May 16, 2020

Courthouse Steps

Lately, I have been reaping the benefit of getting to the age of downsizing.  And the benefit has been adopting quilts from many directions.

Not that I really have room or reason to have them myself either, except for being able to write about them here and share them when I teach.  That's good enough, I figure.  But really, the main reason I say yes and bring them in is that I love them and want to give them a home.

I am reminded of my brother- and sister-in-law who kept the garage door open a crack and a bowl of cat food inside until they had a population of 3 dogs and 9 cats.  The 9th cat in the series was named E. Nuff Already.  Yup.

Anyway, a friend offered me this lovely silk Courthouse Steps.  She'd had it hanging on her wall for many years, and now the silks are doing that late 19th century silk "thing" of shattering and crumbling.  So before I show you the detail photos, take a moment to appreciate it from a distance, in all its glory.......

Here are a couple of blocks that are hanging together pretty well.

And now...the shattering.  It's at the state where every time I open it up, there are more little crumbs all over the place.  So sad.

It's interesting to me that there is so much damage to the cream and beige fabrics.  More usually, it's the browns and black that go first, due to the dyeing process for those colors.  But sometimes the shattering of any color is caused by metal salts that were added to give the silk some weight and a stylish rustle.  So maybe that's what we're seeing here.

The black backing fabric is true to the common fate of black silks of this era.

It's interesting to me that the brown foundation fabric is very similar in color as the lining and fringe of an 1872 wedding dress that I conserved.  (See the full dress and the conservation process.)

Some quick poking around led me to these two articles:

There are photos of swatches and dye recipes.  This color is closest to swatches of walnut dye with copper mordant.  

There are photos of uniforms possibly dyed with butternut.  Exactly what we're looking at in the photos is not always clear, because other dye colors often fade to something similar to butternut.  

What am I going to do in terms of conserving this quilt or mending this quilt?  

I will not be patching it, since that would put too much replacement fabric on the quilt for my taste.  I will not be displaying it in any way that "needs" me to neaten the appearance.  (In fact, I don't patch any of my quilts.  I collect them for their historical value.)  

I probably won't be doing any conservation either.  I've heard it said that putting a sheer fabric over shattering silks is kind of counterproductive, because it time, that sheer fabric will act like a little pouch and collect all the shattered bits.  Given the rate of shedding on this quilt, I think it would be a prime candidate for full little pouches, which would detract from the look rather than help it.  I also don't think trying to stitch across the shattered places will help much, and may even be detrimental, because of all the handling and needle holes and the stress of pulling the thread through the weak fabric.  These fabrics are just too brittle, and the shattering process cannot really be stopped. 

In any case, I am happy to present to you a new member of my quilt family!

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