February 28, 2012

Grandma's Nine-Patch

I'm writing about this quilt to illustrate that point that all quilts can be loved and be very important.  This quilt, which came to me for repair, is what's often called a "utility quilt".  That means, it's a quilt that was made from available scraps and made for use and warmth.  A utility quilt is considered the other end of the spectrum from a "museum-quality quilt".  A utility quilt usually isn't described in terms of spectacular design or workmanship.  On top of that, this quilt was in pretty bad shape, open seams plus loads of missing fabric and loads of missing batting, especially from the red gingham fabrics on the reverse and around the edges.

The special thing about this quilt is that it is owned by the grandson of the maker.  So even though its market value doesn't make investing in the repair a "sound" financial decision, the quilt does have tons of emotional value.

Sadly, I got so involved in looking for fabrics, that I absent-mindedly forgot to take pictures before I started the sewing.  But I wanted to post about it anyhow, so here are the pictures of the completed quilt.

The quilt had been repaired before along one edge, with a turquoise print.  What I did was to baste in lots of batting to the center and many of the edges, and then patch.  I had a hunk of vintage red gingham, which was nice to use because it's cotton and not a blend like today's ginghams.  It was a different size check, but I decided to use it on the basis of the fiber content.  I also used a vintage print on some of the border areas - not at all a match, but it worked into the look and feel of the other fabrics quite nicely.  I also used a bit of an old pyjama pants that I picked up at an estate sale at some point.

I think it was made in the late 1960s, with several fabrics dating in the 1950s.  So now it's about 50 years old.  Sure, it still has weak fabrics, but it once again can be handled and enjoyed.  The repairs not only make it look whole again, but also stabilize and support the remaining original fabrics.

February 14, 2012

The Tapestry, Final Edition

I re-visited the tapestry this past weekend.  It has been hung back on its wall, and I assume is enjoying its view of the beautifully remodeled sanctuary, and enjoying the music of the grand new organ.  And all the while, the congregation gets to enjoy having its intricate beauty on view once again.

And here it is, the whole thing, full on.  Seeing it close up, lying on the tables while working on it was surely impressive, but being able to appreciate the design in its entirety.... Well, see for yourself:

February 5, 2012

Textile Stories

A train of thoughts prompted by comments about my tapestry adventure:

Wouldn't be great if these wonderful textile elders could sit around the hearth and tell us their stories!  Just imagine the places a 500-year-old tapestry has been, and the hands that have touched it and taken care of it.

While I was working on it, I was musing about the people who made this piece, and how they had no idea, of course, what the world it now lives in is like.  Just look at their clothes for starters!  What would any of them think of me bending over it and sewing, wearing jeans and a baggy purple sweater, no hat on my head!

Oh, and let's not forget that the tapestry found its way to the New World, then just a fuzzy concept of a wild, unexplored land, now full of tall cities and iPods, and people who speak an English nearly as different from the English of that time as any truly foreign language.  (Here's a cool history of our language, including the Great English Vowel Shift (!), which was in flux right around the time that this tapestry was made on the continent.)

And I was also musing about how things will turn out for some object that is being made today that ends up being restored by someone in 2512.  Whatever will the world be like then???

Whenever someone brings me a family quilt for repair, I always suggest that they write down the history of the quilt and quiltmaker - the ancestor's name, where she was living and what her life was like at the time she made the quilt, how it came to them, etc.  They can keep the information, with a photo of the quilt attached, with their other important papers.  It's a start at least, and might inspire future owners to continue the process.

This goes for any quilt at all, not just something so spectacular that a museum would be panting to own it.  We don't have any idea whether anyone then thought this tapestry was finer or more worthy than any other.  And here it is, still giving lots of joy.  So don't discount your grandmother's plain old quilt.  If it happens to be the one that's well-cared for and survives through the generations, it'll be just as much a marvel as this tapestry.

Door Within a Door

Here's a fun little side story from my tapestry trip to Milwaukee.  

We stayed at the Knickerbocker Hotel.  It was built in the late 1920's as a residential hotel.  They had a mini-town square on the first floor, including shops, a beauty salon, and a grocery store.  (I always read all the little booklets in hotel rooms.)

Have any of you ever seen a door like this one?  Here it is closed.

Here is the door-within-a-door, open.

Here's the informative sticker, explaining how the door works.

And here's the hallway view.  You can see the two locks.  

This surely is a nostalgic peek into a past era!  If you look back at the open door photo above, you can see, on the left, a little sleeve holder so nothing gets caught or stuck during the closings and openings.  So thoughtful and secure!  

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!