Conserving Memories, Stitch by Stitch

February 28, 2011 at 4:26 pm Leave a comment

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I give my homemaking a solid B+.  For instance, my laundry routine is a pretty simple one: separate out the brights, throw in some detergent, and I call myself done.  Of  course, I’m not cleaning a wedding dress, or having to take care of any 150 year-old heirloom quilts.  I also haven’t been trained in the art of textile conservation, nor have I ever been employed at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to do just that.

Leigh Acosta, on the other hand, has done all these things, and I had the pleasure to meet her and see some of her pieces on Friday.  “I wanted to bring things people have in their homes,” she says.  She’ll be conducting a workshop next Saturday, March 5th, at the Frisco Heritage Museum.  “I want to show people how to keep these things – even from the very beginning.” She picks up a quilt made in the 1840’s and begins slowly, expertly arranging it on a table in the museum’s offices.  Careful and soft-spoken, Mrs. Acosta is interested in the delicacy of time.  “You don’t think a tiny light in the basement is going to do much to the things you’re keeping down there.  But give it thirty years and you’ll see the difference.”

Quit

The quilt has followed Acosta’s family line – along with a piece that at first glance, I think has come from an IKEA catalog. “I found this in my grandma’s basement,” she says.

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“You can really see the creases in the folds,” says Acosta. She explains that frequently, pieces like this are rolled. But, of course most of use don’t have space for a bunch of huge rolled textiles – there are ways around that, though.

She’s a collector of fabrics, but beyond that, she is a collector of people’s little histories, preserved in old stitches and faded lace.  She lifts a tiny blue striped jacket out of her bag and places in on the table.  It had been made in the 1920’s.  “Look,” she says, “the inside lining of this baby’s jacket is a potato sack.  It just says so much about the people who – and see how the pieces were stitched together with a completely different fabric, something that must have just been sitting right there – it just says so much about the personality of the piece.”

Baby Jacket

Baby Jacket Lining

Everything has a story. She’s got a tiny lace bonnet from about 1880 – apparently, while Leigh was working in a museum in Idaho, a family brought in a number of things – clothes, blankets, decorations – all of them more than a hundred years old.  And while the museum’s curators were delighted to see the pieces, they had no room for them in their collection.  “And the next morning,” says Mrs. Acosta, “we opened up the front door and there was everything, crumpled in a plastic bag!”

Bonnet

Bonnet 2

Mrs. Acosta has her own story, as well. She seems to have been everywhere, from The Met to the Midwest to the Washington National Cathedral (by the way, you can tell exactly where the chalice and the candles go because of the wine and wax stains on those hundred-year-old tablecloths), and now, she’s landed here, with her husband and her children. “Conservation and kids don’t go together well,” she laughs.

For more information on seeing some of Leigh Acosta’s collection for yourself this Saturday – and to learn how to preserve everything from last month’s wedding dress to the blanket your great-great grandmother made for your great grandmother and your grandmother and your mother and you and your children and so on – call or stop by the Frisco Heritage Museum (972-292-5665).

KatieIcon Katie Breithaupt
Library Assistant
KBreithaupt@friscotexas.gov
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Entry filed under: Current Issues.

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