Mounting and Hanging Textiles

Marla Mallett

There are several satisfactory ways to hang antique weavings, rugs and tapestries, and numerous ways to mount fragile or fragmentary textile art. In my house, favorite pieces are sometimes temporarily hung with push pins or brads; then this temporary state becomes permanent, to the dismay of conservator friends who use an array of much more gentle methods. The textiles themselves often dictate the best solution. I have described a few common methods below.

No textile should be hung with rings, as the fabric's weight is unevenly distributed. Think of how old shower curtains sag, crease and tear. The spring clips used in some carpet shops are suitable only for temporary use. Carpet tack strips should never be used, even temporarily, because the very sharp edges along the sides of each tack cut the fibers; they also eventually rust. Heavy frames or poles with decorative finials are rarely appropriate, and a simple presentation is the most elegant.

Casings

On some sturdy weavings, rugs and tapestries, casings of heavy cotton, linen, or even cotton twill rug binding can be hand sewn across the top of the back, stopping just short of each side. Heavy cotton button-hole thread is good for this.  One should catch at least two warp threads in each stitch for the best support. A metal rod slightly shorter than the width of the weaving can then be inserted in the casing. This rod can be supported on two slightly angled nails or two screws in the wall; alternately, the rod can be suspended from above with monofilaments.  None of the hanging apparatus should be visible on the textile's front.

With this method, the casing must bulge on the back if the front of the textile is to be flat. Although the top edge of a handwoven rug or textile may be uneven, it is essential that the casing be perfectly straight. If it conforms to the irregular textile shape, the piece will hang unevenly.  


Tom Rutherford has devised a clever variation on this method for hanging his small, light-weight Tibetan and Chinese rugs. Tom uses the lightweight, ridged steel strips made for mounting bookshelves. These are almost flat, they are strong, and they have holes that may easily be slipped over short, slanted nails on the wall. Casings for these strips are easy to stitch accurately, as they need only bulge slightly on the back.  As with any casings, however, it is important that the sleeves be straight, and not follow the textiles' contours. In the photo, the strip has been pulled out so that you can see it. Please note that this method is not appropriate for heavy textiles.


Velcro

In a method currently favored by many museum conservators, a strip of Velcro is hand-sewn to the top back of the textile or rug. The soft, fuzzy Velcro part goes on the weaving; then the stiffer, matching Velcro strip is stapled or glued to a wooden board.  The wood is then mounted on the wall wherever studs are located. The textile is simply pressed into place. Some individuals prefer to machine stitch Velcro first to a buckram or hair-canvas strip, then hand-stitch that canvas to the rug.  If the textile is soft and flexible, this stiffens and supports it a bit. I occasionally secure a slit-tapestry kilim by stitching at staggered intervals straight through the center of the Velcro, as well as along its edges.

As with casings, it is important that Velcro be attached to the textile in a straight line, and not follow the contour of the weaving. Large, heavy kilims, carpets or tapestries require two-inch-wide Velcro.  If one strip is not enough, use two.  

People often ask me if there's not a way to hang a rug without stitching into it, fearing that such stitching must damage it in some way. In fact, it does not, and by distributing the weight evenly across the width of the piece, the casing-and-rod or velcro methods are the most gentle ways of hanging a rug. It's the same for both wool and silk. 
No special stitches are required; usually simple overcasting with heavy cotton buttonhole or carpet thread is adequate for the job.

For a discussion of some of the considerations involved in hanging old kilims, see this website's Woven Structures Updates - 3.


Mounting on Stretchers

For a rigid mounting, very heavy fabric may be stretched and stapled or tacked over a wooden frame, canvas stretchers, or painted plywood. If a lightweight silk is the desired mounting surface, such a fabric can be stretched over a sturdy canvas, with an intermediate layer of soft cotton flannel. The weaving is then hand sewn to the stretched fabric(s), leaving the desired border. Heavy, unbleached Utrecht linen canvas was used in the example shown.

Most textiles need to be sewn not only along their edges, but also in other areas, so that the weight is supported evenly. Usually large staggered stitches that go completely through the fabric and cross several warp or weft yarns (or both) are best. Stitching is not obvious on the front if thread colors are carefully matched to the textile. 

If more protection is desired for delicate pieces, a frame can be attached to the stretchers. Either glass and plexiglas should be held away from any textile, however. A standard museum-type presentation consists of plain, natural-colored linen mounting, with an austere shadow box frame or plexiglas box.  The construction should not be tightly sealed, but rather should allow for some air circulation, to discourage mildew. This sophisticated presentation is appropriate for both residential and commercial interiors, and is also satisfactory from a conservator's perspective.


Velcro/Stretchers Combination

Mark Hopkins has sent notes on an ingenious method he developed for hanging pieces in his collection, and rotating them regularly. It combines the approaches above.  Mark says, "I have built a series of simple pine frames ranging from 1'x 1' to maybe 4'x 6.' Over them I have stretched a neutral fawn/gray colored fabric that is equivalent to the 'wooly' part of the Velcro. Then I stitch a strip of the hooked Velcro to the back of the piece I want to hang.  The frames are hung on the wall just like pictures, using wire and picture hooks. That way I can not only change pieces in a whisk, but I switch the frames around, easily hanging a 12"x 12" piece in place of a 40"x 60" piece--something that is obviously difficult to do when the stationary part is a 'hooked' bar attached to the wall." 

