We often take textiles entirely for granted. After all, we are intimately surrounded by them; our clothes, our upholstery, and rugs. We use them when we do the dishes, step out of the shower or go to bed.
Textiles can be historical documents, as well. The sewing machine came into commercial use in the early 1840s, so finding common machine-sewn garments in the graves of members of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition of 1845 indicates that its use spread like wildfire, almost akin to the rapid dissemination we have come to expect with current technology.
This fourth Conservation Corner article concerns the Indian chintz cotton quilt-top in the photographs. Jon Ackroyd, owner of the quilt-top, reports that it was made by a relative, Catherine Hutton, an unmarried, genteel writer of novels in 1832. Catherine made many quilts that remain in the family. One extraordinary silk quilt, "...also has a unique accessory item, a book. Every piece of cloth (in the quilt) has a sample stuck to a page...and is identified as to where it came from. Mrs. Johnson's tea dress, October 1823, and so on." The chintz quilt top is completely hand-stitched, as are many quilts, but had it contained machine stitching we would know that it was from later than 1832, or had been more recently repaired.
a good partial overall(2000),
This quilt-top is a complex variation of the pattern, Grandmother's Flower Garden, with diamonds and floral appliques concentrated in the central area of the textile. The Indian chintz it is made from is comprised of many colourful block prints almost entirely in floral patterns. The quilt piecing is stitched visibly and with great skill.
The owners wanted to enjoy this extraordinary piece of family history by first conserving, then protecting and finally, displaying it. The piece was discoloured and stained and it was not known when it had last been cleaned, if ever. In addition, there were many weak areas, tears, and areas of loss. After colourfastness testing showed that the dyes would not run, the piece was washed in a very large shallow tank that allowed the delicate 7.5- x 9-foot piece to be washed and rinsed completely flat, without ever being moved from position. This also allowed it to be closely observed. The textile was washed to both improve its appearance and to reduce acidity that had developed in the cotton. It dried quickly.
Next, repair was started. Cotton patches of suitable colours were underlaid beneath tears and areas of loss. Each torn fragment of the original was almost invisibly stitched in place to these backing patches. Finally a cotton lining was stitched on, around the perimeter of the quilt top, thus protecting and supporting the piece. A window was cut into the new lining to allow a portion of the original construction of the piece to be visible.
Because of the repairs and supportive lining, the still fragile quilt-top can now be carefully handled. The acidity and its consequent destructiveness were removed through washing, retarding further deterioration. Now the inherent refined aesthetic of the piece is more visible and the owners can display the quilt-top. By keeping it dust-free and away from any sources of ultra-violet light, such as sunlight this richly historic family heirloom can continue its journey into the future.