MENDING CUTWORK: Use It or Lose It?

This is a piece of cutwork lace that begs the question, “Use It -----Or Lose It?”  Can it be mended to a point where it is again usable, and is it worth the trouble of doing that?  Or should it be consigned to the rag bag?   The figural scene of a lady racing along on horseback, the ribbons or feathers in her hat flying in the wind, along with a huntsman and dog make it a nice display pillow.  The design alone makes the piece worth considering as a mending project.

Hunt scene overview


The technique and workmanship are nothing particularly special.  When it was made, probably about 1900,  it was a nice middle class piece.  That is actually in its favor as a mending project.

It is attractive, but not so grand that there is risk of doing damage to a museum-quality piece with a botched mend.  If nothing else, it makes a great practice piece.

Next question:  is it feasible to fix it?  We need to figure out what is really wrong.  If just a few bars are broken, almost nothing damaged to the point that parts are missing, it probably would be feasible.  Here I have marked problem areas in red. (Using a color ribbon or thread to mark problems is useful to keep track of what's wrong, and calculate the amount -- and cost -- of mending.

First glance:  a lot of work.  But stop, look again and think.  It definitely is doable.



Hunt scene overview color breaks


In cutwork, there are a few key things to assess:  Broken connecting bars are usually easy to reconnect or replace, but damage to the cut edge is more of a problem.  That makes it more difficult to support the mends.  The same is true of generally worn-out fabric.

Also important to assess is the difficulty of mending.  Are parts missing?  

Dog mend overcolor


Here there is  a small area of damage to the fabric in the dog - Can it be darned?  More importantly, are other areas of the fabric worn out or about to give way?  Holding it up to the light -- my favorite “X-ray” method -- shows several areas that have very worn threads.  That means it is probably too weak to really support more significant use. But that design is irresistable.  I’m going for “Use It”  and not “Lose It.”  Even a couple more years of fun display are worth a couple hours of mending.


There are a whole range of problems.  Daunting at first glance, but all are relatively simple mends that can be done with a needle and thread.  This is a sit-in-front-of-the-TV kind of project for those who like to keep busy while watching the news or guilty pleasure sitcoms.  It also is a perfect sit outside in the shade and enjoy the quiet kind of project.


Lets count the ways this cutwork needs help:

Color code breakshuntCROPD


Left to right across the top:

Marked in yellow:  Connecting bar just beginning to unravel.  It won't stop! Threat it as a broken bar, and reconnect it.

Blue:  underlying bar is broken and missing, and only the wrapping thead is left.

Red:  Very clumsy and messy old mend.  Thread used was too heavy, spacing was not correct.  Should be taken out and replaced.

Green, center: A couple of connections are broken, and need to be carefully realighed to mend the section.


These are typical of the problems across the whole piece. In many cases, the underlying bar is broken, so the original wrapping threads are loose.  

Hunt lady fuzzy bar 1981Hunt lady fuzzy bar 2982

It is relatively easy to just anchor a fine sewing thread at the base of the broken bar, make a long looping stitch from the bottom to the top and back, make another anchor stitch, then fold the existing thread along that new bar, and either wrap the threads with the new fine sewing thread, or make a few buttonhole stitches to secure the threads.

Click on picture for larger view.





Let's look at the damage to the dog.  Lots of broken connecting bars -- they can be mended as we did above.  The key is using a very fine thread.  This allows several stitches or wraps -- even a mistake or two -- which will still solve the problem and remain nearly invisible.

Dog mend closeup to darn969


Hunt darning over977


Darning the unraveling spot is not that difficult.  Again, using thread finer than that used to original weave the fabric, and making all stitches parallel and perpendicular -- matching as best you can the direction of the thread in the original weave is a key.  The mend is not invisible, but still good enough.


Always use the finest, thinnest needle you can get your hand on, and try to slip it between threads rather than punching through threads and causing more damage.


Hunt mend tail bars978




Broken and loose bars are reconnected using very fine thread.   

Perhaps a bit obvious when looking very closely -- be not so bad in the "after" photo below.



Dog darns etc after484
Dog mends after483


hunt scene  corner edge486



The other aspects to consider are the border and the pillow back.  Here the border is just fine -- the lace is a very simple handmade Cluny-style lace with square tallies, with a tassel attached to each little loop.  The lace is sound and all the tassels are present and pretty much untangled.  



The pillow back, a very sheer cotton fabric, is a little worn with a few holes, but overall all in acceptable shape. 


Strong enough for a small soft pillow to be inserted, and the back is after all the back.  By using a very soft and not overstuffed pillow insert, it need not stress the fabric and can still serve to make a nice display.  Again, good enough.

hunt scene  back holes485












Hunt lady face RED



Most of the mends are repetitive -- reconnecting broken, fraying, or loose connecting bars.  Perhaps tedious, but not difficult.  Here is a before an after of the lady.  (Click on picture for larger view.)

Hunt lady  hat after983










Hunt-scene-after-bright




If the pillow is to be used passively as a display on a bed or chair, and will have little handling. a “good enough is good enough” approach is fine.    A fun piece for a summer cottage.


Very often, good enough is good enough.

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Posted November 2013











lacecurator@gmail.com  www.lacemerchant.com      219-659-1124    Elizabeth Kurella 2014