Textile Restoration?

This past week I had a big birthday.  It wasn’t a decade birthday, I turned 57.  My mother died a month after her 57th birthday.  I’m not expecting that to happen, the way some friends have feared a heart attack at 45 because their father had one.  My mother had been ill for several years before she died.  This birthday just feels significant, and not just to me.  One of my brothers sent me an email that said “Now you will be older than Mommy ever was.”  Yet when he turned 57, it wasn’t the same.  Is it because I am a daughter?  Or the oldest daughter?  This type of family perception is always interesting to me.

One of my mother’s favorite pictures of us was taken at Cape May, I was about 2, and she was pregnant with my younger brother. (There were seven of us, she was pregnant in many photos!)

My mother died when I was 21.  Over the course of about a year, she painstakingly embroidered this for my 21st birthday.  She and I once saw the quote someplace and I told her I liked it.  She bought transfers and put it all together, letter by letter.  When I think of her doing it, I still get teary.  She knew she was dying, and this was her final gift to me.   (Right before I opened it, my sister hissed at me not to mention the mistakes. As if.)

This precious textile has traveled around with me, and is much the worse for wear.  I have been thinking about cleaning it and having it professionally framed.  I know that on Antiques Roadshow the value of the original frame is much discussed, and that the value of the frame can rival the value of the art.  This has value only to me:

My mother taped the embroidery over a painting she got at the grocery store.  (Free framed ‘old masters’ with purchase!)  Some nice bit of cardboard box was patched in on the back with packing tape.  She was Depression-era all the way.

So, any recommendations on this?  Should I try to wash it?  Is that a job for a professional textile restorer?  I want to do this right so it won’t keep yellowing.  I have no idea where that water mark came from, at least I hope it’s water.

When I get the courage to take it apart, I’ll do the big reveal.  What’s underneath?  Winslow Homer?  Renoir?  I don’t think they gave Hieronymus Bosch away at the Acme.  One birthday gift I haven’t had a chance to use yet is a hot air balloon ride from my sister.  I’ve always dreamed of going up in a balloon, and if the weather ever cooperates, I will soon.  Knitting in a balloon photo?  Oh yes.

13 responses to “Textile Restoration?

  1. What a lovely post.

  2. What a gift, and a beautiful story.

    I have heard wonderful things about these people in Stillwater.

  3. I’m teary, that is a beautiful post. I love the photo of you both at the beach.
    I am no expert on restoration but I know that you need to get the cardboard out of there–the acid in it works its way into fibers (cloth or paper) and yellows them. But OTOH, it is sad to remove it from its painting.

  4. Happy belated birthday. That’s a very sweet picture of the two of you.

    Good luck with finding the right people to help you with the embroidery. It is precious and deserves to have new life & a new frame.

  5. M’ Lou, the Minnesota Historical Society seems to have some good links at the bottom of this page: http://www.mnhs.org/preserve/conservation/textiles.html

    Strangely enough, my mother turned 57 in late July and died a little over a month later in early September. I was 29. Now I’m 56. Me, my older sister and my younger sister have all obsessed over this for years – will we make it? What if even one of us doesn’t? Now my older sister is 58 and we still worry that it could come at any time. Oy.

  6. Belated happy birthday! And I would go to a textile restorer and NOT try washing it. If washing it goes badly… Yeah.

  7. travellersyarn

    Its a lovely post, and an even more precious gift. Take it to the best expert you can find. If you ask at a museum with a good textile collection they should be able to point you in the right direction.

    Happy birthday!

  8. How did I miss this?! What an incredible treasure. Priceless.

    Get that cardboard out of there now, and if you can remove it from the painting without risking damaging it I would, for longevity it should only ever have been mounted on archival materials behind glass. Then you’ll need a textiles expert. Good luck x

  9. What a wonderful, poignant story.

    Oh, and happy birthday.

  10. Happy, happy birthday! Your story made me teary, too; what a wonderful gift (and what an amazing quote – even at 21, you clearly had it together, to know that something like that is the sort of thing that will always be relevant and a good remind of a way to be). I wish I had good advice, but for what it’s wroth, I would probably take it to an expert – at the very least, you need acid-free backing and an archival quality frame, I’d think…

    • Thankyou! I think the advice on going to an expert is good. In fact, a friend of a friend is a textiles collector and knows everyone in the field around here. She is having dinner with him tonight and bringing photos of my dilemma for some recommendations on restoring and framing. I don’t know why I never thought of that before.

  11. I have long believed that it is tough for lots of people, passing through the age at which one’s parents died or divorced. I hope you’ll have a great time being 57! I agree, what you need is expert advice on that precious embroidery.

  12. Oh, it would be a shame to lose the backing your mom put on it! — but I can’t imagine that cardboard and packing tape are doing the embroidery any good. Can you cut a slit along one side and slide in a piece of buffered paper?

    For what it’s worth, I just recently found a cross-stitch piece I did some years ago (cough–1980!–cough), that I never framed because it has a stain on it from my hand as I worked it. I washed the stained corner in bleach and the marks came out beautifully, with no ill-effect on the stitches. Good old colorfast DMC floss! Yours obviously has more sentimental value, but it can be done.

    Lovely post, Mary Lou —

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