Quilt / Trapunto

MPF Conservation restores, conserves and preserves all types of textiles in their studio in Portland Oregon, this page discusses quilts and trapunto.

Many quilts tell stories, though you might have to have the eyes to see the stories! Below are a few story-telling quilts which will delight!

Trapunto is also known as stuffed work. Instead of the quilted pattern simply stitched onto the quilt, stuffing is pushed into the areas to puff them up, and this can be subtle or quite dramatic. Some contemporary quilters instead use an extra layer of batting under the areas to be designated in this fashion. It can also be used in a single layer of fabric, no quilting involved, though we have no examples of this in our portfolio.

What is Foxing? Foxing needs to be understood as it is mentioned often in the textiles pages. Foxing shows up as small rusty-colored spots, sometimes like flecks and sometimes round, example shown left in a historic Wrench quilt from the Tualatin Historical Society. It cannot be removed, as it is an interaction between specific mold spores and mineral oxides. It is NOT a mold, but a by-product. It doesn’t “damage” the fiber per se but should not be allowed to proliferate if possible as it is unsightly, so items with foxing should be stored away from items without it. Make it a habit not to touch an item with foxing then touch one without foxing.

Note: Kate is also an artist, and enjoys painting historic quilt squares. Our banner above is one of her watercolors, shown right. She has a post on her art website: you can read about it here: WWM: Day 6 Crazy Quilts.

For information on taking care of your antique quilt, visit the blog post below:

The following two pieces by Ken Ellis came to us from the same owner.

It was a joy to enter our studio in the morning and see Ellis’ pieces in our studio; Kate hated to give them back!

The pieces were kept in a home with cigarette smoking near a wood stove. Dirt, grease, and residue from both wood and cigarette smoke was present on both pieces, more on the back, though neither MPFC nor our client could account for this.

The goal of this treatment was to clean the front and back of the quilted pieces of debris, grease and a top layer of dirt, and to remove stains if possible.

Our recommendations going forward was both pieces be moved to an area within the home away from the wood smoke source, away from the kitchen (grease), and away from excessive light or direct light.

It was wonderful having the artist alive and willing to work with us. Ken Ellis assisted us by telling us the dye formulas he used in his artwork or to answer any questions we had, and followed our conservation efforts.

If you are interested in learning more about Ken Ellis, visit Facebook, on Anatomically Correct, and an article Ken Ellis embroiders the truth.

Ken Ellis’s Eliza Danto Trapunto

Ezilí Dantor (or Erzulie Dantó, Ezili Danto, or Ezili Danto’) is the senior spirit in Haitian Vodou, and a goddess of love, personifying womanhood. To me this looks very much like the Madonna and Child. This trapunto piece has the addition of beads, mirrors and jewels both sewn and glued onto her surface. The facial expressions are simply beautiful.

Foxing was present on the back side of this piece. Cleaning was successful; grime on the back was cleaned as well with little residue.

Decorative items (beads, mirrors, etc) were secured if possible, except in a few cases where more damage would be done trying to repair the items. Those few were noted in a report for our client to check before vacuuming below the piece.

Before treatment, left, and after right, above: after treatment images below.  

Ken Ellis’s Shore Family Trapunto

This beautiful piece, a portrait of the Shore Family, is embellished with embroidery and a few surprising bits of beads, such as a bird in the tree or beads for buttons. Again, as above, his facial expressions are simply beautiful.

Small holes were present on the front and sides. The cause did not appear to be from a pest infestations, but neither MPFC nor our clients can account for the cause.

Cleaning was very successful; grime on the back was cleaned with little residue.

Small holes were stitched where possible; in a few cases it was impossible to get to the hole without disassembling the piece in a manner our client and MPFC agreed was not advisable at this time.

Right and above, images of our client’s lovely silk cigar quilt.

Silk Cigar Quilt circa 1900

Cigar Quilts are made from the silk ribbons which were once used as banding on cigars from 1875-1920.

Cigar smoking was wildly popular beginning in the Revolutionary War and through the Civil War. Israel Putnam, whom the troops lovingly referred to as “Ol’ Putt”, was a Major General from Connecticut who also served under George Washington. He is credited with introducing the form of cigars as we know them in our country. He brought many specimens of cigars back from Cuba along with tobacco seeds from Havana to our tobacco plantations.

Groups of cigars were bundled with a colorful Silk ribbon bearing the brand name of the Cigar manufacturer. In 1868 the first cigar ribbon factory was established in NYC, and by the turn of the century approximately 350,000 brands were available! Collecting them became a craze, and women who sewed began creating quilts, pillows and tablecloths from them, as well as clothing.

