Antique Textiles: What Does a Quilter Do with Legacy Fabric?

There are legacies, and there are legacies. Some fit in a pocket, while some are, well, huge like houses. The legacy I received recently is, thankfully, something to which I can relate:  antique textiles! What I’ll do with them is something I’ve not figured out yet. Your suggestions are welcome!

Inspiration-J: Vintage Chinese Textiles

Nearly 80 years ago, my husband’s father lived in Tianjin (Tientsin), China with his family. His father was in the  U.S. Army and he was posted to duty there until the onset of World War II forced the evacuation of the Americans and Europeans in the city. There are many treasures from their China days, and among them, a collection of textiles and garments. My (extra and very dear) mother-in-law Barbara has been the caretaker since her marriage to  my husband’s father and she recently passed the collection to me. Barbara is a skilled sewer and had thoughts of adapting the fabric to her use, but she never quite took up her scissors and snipped. I don’t think I can either . . .

Inspiration-J: Vintage Chinese Textiles

It’s impossible to fathom that these textiles are nearly a century old. Their colors are perfect and the workmanship of the embroidery and the garments is stellar.

Inspiration-J: Vintage Chinese Textiles

A sense of scale is always illuminating and thus the penny. The stitchery is tiny, precise, and quite, quite exquisite.

I absolutely adore the pleating and embroidered details of this piece–it’s something like a wraparound skirt. It’s too precious to wear, even if it fit. The beauty of the garment is in the details as you will see in the subsequent images.

Inspiration-J: Vintage Chinese Textiles

Here’s a close-up of that center panel:

Inspiration-J: Vintage Chinese Textiles

How about even closer views?

Inspiration-J: Vintage Chinese Textiles

Inspiration-J: Vintage Chinese Textiles

Now this detail is one of my favorites in the garment: crystal pleating through embroidered silk. Don’t you just love that last bit of floral stitchery emerging from the pleating?

Inspiration-J: Vintage Chinese Textiles

As I recall, the true test of workmanship is to be found on the reverse of the garment. I think the embroiderer was wonderfully skilled.

Inspiration-J: Vintage Chinese Textiles

There’s a part of me that wants to bemoan the disappearance of exquisite hand stitchery and the dominance of machine-embroidered garments that we can see these days, but I think I’d rather enjoy the artistry of a bygone craftsperson who painted such a beautiful story with needle and thread. I still don’t know what I should do with my textiles, but I hope, at least, that you’ve enjoyed the peek at my little “collection.”

Jennifer Signature

 

 

11 thoughts on “Antique Textiles: What Does a Quilter Do with Legacy Fabric?

  1. I like the idea of preserving them and letting them be appreciated at the same time. What about contacting a historical department related to the area where you feel the textiles originated. I think too often in war the indigenous people loose too much of their art and national treasures to conquering armies. It is so nice when it is returned so that all are able to see and study for appreciation. Elaine

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  2. What a wonderful gift to have received!
    Now you have the responsibility to preserve them as they are.
    What about contacting the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles for suggestions for displaying them?

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  3. I agree that displaying them as the works of art they truly are would be wonderful – in a protected environment. Might you also consider loaning them to a museum so that more people could appreciate them?

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  4. I recall seeing exquisite textiles similar to these created by Asian women that I admired not only their technique but their eyesight considering they probably did them during the day as they didn’t have modern sources of light as we now do. I was priviliedged to see these at a special exhibit at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art Hartford, CT while on a Quilt History Tour several years ago. As far as displaying these treasures, my suggestions would be to frame them as they are and not to take the scissors to them as they are truely works of art to be enjoyed in their entirely. I have seen similar items displayed in the halls of the Kaiser Hospital in South San Francisco. They have hand-made quilts, kimonos, tribal clothing, etc. I don’t know who was responsible for obtaining and displaying these items, but I’m sure you could contact them to find out who mounted these objects for display. Perhaps a local museum could also be a source for suggestions for mounting them. In my experience we have used Michael’s services and mounted stitchery using museum board which is acid fred and glass which when spaced properly doesn’t sit on the fabric and prevents light from deteriorating the contents. Some of the displays in their stores include items mounted this way.

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    1. Thank you Rosemary for your wonderful suggestions. I’d thought about the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco and maybe contacting the Textile Arts Council as well. I feel very responsible for preserving them.

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