Nancy Stahl illustration

Making Lace for the Met Museum

OCTOBER 21, 2014
"Before" photo of lace on a gown to be exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum. This was a good section, but there is one worn area.

A friend of mine who works as a conservator at the Met Museum had a problem to solve. They had a gown from the turn of the previous century with lengths of the lace trim threadbare and they needed to find a way to present it looking more intact.

Miriam knew that I had done illustrations using my embroidery machine, so she asked me if I thought I could make free-standing lace with it as well. I never had and hesitated, but with her help, I found links to the technique of stitching on water-soluble stabilizer alone. Once you have done that, you can simply wash away the surface and only the stitches remain.

I started by drawing a schematic of the section of lace in Illustrator, brought that into my embroidery machine's software and redrew it... many, many times. Then there was practice with various weights and brands of stabilizer. I tried every thread I could get my hands on; viscose, poly, cotton and every combination of thread and stabilizer.

Inset with ruler marks my segment of lace.

My first efforts were too precise and rigid. But I finally achieved the right amount of variation and look of slight wear to have it blend in with the less damaged portions. The sample above was approved and I moved into production of 6.5 yards in 7" segments.

With the new lace in place. One side of this neckline was almost completely gone.

The exhibit is titled "Death Becomes Her". It opened today (I got to go to the opening party last night..!) There are about 30 gowns from a century of mourning on display. It will be up through Feb 1st.

I commented on a FB article by Ross MacDonald today that I want to be him. That's so true, but instead of binding books and creating letterpress morgue tags, I want to be sewing, knitting and "tatting" my forgeries..!

NY Times article

Instyle article

The Citizen

This was my first attempt (using a different design and a poor choice in stabilizer). It gives you a look at the set-up. Hooped water-soluble stabilizer which will be washed away leaving only the lace.