“Picking Peas” repair job

"Picking Peas" fabric relief 1986

“Picking Peas” fabric relief 1986

Do you ever think about how your creations will hold up in the future? Recently, I learned a lesson in the importance of using quality, archival materials. Back in 1986, when I made “Picking Peas”, I didn’t think about those kind of things. I used wire that was the right thickness and was not concerned about what kind of metal it was. It’s my style to use materials I find around, instead of buying everything new. Over the years, using found materials has helped me explore new ways of working. Odd pieces of this and that have pushed me to make bolder design decisions that I would otherwise have made if I just used thread and cloth. But, I learned that if you want your artwork to last beyond a few years or even a generation, you should be more careful about what kind of materials you use.

This summer, I borrowed the “Picking Peas” for my show at Falmouth Museums on the Green. When I picked it up from its owner, I noticed that some pea vines were an orange brown color instead of green. The owner hadn’t noticed the change, but I could see that rust had reared its insidious head! It didn’t help that the piece had been hanging for almost 30 years in a house right on the ocean, with salt air flowing through every open window.


It was clear that something had to be done before the corrosion spread further and parts started crumbling apart. I promised the owner that after the show was over, I would fix the damage before it was returned. This is my first experience with textile conservation, so I proceeded slowly and cautiously.  I worked on one section at a time, peeling the pea fence, one side at a time and removing the rusted wire vines. I decided to take the dry approach, and vacuumed away any fine particles.  Luckily, the background was made of dark upholstery fabric, which held up pretty well and camouflaged the stains a bit.


I remade the vines, this time using copper jewelry wire and wrapped them with embroidery floss. I did my best to cover the rust stains.



I added the glass peas and plastic leaf beads to the vines.


This is how it looked after everything was put back together. You can hardy see the rust stains, which blend in with the brown background fabric. “Picking Peas” is now back with its owner, hanging just around the corner from a beautiful view of Vineyard Sound.


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10 thoughts on ““Picking Peas” repair job

  1. Hi Salley,

    I was wondering if you made the net for the vines to climb up or was it pre-purchased. If you made it, what stitch is it?

    ~ Nancy

  2. Thanks for showing these steps. It gives courage for any conservation we might have to do with work sometime in the future. Especially if we are thrifty and use what comes to hand. I agree about those sorts of things aiding creativity, though, but wise to keep in mind if you are making a rod for your own back.
    Sandy in the UK

  3. Good of you to attend to the rust problem, but if I’d bought your piece I would have put it under glass.Your little art works are delicate, and dust etc is a constant problem. I guess those of us who make textile works are aware of these issues, but the buying public aren’t.

  4. Thank you Salley, I have learned a great lesson today. But I was wondering if you can give me a bit of advice? I collect novelty buttons in shapes of animals or fruits and would love to incorporate then into a stitchery project. My problem many of them are shank buttons, and removing the shank, which can be easily removed, still was not the solution. now they are like cameos or flatbacks..do you have any ideas on how to sew them so they are close against the background.. One of my ideas was punching a hole into the fabric so they would lay flush but I would think that would hurt than help the problem.. Please any advice would be helpful. I have been collecting buttons for nearly 20 years. I have so many my daughter threatens to decorate my coffin with them. GOD Bless, Rebecca

    • Hi Rebecca,

      Pardon my ignorance, but is a shank the plate and ring attached the back of some buttons? If so, my advice is to incorporate the buttons into your stitchery with the shanks. Since their purpose is to be used on clothing, they are probably alright.


  5. Thank you very much for posting about the rust issue. It’s something I would never have thought of and now I will certainly think twice when I’m using wire. Good to know:)

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