February 3, 2012

.... and now for something completely different

Networking is great.  A year or so ago, my art quilter friend Pat Kroth electronically introduced me to her textile conservation friend Patricia Ewer, just because.  And it turned into a wonderful adventure for me.

Patricia was hired to spend a week in Milwaukee, cleaning and remounting a tapestry for St. Paul's Episcopal Church.  The church had just installed a new organ and done a big remodeling job along with that.  The tapestry was removed during all the construction, and so this seemed a great time to do an assessment, spiff it up, hang it according to more modern techniques, etc.

Since Patricia's usual assistant was not available for a couple of those days, she called on me.  How wonderful!  So I read up on tapestry construction, and then had two days of vacuuming and stitching and learning way a lot more about tapestry and about being a conservator.  And we were set up in a lovely hotel with a delicious restaurant to boot!

The tapestry has been dated to the early 1500s, probably made in Belgium, which was the capital of the tapestry industry at that time.  Patricia says that at least half of it, if not more, has been repaired over the centuries.  That is what has kept it alive for such a long, long time.  It is certainly much, much older than the quilts that come my way!  Even so, Patricia talked about the colors and their effect on the longevity of the fibers, and she told the same stories I know about the old dyes in antique quilts.

Here's the tapestry ready for it's overhaul.  It is 10' x 12 1/2'.

... the front

... the back

The strips on the back are part of the usual way to hang these big textiles.  Tapestries, I learned, are woven from side to side, not top to bottom.  This makes the design lines, especially curves and diagonals, much smoother.  But because of this, the warp threads, which are stronger than the weft, go side to side, relative to the design and the hanging.  So strips are stitched onto the back to give vertical support in the hanging orientation.  Fascinating.

Vacuuming the tapestry was very interesting.  It was soooo dirty!  No one had done a thing to it for decades.  I could literally see the colors brightening with every pass of the vacuum nozzle.  The church was left with instructions for periodic vacuuming. 

Here are some of the lovely people who inhabit this tapestry scene.

And here are some of the lovely plant and garland designs.

I helped to repair splits along the top hanging edge, and there were a few other repairs on the body of the piece.  Here are my very own stitches in history, the little vertical brown ones, linking warp to warp.

After I left, and Patricia's assistant came to help, they continued the job by adding a new lining/dust cover on the back, and a velcro strip across the top.  Up until now, the tapestry had been hung from a row of hooks, which does not support the top edge safely.  So this was a very good step to take.

A few days later, construction workers brought in a couple of lifts and raised the tapestry back into its place on the wall.

I'll be driving through Milwaukee again in a couple of weeks, and will visit the tapestry and take some pix.  Then we can all see the finished effect.

It was such a joy and honor to be able to work on this lovely old piece.  And also, the church building itself is a lovely antique, and with marvelous Tiffany stained glass windows.  I totally enjoyed being a textile tourist.  Thanks, Pat, Patricia, and St. Paul's!


  1. This is very cool! So important to not lose these artistic connections to the past!

  2. So well done - a thank you for these pictures. You must come see the tapestry rehung now. Thanks so much for your work, Ann.
    Blessings, Fr. Steev

  3. Wow, Ann! What a wonderful experience!

  4. Beautiful!

  5. Ah, so that is why you want the book! I've always thought about tapestry conservation and you got to try! Excellent. I hope you get a chance to do it again! Bravo!

  6. A wonderful story with fine pictures! - Linda

  7. How totally cool to have your stitches be part of history and for us to be able to say "I know that Ann's stitches are somewhere on that tapestry". Usually we look at these amazing works and have no idea whose fingers did the work.

  8. Thanks for responding with such excitement. It certainly excited me! Yes, wouldn't it be lovely if that old tapestry could tell the story of everywhere it's been and all the hands that have touched it!