In typical fashion, I began my upholstering odyssey with THE hardest thing for even seasoned craftsmen to do: tufting.  And not just any tufting, but a tufted double ottoman with 18 buttons. sigh

Before I even show you the piece, let me tell you, this is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I have some arthritis setting in that I refuse to acknowledge, and removing hundreds of staples from this very well-made piece in order to “break it down” was killer on my hands. I also, at one point, sported 4 Band-Aids. Yes, there IS a reason why you usually see male upholsterers. And how much did my husband help? Well…he puts the ottoman in the car for me, if he’s home. He never took out one staple. He never even offered. Not that I blame him, but there *is* a husband in our class, helping his wife every single week.

Anyway, here is the ottoman “before,” while it has doggie hair and dirt on it and where you can see my Australian cattle dog bit some buttons off, back when he was a pup. What you can’t see from my photo is that this is forest green, burgundy and cream. I’m trying to do a more updated color. As the story continues, just about everything went wrong with finding my fabric!

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So, the fabric I chose was this (below) but you can’t tell it’s more of a light gold with, again, the green and burgundy:

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I LOVED this fabric and it was $15/yd from the discount place. Got 5 yards. Began breaking down my ottoman:

I don’t have photos of the stripped-down piece, but to continue my sad story, once I took it to class, we figured out the fabric wasn’t wide enough (ottoman is longer than 54” fabric width) AND the pattern ran in one direction, like wallpaper. That meant that if I “railroad” the pattern top to bottom all around like I’m supposed to, the pattern would be upside-down in the back. Now, for some people, that might work, if the piece goes up against a bed’s footboard or something. However, this is extra seating for my den, so it sorta needed to be correct.

Solution: use that fabric on my 2nd upholstery project, which is another really difficult piece, a chair with channeled back and piping!

By the way, each class is 3 hours, takes 4 classes and costs $195 total. Fabric was sort of purchased twice. I don’t think I’m saving much money, do you? LOL

I think a good part of why it’s hard is because I’m not that good at workshops. The course is done “round robin” style, which means you have to wait until the instructor comes back around to you for further instruction. I’m not very good at waiting. I’m always ready to move on. Anyway, here are some photos of the piece as I work on it. I have the welt cord (piping) on now, so the only remaining step is to replace the padding and stapling of the bottom. I cannot WAIT to finish. I do this on Sundays from 3-6PM, which I probably already said was a hard time of the day for me. I’m always tired by 5, and by 6 I’m pretty worthless! (which makes crock pot dinners great for me!)

And here are a few final photos of the class and my piece, which lacks only the very bottom.

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):

Kay1Kay2

 

Kay3Kay4

 

Kay7 (3)Kay8

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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:

Christmas Ornament Finished

Gayle K had an angel ornament that needed a few areas completed. The areas remaining were the face, hair, halo, and certain rows on the angel’s wings. I didn’t take a “before” photo, but here are some photos showing where I began work on the face and hair, and then wings:

There weren’t instructions, but there were outlined areas. I put the face on just to hold the spaces while I did the rest of the angel. Then I did more detailed eyes and outlined the mouth after everything else was done. These photos are off my iPhone, so they’re a little dark. The one below is taken with the camera:

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Here is the finished ornament:

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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.