QUILTS : Made with love and conserved with care

NBM Conservator Dee Stubbs-Lee and volunteer Marilyn Peabody spent many weeks this winter preparing 12 historic and contemporary floral themed quilts from the NBM’s extensive quilt collections for the exhibition Bouquet of Quilts. A detailed assessment was made of the condition of each quilt and conservation treatments were undertaken to clean and stabilize the artifacts. Quilts in good condition were hung vertically, requiring hours of work sewing wide Velcro strips to a fabric backing, then carefully hand sewing this to the back of each quilt.

One quilt (NBM 2018.11) made c. 1955 by Mary Watson of Fredericton and recently donated to the NBM by Shiela Watson-White, was in too fragile a condition for this method of hanging. Although not as old as some quilts in the exhibition, this one had endured extensive use before it was collected and preserved by the museum. Dee and Marilyn stabilized hundreds of loose applique pieces on the quilt, working under magnification using “hair silk” (the single fibre extruded from a silk worm) and very fine beading and surgical needles to avoid damaging the original fabric, and to make the new stitches as invisible as possible.

These repairs allow us to see the pattern, and ensure that the quilt will survive many years for future study. Textiles conservation work is intensive in both time and space, so it was undertaken in a makeshift workspace in the former Decorative Arts gallery, allowing work for another NBM exhibition, Cursive Conundrum to be done at the Conservation Lab. NBM Preparator Sean Driscoll constructed a custom exhibition mount to safely support the quilt on an incline. Marilyn, an expert quilter and long-time volunteer in the conservation section, was a great help to us in preparing this exhibit.


Watson quilt before conservation treatment.


Watson quilt before conservation treatment, detail of separated seam.


Watson quilt before conservation treatment, detail of damaged appliques.


NBM Conservator Dee Stubbs-Lee assesses the condition and plans the treatment of the Watson quilt.


Watson quilt before conservation treatment, detail of damaged appliques.


NBM Conservator Dee Stubbs-Lee working on the Watson quilt.


A very fine, strong thread, hair silk, is often used in the conservation of textiles.

 


Detail, sewing repairs with hair silk.


NBM Conservator Dee Stubbs-Lee working on the Wilson quilt in the former Decorative Arts gallery space.


NBM conservation volunteer Marilyn Peabody working on the Watson quilt.


Quilts installed in the gallery for Bouquet of Quilts exhibition