Mark continues, "The wooly Velcro material is expensive and hard to find, but I've discovered that buying it is not necessary.  What I did was wander around a big fabric store with a piece of hooked Velcro, sticking it onto every piece of potential backing fabric that looked good until I found a few that 'stuck.'  The fabrics I use are some variety of synthetic mix--one of the clerks referred to it as a polyester robe cloth--and seem to have a sort of microscopic looped fuzz on the outer surface. The fabric is very matte in appearance, has a good neutral color, and stretches beautifully on the stretchers. It works well with the Velcro hooks; I've mounted rugs of up to 4'x 6' with no problem.  For a heavy rug I first face the frame with a fiberboard such as 1/2" homosote, and then stretch the backing fabric across the fiberboard.  I simply add more Velcro 'hooks' to the back of the rug; maybe two strips of 1" or even 1.5."  Anyway, I wanted to pass this along as an option that others might find useful."


Velcro/3M Command Mount
  
 
Eric Jacobson has just sent me notes on a hanging method he has discovered for small tribal bags and trappings.  Needing to find a hanging method that did not require holes in the wall, he sewed Velcro tabs to the textiles, then attached "3M Command" Picture Hanging Strips to those and placed the corresponding strips on the wall.  I've seen ads for this product, but haven't tried it out for myself.  It's an interesting idea.  The strips can supposedly be removed from the wall without damaging the surface.  

Foam Core Mounting

Fabric-covered foam core makes an excellent base for very small pieces.  It's perfect for mounting early Coptic or Peruvian textile fragments, for example.  To mount a collection of embroidered purses, I also needed rigid foundations through which I could stitch, but a slightly heavier foundation. Thus for each of these pieces, I glued two or three foam core panels together, stretched fabric over them (cotton upholstery velveteen in the example shown, but natural linen is good in many cases), stitched the corners of the fabric down securely on the back side, then pinned and stitched the small bag to the mount. Ordinary sewing thread in a color that matches the textile is appropriate.  Finally, I placed each panel in a small plexiglas box frame. Since needles easily penetrate foam core, this kind of mounting job is much easier than working with curved needles and a solid base. It is surprising at first to find that you can actually stitch right straight through the foam core. Stitches must be carefully spaced, however, and not too close together, or the material will crumble. Please note: foam core is only useful for small or lightweight textiles and is NOT satisfactory for mounting pieces with any significant weight. It is definitely not for rugs!  In most cases, when framing, it is best if glass or plexiglas is held away from a textile's surface.

In the most traditional kind of mount for delicate fabrics, acid-free cardboard or foam core is completely wrapped with cotton muslin which is then stitched in place.  In other words, an "envelope" is made with the muslin. The textile is then sewn to the muslin, and the piece is ready for framing.


Facing and Board Method

Vincent Keers, from the Netherlands, has told me about his favorite way of hanging rugs that have substantial fringe on the top end, saying that he doesn’t like the look of fringe flopping downward. He attaches a heavy facing and pulls that over a board that is then bolted to the wall. I think his method is an especially good one for tapestries with fringe at the top. It's an excellent method for installations of heavy textiles in public buildings.

Here's one version of Vincent's method. First cut a wooden board a little shorter than the width of the rug or tapestry, and paint it to prevent acid deterioration of the textile where it will contact the wood. Since the ends may be slightly visible from some viewing angles, match either the wall color or the dominant textile color.  

Then hand sew a heavy fabric facing to the right side of the rug along its top end (see below). Make sure that the facing is flat and the stitching line is straight, even if the contour of the rug or tapestry is not.  A six or seven-inch-wide strip of canvas may be adequate, or it may be wider for extra support.

Next, fold over the ends of the facing to encase the warp fringes at the sides, and flop the entire facing to the back, pulling it over the board. The fringe will be enclosed between the board and facing. Staple or tack the canvas to the board along the entire width. You may instead wrap the facing around the board completely, and secure it on the side facing the rug or tapestry's back.  
On a heavy piece with thick fringe, it may be more satisfactory to sew the canvas strip on the rug's back side so that the fringe is not encased, but instead lies between the board and wall. Multiple rows  of hand stitching are likely to be needed if the piece is heavy.  After attaching the board, the rug can be lifted and the board bolted to the wall at points where studs are found -- definitely a two or three- person job for a large textile. 

The rug should hang smoothly if it was on a flat surface when the facing and board were attached. If not, adjustments can be made by pulling the facing upward or downward in the required spots (i.e. at the outer edges, the center, etc.), and re-tacking. 

If a large tapestry still does not hang smoothly, and ripples a bit, it may be desirable to sew a facing also along the bottom edge to enclose a thin, light-weight rod, as shown below. 

Thanks, Vincent, for sharing a very practical idea.   

Hanging the Egyptian Tapestries

The miniature Egyptian cotton tapestries from Harrania that are shown on this website are best mounted on stretched linen, as described earlier.  I have usually tucked fringes underneath the tapestries, leaving only the overhand warp knots on the surface. 

Larger, heavier wool tapestries can easily be hung with Velcro, with casings and rods, or with Vincent's casing-and-board method described above. In Egypt, mural-sized pieces have traditionally been mounted on painted, fabric-covered plywood with the edges folded over the sides and covered with simple strip molding frames. Bothersome selvage irregularities are thus obscured. Sometimes simply hemming a piece instead by attaching fabric facing or twill tape to enclose the fringe works well. A rod can then be slipped through the facing.  The photo here shows a facing attached along the lower back of a small tapestry. A thin metal rod was inserted in this hem for a little extra weight and stiffness.  Sometimes irregularities in a tapestry's shape can be modified slightly with this kind of
treatment.








A Note of Caution

Adhesives should never be used when mounting fine textiles. The general rule is that any repair, mounting, or conservation process should be one that can be undone at a later date if desired. Metal rods should be painted, varnished or shellacked to prevent rusting.  Wood bases or strips should also be painted if they are to touch the textile; this prevents acid deterioration of the fabric. Framers who mount embroideries or other fine textiles should always be asked to use acid-free materials.
   
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MARLA MALLETT
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Atlanta, GA  30306   USA

Phone:  404-872-3356
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