Friday, April 26, 2013

Bed Ticking

Bed Ticking

Have you noticed lately there are lots of ads for mattresses?  Some have foam tops with “memory”.  Some have your personal number.  The sizes range from baby cot mattresses to the huge California King size.  I would have thought Texas should have claimed that honor.  The history of bedding is an interesting look at the evolution of modern home furnishings.  One of the enduring textiles associated with bedding is ticking, the familiar blue and white stripped covering for pillows and feather bed ticks, therefore the name.

Originally made from linen, and then cotton, ticking was woven in a herringbone pattern that kept the feathers in place, but often several of the common weave would be used.

vintage ticking fabrics

The featherbed, really an elongated pillow, filled with feathers or down and covered with ticking could be found until the beginning of the 20th C, despite the introduction of cotton-filled mattresses.  Of course, we have returned now to what is considered luxury bedding with down and feather comforters and duvets.   

While the usual pattern was blue and white stripped, there are many examples of this fabric in browns and even Jacquard weaves.

Today ticking is made as furnishing fabric in many colorways and frequently used by decorators for its crisp appearance.

top fabric, contemporary furnishing fabric labelled
"A Waverly Bonded Fabric ", "Ticking Stripe"

Lower fabric, table runner labelled
"100% cotton Handloom- made in India.  Imported by Primitive Artisanins"

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Rug from Hell

The Rug from Hell

Two weeks ago I wrote about maintaining your vintage textile collection; here is Part 2 – Restoration.

I am often asked about restoring a textile.  Can it be done?  My reply is always 3 words: Sometimes and It Depends.  There are fabulous, trained professional restorers that produce amazing results with a few remaining fibers.  These highly educated people are employed by well-funded museums and collections.  “It Depends” refers what is to be restored and the amount of $$$ you have to spend.  Some simple repairs can be done yourself if you are handy with a needle and thread, if you are familiar with weaving techniques, you have a supply of repair materials or you are fortunate to have a friend with the above.  Remember a poor restoration is way, way worse than leaving the textile in its present condition.

Now I will tell you a story about a hooked rug restoration. The Rug from Hell
One day a client came by with a request for a restoration of a hooked rug that was a “family heirloom," “very, very old” and “ much beloved."  I had come “highly recommended”.  Now this usually means that several people had been approached before  and who wouldn’t touch that rug with a ten- foot pole.  I told her I would first do an evaluation that included photos of the rug, an inspection of the damage, an evaluation of the rugs fibers and a listing of the materials I would need to procure for the job. For this flat fee I would give her the photos and reports and a ROUGH approximation of the cost based on my hourly fee.  “OK”, She said. “Here’s a check” and before I could reply she was off to her car to retrieve this wondrous article.  

I barely had time to cover my worktable with a clean cloth when she plopped  a black garbage bag on it, which she opened to reveal a mass of dirty tangled fibers of unknown origin.  Aghast, I pulled on some gloves. No way was I touching this, especially since I swear I could see something moving within it.  With a bit of gentle tugging, I could somewhat straighten the thing while client said softly “Oh, it seems to have a small hole”.“I can’t possibly restore this”, I replied .Merlin the Magician could not have restored it.
“But you have my check for the evaluation. Could you just do that for me, please?”  What could I say? She was right about that.  I would measure and photograph it, write a very discouraging report and send her on the way to some other poor sucker.

Before I did anything, I wrapped it in the table cover and stashed it in a freezer in my garage that I used only for textiles.   I had to kill whatever insect larvae had set up their home in the rug.  Days later, I reluctantly retrieved it and took it outside for a good shake, figuring any fibers I dislodged I would put into a plastic baggie to be returned with the report.  Unfortunately, what was left of the rug was pretty firmly attached so I felt I could safely attempt to remove what appeared to be a vast amount of dirt.  She hadn’t said so but perhaps her family lived in the La Brea Tar Pits.

On inspection, the hooking technique used was indescribable.  Clearly, the rug was made by a group of 4 year olds at a summer craft camp.  Scattered over the surface were clumps of fiber resembling some sort of grape-like texture, which turned out to be made of polyester. So much for the rug being “very, very old."

I was sure, I was positive that my evaluation would have the client running for the hills.  Not so.
“It looks better already," the client said. Are you kidding me? She said,  “Here’s a check for the first part of your work”. And out she went.  I was so astonished I couldn’t move fast enough to stop her and so with the check in my pocket I resigned myself to my fate.
Days past. Weeks past.  I could hardly bring myself to continue working on what I now called “The Rug from Hell”.  I swear it had a life of its own.  For every row of hooking I replaced, like Penelope’s weaving, a row  unraveled overnight.

Finally, I had to quit, not that I was ahead, but this project could take a major portion of my remaining life.  Dreading the reaction I would get, not to mention the remainder of my bill was due, I unwrapped the finished rug.  “Oh”, she gasped and I swear she started to tear up.  I felt awful and started to figure how much of my fee I had to return to her.  She reached into her purse (for a gun with my luck) and withdrew an old photo of a den or 1950’s rec room (I could tell by all of the wood paneling on the walls and ceiling and the patriotic patterned fabric on the overstuffed furniture).  In front of the faux stone fireplace was a rug.  I took out my magnifying glass and OMG there it was, THE RUG. The reconstruction was not exact by any means, but it was darned close.  She thanked me profusely and added a generous bonus to my invoice.