MPFC was asked to assess this lovely quilt and offer advice on proper care.

Sandra’s Quilt circa 2010

Sandra was a master quilt maker, and this double bed quilt was one of the most beautiful contemporary quilts I’ve ever seen.

The quilt was made for a hospital in Chicago. Prior to gifting it, someone washed it in cold water. Apparently Sandra had not washed the fabric before quilting and unfortunately the greens ran. (Note: A good reason to test all fabrics to a wet wash before using. If they run then the decision must be made to dry clean only.)

My challenge was to try to remove the green dye that ran. I had only a small degree of success, but sadly not enough for them not to be highly visible. Happily, the hospital still wanted the beautiful quilt.

Debra’s Family Quilt circa 1900

Debra’s great-grandmother’s very large quilt was badly damaged; over half the squares were ripped or missing. After much discussion, our client decided to have us carefully remove a few panels and repair those, turning them into wall hangings. The parts of the quilt not repaired was stored in a good textile box in case a future family quilter wanted to use the pieces in an interesting manner. Above, Debra holding the two wall hangings.

Crazy Quilts!

Crazy Quilts became the rage in the late nineteenth century, largely due to the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, in particular the Japanese pavilion with exhibits on crazed ceramics and asymmetrical art.

To the Victorians the word “crazy” meant wild but also broken or crazed into splinters, the latter of which is a good description of the look the various triangles and other odd shapes gave to these quilts. They may appear haphazard lacking repeating motifs, but they were carefully planned with exotic pieces of fabric and embellishments. Velvet, silk, tulle, and satin, were embellished with lace, ribbons, buttons and beads, and of course, lots of embroidery!

A crazy quilt rarely uses an internal layer of batting which defines quilting in general.

Crazy quilts, like other quilts, were often made by a family of stitchers or a group of friends as a gift.

The Crazy Quilt has a poor sister, the Crumb Quilt. Both use fabric scraps cut in odd shapes, but the crumb quilt is usually made of plain cotton fabrics and uses a simply quilting stitch, but is also pretty in its own way.

Susan’s Crazy Quilt

Susan’s Crazy Quilt before, above, and after below.

Susan’s quilt is a lovely family Crazy Quilt chock full of embroidery.

It was unusual in that it had a central motif and we wondered if it was started as a sampler which became the center of the Crazy Quilt.

It was extremely damaged (see the first row above) with disintegrating parts, and had not been finished with an edging.

MPFC found good replacement fabrics, and hand-stitched the pieces in over the original, being careful not to cover the historic embroidery, see second row center and right.

We edged the quilt in a bright purple cotton, with simple embroidery stitches her grandmother used, shown left and second row far right.

For more information visit our blog:

Hoyt Family Quilt (Finished) circa 1890

I am a fourth generation Californian. My great-grandmother Hoyt (right) was born in the town of San Fernando in Southern California, on a relatively large local ranch with both beef and dairy stock, roughly where Hoyt Street is now located. My family also were sheriff’s and government officials, so had continual employment during lean times. They had a huge garden and especially during the Great Depression, fed many locals who were having hard times.

Grandma Hoyt was a master quilter and while she had the money to purchase good fabrics, she also collected fabrics from everything old: silk ties and coat or jacket linings and torn clothing! The Hoyt Family Quilt (and the unfinished quilt on the Embroidery page) were made on our ranch, one edge which became Hoyt Street in the small town of San Fernando at the turn of the century, around the time my grandmother Lyle Genevieve Smith was born.

This is a wealth of beauty and ideas I thought I would publish it in its unfinished form. It needs two areas of infill, and some stitching, but is in very good condition for a quilt that was used daily by my great-grandparents.  It is designed as a bed topper, just big enough to cover the top of a double bed.

There is a second unfinished Hoyt Family quilt which I am showing on the Embroidery page, as it is the embroidery on that one that is fabulous.

I am currently vetting regional California museums who specialize in Californian history and/or quilts and who would appreciate the beauty and skill of the native families.

Other quilts located in Institutional locations:

Tualatin Historical Society has five quilts which we assessed, shown above.

Desert Grasses by Marie Lyman circa 1977

This quilt is part of the collection in the Oregon State Capitol, Salem Oregon: to see more about this and other textiles in their collection go to State of Oregon Capitol Building.

Be sure to see the Crater Lake Centennial Quilt made for the anniversary of the park by park employees and friends. Each square depicts as aspect of the park, from critters to the schools for the park employees children, traditionally quilted. Designs were both traditional and modern. My favorite square, right!