TO CONSERVE OR RESTORE: WHAT’S BEST FOR MY QUILT?
First, let’s define the difference between conserving and restoring a quilt.
To conserve a quilt means to keep it in its current state, but to take steps so its present condition doesn’t become any worse. Large museums, historical societies and certain universities have a conservator on staff that can analyze damage and create a plan on how to do “damage control”. This may include changing its environment-lighting, humidity and how it is displayed. A quilt could have a piece of fabric added underneath a damaged area to give it support or a piece of tulle could be stitched over a damaged area to protect it. A broken seam may be carefully re-stitched but, the quilt is virtually left intact in its present condition.
Restoration takes the quilt back in time. How did the quilt look the hour before the dog chewed it, the washing machine mangled it, the inferior fabric fell apart?
When to conserve a quilt:
If the quilt has historic significance, it should be conserved. It doesn’t have to be President Eisenhower’s quilt (yes, he did quilt as a boy) to be historically significant. It can be historically significant to your family-seven generations of Smiths were wrapped in it for baptism or an organization -signed by the founders of the local YMCA in 1903. Perhaps the quilt played an important part in an event-The fireman saved Mayor Miller as a child by wrapping him in it. This quilt would need to be conserved, not restored because the burn holes and singe marks is what makes it historically significant. If the quilt was restored to “before the fire condition” the significance would be lost.
The age and condition of the quilt needs to be taken into consideration. Fabric from the 1870s to present isn’t hard to find. Older fabric, especially large pieces, can be difficult. If the quilt is fragile, consult a conservator. Contact your local historical society and see if they have someone on staff or can recommend someone. Take digital photos and send them, they may be able to offer some initial advice on how to proceed.
Be aware, conservation is slow and costly. A professional conservator may charge from $250 – $500 to do time consuming work on a small segment of a historic textile. Textile conservators spend years in training and thousands of dollars collecting antique fabrics and threads to use in the conservation process. A conservator friend of mine has over 50 spools of various shades of blue thread.
Next time I will discuss when to restore a quilt.
Do you have a quilt or quilt restoration question? Please send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or snail mail it to The Waynedale News, 2700 Lower Huntington Road, Fort Wayne, IN 46809.