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Petit Point and Tapestry Purses - Facts & Tips

During the Victorian, Edwardian eras and the early 20th century, hand worked petit point became a specialty in France, Austria, and Hungary. The finer petit points held at least 900 stitches per square inch, some micro petit points have been known to consist of up to 3,000 stitches per square inch. The term "micro" represents the smallest and finest stitches. Petit point handbags were worked in superb wools and silks, depicting flowers, landscapes, and scenes from mythology to courtship.

 Today, these highly esteemed works of art are still hand made in Austria with many elaborate micro petit point designs selling in the thousands of dollars, however, their vintage counterparts can be purchased at a much more reasonable cost to the collector, the trick is finding them in great condition.  Antique petit point purses are amongst some of the most gorgeous hand made handbags.

Petit point and needlepoint are embroideries worked on the open spaces of a canvas, using a threaded needle to place stitches across from one opening to the next in a diagonal direction.  Needlepoint stitches are twice the size of standard petit point stitches. Exquisite European needlepoint handbags were characteristic of the early 20th century.

Tapestry handbags were often constructed from earlier tapestry cloth. Both hand and machine woven, the tapestry stitch is raised from the canvas by being worked over two horizontal threads.  Other pieces of tapestry were designed specifically for handbags, so dating these purses can be difficult.  Frames often indicate the age of the purse, although not always conclusively. Imported French tapestry purses are amongst the finer examples that are cherished by today's collector.

For cleaning, I do not recommend dipping or soaking these purses, unless you have experience in washing these purses and you know exactly what you are doing. When washed, petit point purses will loose their shape, hand blocking the purse during drying will be necessary and it requires skilled patience. Some needlepoint purses are made with wools and they could shrink, colors can bleed. Tapestry purses generally clean well but, again, you should know what you are doing prior to attempting the cleaning of any antique or vintage purse.

Dry cleaning, you ask. I would never give my cherished vintage petit point, fabric or tapestry purse to a dry cleaner.






 

When a purse does not require a full washing, I have occasionally refreshed these purses with a clean soft tooth brush and barely soapy water.  Shake off excess water from your brush and work gently in small areas at a time, brushing in the direction of the stitches.  Start with a small inconspicuous test area. If you experience a problem, stop.  Be sure to keep your brush well rinsed while working.  Afterwards, blow dry with cool to warm air, then open air dry for a few hours or overnight before storing. The interior can be cleaned in the same manner.

Keep your hand stitched or woven handbag stored in a dust free, cool, dry place.  Wrap in white tissue paper and stored in an "open" zip lock bag, if desired.  Allow your purse to breathe by unwrapping occasionally, since it is a vintage textile, it needs air.  If you live in a high humidity area, then do not store in a plastic bag as sweating could occur.

I keep my petit point and tapestry bags stuffed with white tissue paper while stored, to assist in preserving their correct shape. This practice will avoid or certainly minimize unsightly creasing which could in time cause splitting of the base fabric.

I suggest that you purchase a purse that doesn't really need to be cleaned or is in need of very little attention.  Then your job will be only to maintain it's cleanliness through proper care and storage. Otherwise find a skilled purse cleaner who knows what they are doing, but know, that even the best of purse restorers cannot 100% guarantee the results of hand washing an antique petit point, tapestry or fabric purse.

Comment about this article: caroldubilo@gmail.com


 

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