Now for the moral of the story.  Value and worth are not synonymous.  The resale value of this rug was in  minus digits.  But to her, and presumably the family, its worth was immeasurable. I had learned my lesson.  I would never, ever again put myself through another restoration like this one. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Rainwear History

Rainwear History

“Bus stop, wet day, she’s there, I say
Please share my umbrella
Bus stop, bus goes, she stays, love grows
Under my umbrella”
The Hollies
Songwriters: Gouldman and Graham

Last April I wrote about the history of raincoats, and so, today I share the history of their partner, the umbrella.  The word “umbrella” comes from the Italian word  “ombrello” from the Latin “umbra” meaning shade.  As early as 2,000 B.C.E. the father of the modern umbrella, the parasol, was carried to protect from the heat and sun in the North of Africa, Mid and Far East.  As a protection from rain it wasn’t until the end of the 17thC that people carried umbrellas, although they weren’t made of waterproof fabric until the beginning of the 18th C.  The first folding model was designed by a Frenchman, Jean Marius.  In the 1800’s the fabric covering was of leather or oiled canvas and the ribs that served as the support structure were made of whalebone.  When steel replaced the whalebone and nylon coated with acrylic and scotch guard replaced the canvas the accessories became lighter and much more practical.

Today there are many versions of this protection from the elements: Large, stripped golf umbrellas, Gentleman’s umbrellas with a curved handles, which, when furled act as walking sticks, Hugh patio and beach umbrellas still guard against the sun.  Then there are the extra small, traveling versions that fit into a tote or briefcase.  I must admit that I own several umbrellas, but I never seem to have one when needed.

19th C parasol cover
The next innovation for this product should be prevention from turning inside out with a gust of wind, bending the frame and ribs.   It then becomes too mangled to even dispose of and a new umbrella must be purchased.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Spring Cleaning

Spring Cleaning

I ran across an article in Home Arts Needlework Magazine, 1936 apropos to this week’s topic.  It came as no surprise to me that their advice was still valid today. 

Please take a minute to consider how you store your vintage textiles.  Whatever the type of  fabric and fiber , from carpets to lace the principles are the same.  The enemies of textiles are 1. exposure to sunlight, 2. moisture ( not my problem here, believe me), and 3. varmints, small and not so small.

So what is the best place for them?  The answer is someplace where they will not be disturbed once you have carefully stored them, until you need them, someplace out of direct sunlight, away from extreme temperatures.  Attics and basements definitely do not fall into the category of preferred storage areas.  Nor are sheds and barns and unheated garages as those unwanted critters may be present and it does not take any time at all for them to damage your collection.  Perhaps the high shelves of a closet or an armoire , or even under the bed might be more appropriate.

All your textiles should be clean when stored (those stains do not magically disappear) , but cleaning must be done with caution.  Sometimes just a gentle shaking and airing will be sufficient.  Avoid dry cleaning, if possible as the chemicals they use could actually do more harm than good (it is not actually “dry” cleaning).  Always check with the cleaners if they are comfortable dealing with vintage fabrics, get references of local establishments, etc.  You can always “spot clean” small areas with gentle soap ( not detergent, nor adult shampoo) as they have additives which makes complete rinsing difficult.  But be warned you may end up with a “clean” patch in the middle of your “antique” white quilt.  If you must wash a large piece, the bathtub is a good choice, with COLD water and the soap.  ( I have discovered pure soap flakes at WalMart, but others will surely have them also, although not your average supermarket).  Do not scrub, or wring, just let the fabric soak and then drain the tub and rinse with clean water several times until the rinse water runs clear.  Care should be taken when removing the wet textile.  If if is a quilt or rug or coverlet, it will be very heavy.  The best solution is to drain the tub, then wrap the textile in a clean sheet and with a friend gather the bundle and spread it flat to dry.  Hanging wet textiles puts strain on the seams and may break the fibers.  So choose a warm day and lay it over your picnic table, which you have covered with a clean sheet and then cover your “laundry” with another clean sheet.  Make doubly sure it is completely dry before storing.

If you store your textile folded you must refold them at least twice a year to prevent fold lines.  One time in half then quarters, the next time in thirds.  Then you can safely store it in a clean pillowcase or sheet.  If you have something that is fragile, you will want to prevent the stress of fold lines by rolling it.  Visit your local frame shop to see if they will sell you the cardboard tubes they get with posters.  Then you must cover the cardboard by inserting it in a pillowcase.  Gently roll the textile around the tube, you might want to include a layer of acid-free tissue paper (available on-line) with the tissue on the outside to keep your textile dust free. 
Do not store fabric in direct contact with wood (shelves or drawers), they must be lined with acid-free tissue or clean fabric.  Do not store in plastic bins.  The fibers must be able to breathe and never, ever in a vacuum plastic storage bag.  Save the vacuum bags for you winter jackets and everyday bedding.
Small articles in your collection may be stored in acid-free boxes wrapped in acid-free tissue.  Keep things flat, if possible or roll them around small tubes(as above).
With a little care, your valuable vintage textiles will still be around for you and your family to enjoy for years to come.