A long time ago on one of my visits to CA, I discovered a wonderful shop in Alameda, called Needle in a Haystack. I remember looking at a number of wonderful charts for counted work, as well as drooling over a number of lovely threads. Oh yes, I did end up buying a Stella lamp. There is a lot there for the cross stitcher as well. I’ve also dealt with the online store and have always received great service. In addition, they send out a monthly newsletter that is quite informative. With the owner, Cathe’s permission, I am reprinting an article from this month’s newsletter. Given that the frame shop in Mendham is closing, I thought this information might prove to be timely. Happy reading!
How To Find A Good Needlework Framer
Jan at Bay Stations Accents has been in school in Scotland for the past year and when she comes back this year I don’t expect that she’ll continue her framing business. Given she’s be doing my personal framing for more than 30 years I’ll be very sad, as I’m sure many of you who are local are. On my to-do list is to find a new local framer to recommend but it’s way down my priority list at the moment. So instead I thought I’d write about how to find a good needlework framer. I’m not going to cover questions about their sense of color or style since those are general framing questions.
Even if you find someone who has been doing needlework framing I think you should always ask questions and if possible, see some of their framed needlework. I am a very picky customer when it comes to framing so it has to been completely square or I’m an unhappy camper. Jan’s attention to detail in this regard was very important to me. So, what to ask a potential framer?
What is the base they attach the needlework to? What are the other materials used?
I prefer acid-free materials when at all possible, especially what the fabric is being wrapped around. I do my own mounting these days and I use acid-free mat board glued/taped to acid-free foam core. I almost always use a colored mat under my work since white isn’t always the best option. Typically I use a dark green or dark blue, especially on pieces with open work. Any mat on the top of the work is also acid-free. And if I use glass, it’s Museum quality. Acid-free reduces any possibility of things leaching into your fabric over time. Sometimes I use a batting to give the underside of the needlework some depth (in place of the mat board under it). For that I use a good quality polyester or cotton batting. You can always ask a quilt shop what’s the best to buy if you want something more archival quality. Many framers won’t have used batting so might not be familiar with it – so it’s a conversation to have with them.
How do they attach the needlework to the base?
If they mention sticky backed board, run away, very, very fast. Granted it has it uses for craft projects, even for things like tiny ornaments, but if you’re spending the money on framing, do not let sticky backed board get near your work. Not only is it not good for the stitching to come in contact with it, over time it will lose its hold and the project will buckle. When we were first open 18+ years ago one of our now long time customers loaned us her Dutch Beauty sampler to hang as she didn’t have room. After a year we noticed the fabric was sagging in the frame so we had Jan take it apart to fix it. She came over livid that the framer had stretched this masterpiece of a sampler onto sticky backed board. Getting it apart was a job but one we were happy to pay her to do to thank the customer for the loan (thanks Anna-Marie!). My point is, sticky backing has a very limited use but not for good quality needlework.
My preferred method of attaching work to the foam core is stainless steel pins and I learned this from Jan. Stainless Steel doesn’t rust so you can safely leave it in the side of the work (they go through the fabric into the side of foam core). Very few pins are made from stainless steel, most are nickel plated. I use Dritz Silk Pins or Bohin Stainless Steel pins, we sell both but you can find the Dritz ones in many fabric stores. Even with the pins in the side I either lightly lace or use acid-free tape to hold the back fabric in place. If you use just lacing to hold the work, which you can do, it many times puckers the fabric and over time can do a serious number on the fabric due to the tension on it. So I like the stainless steel pin method for a permanent hold that won’t pucker. If they want to use tape alone it won’t hold over time as the glue will eventually lose its hold, so it needs a more permanent method.
How do they align the project?
For my own work I put basting lines in my fabric where the edge of foam core would be, so I know I’ve stretched it straight onto the foam core/mat board backing. I just use sewing thread in a color I can see and can easily remove (don’t use floss since it can leave a residue when you pull it out). I rarely do this with needlepoint since typically I’m wrapping it at the edge of the stitching anyway. But you want to make sure the framer understands the importance of getting it completely square. You don’t want to get it back and find it’s off 2 threads from top to bottom, unless that doesn’t bother you – as you can guess, it bothers me :-).
If they use glass, do they use spacers and what type of glass?
I rarely use glass personally but there are times when it’s the right option. Make sure that they are using spacers so that the glass does not sit directly on the stitching. If you have a mat between the stitching and the glass you might not need spacers unless the stitching is very tall and would touch the underside of the glass. For heirloom quality work, use Museum glass, which is very clear. It’s more expensive but well worth it for those special pieces.
Do they block your work if it needs it?
It is very rare that a framer will block needlework since it involves a whole other skill set. But ask them if they do blocking and find out more about how they do that if they indicate they offer that service. Since most won’t, you might need to send it to a finishing service to have it blocked before taking it to the framer. For individual pieces that look like they need blocking, talk to the framer first to see if they think blocking is required. If it’s slightly out of shape it might not since the mounting base will help it keeps its shape. However if it’s seriously out of square blocking would likely be required.
How do they store your project?
While you might not think this is important, I believe you also want to know how your work is being stored before it’s being framed. If it’s crumpled up in some corner, perhaps you need another framer. If they wrap it up in tissue to keep wrinkles away and store it in a clean storage container, you might have more confidence in the rest of their work as well.
What do they charge and what is the turn around time?
I didn’t start with this since I think the other questions are more important to flesh out first. Custom framing is never inexpensive. And just because a framer charges a lot does not mean they will do a good job with needlework. So once you’ve determined that they might be a good framer for your projects, then is the time to find out the price of the work. Most framers will charge for mounting the work in addition to the actual framing. It’s the mounting work that’s really the hard part for needlework so don’t be shocked at seeing an extra charge for that. They might be able to do quick jobs or they might take a couple of months, but finding that out ahead of time is also useful.
If you feel comfortable with the framer and are not able to see samples of their needlework framing, take them something you aren’t as worried about to do as a first one. And if they are not willing to listen to constructive criticism, find someone else. This needs to be a two way street for awhile until you’re confident in them.
Another option is to learn how to do the mounting work yourself and then only have the framer do the frame and putting it all together. This is in fact what I do these days (granted I’ve not had much to frame of late since I’ve not finished as many projects as I’d like). I do private lessons on this occasionally for people who want to learn. Hopefully when my life settles down a bit I’ll do a video on this part.
For those of you who don’t mind sending your work away to get framed I can recommend Deb at Stitchville USA in Minneapolis, MN and Sandy at Attic Needlework in Mesa, AZ. Both do really great needlework framing work. Many other needlework shops around the country have their own framing department so that’s another avenue to check out.
I hope you find this helpful information for finding a good framer for your work. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – your needlework projects deserve the best!
Cathe Ray –
Needle In A Haystack
877-HAYSTAC (877-429-7822) toll-free
2433 Mariner Sq. Loop, STE 102
Alameda, CA 94501