Restoring 1865 Cutwork Lace Sleeves
Updated: Apr 22
I purchased these 1865 lace cutwork undersleeves and collar approximately 20 years ago. When I had the opportunity to have a show (see blog) at the Art Gallery of Burlington, I decided to showcase this beautiful set, and show the restoration process.
They were in terrible shape - parts of the cotton “ground” were totally shredded away. Most of the damage was on stress points; both at the shell buttons, as well as the thread loops. I noticed that the thread loops had been repaired once with mismatched thread, and the back of the collar was fraying. I also saw that one sleeve had a rip that someone had tried to repair, and the top of the sleeves had been cut, not bound. A big question for me as the new owner was should I have them restored or repaired? Should I leave them alone? Should I do it, or have someone else do it? Could I undertake this task without further damaging this beautiful set?
After many years of experience working with very fine techniques, I was confident that I could do it myself. I was in the process of preparing for a show, and decided that they were certainly worth being seen by the public. I decided to restore them to their former glory, display them, and enjoy them for years to come!
Here was my process:
I carefully reviewed the cuffs to determine how much stabilizing material I would need to undertake the repairs.
I photographed the damaged articles so I would before & after pictures as reference.
I carefully cut a 1 inch strip from the top end of each cuff. This 1 inch strip of fine cotton became the “ground” to replace the damaged section.
I found a small, sharp needle and matched the colour of fine cotton thread.
Using a medical magnifying instrument and extremely good lighting, I started repairing one area at a time. I began repairing the most simple areas, to get used to working with the materials, and left the most damaged areas for last! This was definitely the button/thread loop areas.
I carefully took each button and thread loop off, taking pictures to ensure correct placement.
I spread out the damaged area, and carefully placed a piece of cotton under the damage. I sewed it in place, carefully sewing the damaged area back down on top of the repair piece - basically reverse appliquéing the cotton to the lace where no cotton existed.
The actual lace cutwork was very fine, and only two areas were damaged. I stabilized these areas as much as possible, and recreated the lace.
After I repaired the tear and hemmed the upper sleeves, I ironed everything out and put them into a flat box, surrounded by acid-free paper.
I hope you enjoy seeing them as much as I do!