Family History: Preserving and Displaying Old Needlework
As we go through our boxes of family history related stuff we will likely find needlework, embroidery, clothing, quilts, and other textiles. I recently found an unfinished cathedral window quilt. I remember my Grandma working on this for years, in fact, my sisters and I helped her with it when we were visiting her as children. So I know we made some of these windows too, but I sure couldn’t tell you which ones. What is done is beautiful. Too bad she never finished it, but I love what she did get done. In talking to my great aunt I learned that the family had always called my grandma “Hattie the unfinisher”. I think we are all worthy of having unfinisher added to our name in regard to something in this life. I know I am. Seeing this piece of needlework reminds me of that nick-name that was given to my Grandma, so many years ago, by her siblings.
I could go ahead and finish this and make a quilt as intended, but let’s be honest, I know me. I probably won’t ever finish that beautiful bit of needlework either. Maybe it could be divided up to make a few pillows. I’m really not sure what I want to do with this, but it is definitely too nice to just throw out. My Grandma, my sisters, and I spent too many hours hand sewing those cathedral windows to just put them in the trash. Maybe my life will change one day and I will find myself with the time necessary to finish that quilt. I’m not wanting to commit to cutting it up into pillows, so for now I think I will display it. I have my great grandma’s old Singer treadle sewing machine. I think I will display the quilt under the presser foot of that sewing machine. I even have some of grandma’s old needles in a pretty package, some scissors, and an old wooden spool of thread that I think will look nice with it. So, until I’m ready to commit to really doing something with those quilt pieces, this is where it will be.
When planning a display, keep in mind that UV light will cause colors to fade and it will weaken the fibers in fabric. I have adjusted the blinds behind the sewing machine so that the quilt is never exposed to direct sunlight. You can also get windows that block UV light, protecting your carpet and furniture. (Maybe when I build my next house!) Wood is also acidic, so something should be placed between the fabric and the sewing cabinet. There are spray sealants and varnishes available to seal the acid in the wood. Be sure to choose a sealant that is acid free. Just some things to consider before you display really old and fragile fabric and needlework. In fact if this quilt were really old and fragile I wouldn’t handle it this way.
I think it looks nice for now. Maybe one day I will decide to do something different, but this is a lot better than letting that quilt top remain folded up in a cardboard box full of stuff. I think Grandma would be pleased that someone is looking at her handiwork, that someone appreciates her efforts.
Meanwhile, I think I will take a closeup picture of the quilt and make a nice scrapbook layout for our family history. I will tell of the memories of working on the quilt with Grandma. That way the memories will be preserved for all of us and not just the one who has the quilt pieces and happens to know the story behind them.
Family history is something that belongs to everyone in a family, not just the people who get the boxes of stuff that no one knows what to do with. Finding and organizing that family history is the only thing that makes it meaningful. Until you do it is just boxes of junk!
Have you found any old needlework in your family history search?
What Did you decide to do with it?
Would you like to learn how to make a Cathedral Window quilt? Your own posterity would probably enjoy it if you left them a beautiful quilt. Maybe they will be trying to figure out how to finish it when you are gone! This video isn’t very high quality. but I think it explains the technique well.