We used to buy needlework supplies in privately-owned needlework shops. Owners attended a variety of professional and personally-rewarding events (seminars, classes, etc.), shared what they knew about old and new products, and provided support to local guilds. Now, they have been driven out of business by national crafting chain stores that are open day and night. Clerks in these stores usually have no experience using the products they sell. By demanding deep discounts, they have driven down the quality of supplies we use. It is up to us to research products before we shop, and to seek suppliers who carry items of better quality.
Let’s start by thinking about the blue vanishing pens with different names used to transfer designs to cotton and linen fabrics we intend to embroider. Commercial products in this category may not have been time-tested for the long-term survival of items we create. It is nearly impossible to check the quality standards of manufacturers.
It was well over 30 years ago when the first vanishing blue marking pens became available. They now have several different commercial names. Teachers and designers loved using them when making embroidery kits for classes because they could use a Q-tip dipped in cool water to erase incorrect blue marks. We experimented at the time, and if I remember correctly – when the blue was left on the fabric and ironed, it changed permanently to beige or brown.
Testing of these and all chemical products (including glue) is needed because manufacturers are never held responsible for what happens to art. Future conservators and restoration experts will have no idea what chemicals these pens have left behind that may become a permanent blemish in needlework art. Manufacturers may have changed formulas over the years, and we have been told nothing. Chemicals may cause something drastic over time, like rot and stains.
Another example would be what happens to plastics after 20 years or so. That means any product used for needlework that contains petroleum should be avoided, including some synthetic textiles.
Be very wary of adhesives and glues (mentioned above), including backings that have adhesives that are sold for framing needlework. Think. In addition to chemicals, these contain ingredients that very tiny organisms like to eat. We know this because they leave tiny traces of their presence behind.
Glue/paste and starch were/are sometimes made at home, using flour and/or potatoes. These are also attractive to tiny critters. When you put needlework away in storage, it is wise to soak out old starches made from potatoes. Not only are you dealing with food, but with one that will cause oxidation and turns textiles brown.
Jeri Ames in Maine USA (81)
Lace and Embroidery Resource Center
I remember tales of altar frontals that had been stiffened with flour and water. The mice loved to eat the paste and destroyed many textiles. A.B.
Jeri Ames is, or has been, a member of The Embroiderers’ Guild of America 50+ years, American Needlepoint Guild 47 years, Embroiderers’ Guild (England), International Organization of Lace 40+ years, The Lace Guild (England), International Bobbin & Needle Lace Organisation (OIDFA) 22 years, Costume Society of America, Arachne (internet lace correspondence), plus several local guilds. She owns an up-to-date library containing 4,000+ books about embroidery and lace, another room devoted to needlework magazines and bulletins going back 150 years, and a studio.
Fellow stitchers. Please taken Jeri’s good advice to heart. It comes from knowledge and experience.