How important is it to restore a purse to its original colors and design? That depends on who you ask. Some historians think it's a travesty to change a purse's fringe or original clasp. Others see nothing wrong with replacing a bent clasp with a more elaborate jeweled one that suits the design better, or is simply more beautiful. Some purse experts think it's appalling to change the original maker's fringe design or colors. Others point to the fact that sometimes it's impossible to restore the original fringe because the matching beads simply don't exist or can't be acquired. (How DID we function before eBay and Etsy?)
My opinion lies in what I've learned from studying the original maker's work. It's apparent in many fringes and antique bead stashes that every last bead was treasured, saved, passed down, and used whenever possible. This created some rather inelegant, skimpy fringes that deserve to be improved upon to match the elegance of the beaded purse body. Sometimes the original maker had so few matching beads left for the fringe that completely different beads had to be utilized -- despite not matching at all. (The purse at right, for example, is a charming but amateur purse knitted by a beginner. It came to me with very skimpy fringe, but now has an antique, lush netted and looped fringe that is more proportional to this bag's large size)
These two purses are a fine example of what can manifest from a purse collector's open mind, her passion for lush fringes, and a hour or two of my time experimenting with various fringe embellishments. While not original to these purses in style or color, they are vastly improved -- and their value enhanced -- by NOT replicating the original fringes.
Two charming bead-knitted purses made with faceted, size 11 Czech seed beads. The purse on the left required a new silk lining. The red purse, with its unusual band of long twisted fringe at the center of the purse body, needed a few fringe replacements. Luckily, I had an exact match for these 19th century beads.
Many purse restorations require only fringe repair, since this is one of the three most fragile parts of an antique beaded purse. (The other areas are the silk lining, and the areas where the clasp is attached). This expertly made bead-knitted purse was restored with an elaborate, long netting created with tiny, size 28 beads that exactly matched the original beads in the purse. See what looks like a hair at bottom center right of this top photo? That's my beading needle, made from a length of exceptionally fine twisted wire with a collapsable eye.
A restoration in progress. These photos show the damaged netted fringe on an otherwise exceptional bead-knitted purse with jeweled clasp. I have a sizable collection of antique and vintage seed beads to work with. Additional beads such as these are added at cost to the total restoration bill. Total cost in beads for this repair was $18, and used very tiny, very old size 24 glass beads.
After spending a few hours to create various color combinations and fringes for the client to choose from, a beautiful netting, with longer, more dramatic looped fringe was chosen to highlight the deep red in the peacock's tail. The restored fringe can be seen below.
Copyright 2017 Denise Perreault, Textile Artist. All rights reserved.
References available upon request.
Being one of just a handful of women in the U.S. who restore antique beaded purses for the public is a rewarding task. It gives me the opportunity to travel back in time through a wide variety of astoundingly gorgeous works of portable bead artistry. It's an honor to be trusted with my clients' cherished family heirlooms, purse collections, or investment pieces, and a genuine pleasure to examine them in such detail that their story is revealed to me. I feel an almost sacred duty to utilize my beading skills to help preserve our collective female textile art history for future generations to admire.
Few people replicate these works of bead art in the 21st century. Imagine working with glass beads so tiny that you'd need 35 of them to fill an inch, and your beading needle is the diameter of a human hair. Consider the concentration needed to string thousands of tiny beads onto a spool of purse silk while following an intricate pattern from an 1860's lady's magazine before you can even begin knitting with size 00 needles, where one faulty bead would ruin the entire design. No wonder most people find the work too labor intensive, hard on the eyes, and difficult. Yet these are the very characteristics that make antique beadwork so worthy of preservation: since micro beads haven't been manufactured since the 1840s, there will never be anything like them again.
Restoration and Appraisal Charges
I provide free repair estimates on a variety of antique beadwork, including wedding dresses and accessories. When sending jpg images to my email address, include full back and front images, as well as close-ups of damaged areas and the purse interior. I charge $38 - $45 per hour, depending on complexity and size of beads; (the smaller the beads, the more difficult and expensive the repair). Since bead sizing uses an archaic numbering system, here's an easy way to determine bead sizes: lay a ruler below a horizontal row of beads in the middle purse body, with bead holes facing up, and count how many beads fill an inch. If it's a number over 20, those are micro beads). New silk for linings cost an additional $7. Every attempt is made to use only antique or vintage glass beads when possible, as my goal is to restore your piece to museum-worthy condition. Many purses need only fringe repair, or stabilization near the purse clasp, and this can often be completed in 1 - 3 hours.
My expertise lies in beadwork and weaving. I don't re-knit, repair hardware, or accept tambour or needle-punch work. Repairs to Native American beadwork will be
considered at $45 per hour, but I prefer to refer you to colleagues who specialize in this.
Appraisals are $50 per piece and include a detailed report on the provenance and creation of the piece, as well as its current domestic market value.
Antique Purse and Beadwork Restoration
This bead-embroidered purse was a family heirloom with broken and missing fringes. I was able to match the antique blue beads perfectly, and the repair took just one hour.
A sweet bead-embroidered purse that needed a new black silk lining and twisted fringe. The client had this family heirloom restored as a gift to her grown daughter, who said it was "one of the best gifts she'd ever received."
A finely-rendered bead-knitted purse with Bakelite clasp and chain. I restored the fringe netting with longer loops in matching antique beads.
An exquisite bead-knitted purse with pressed glass clasp and unusual clear fringe. This purse only needed a few missing fringe loops restored to return it to pristine condition.
This purse had a damaged interlooped fringe made with non-matching beads in garish combinations. Longer and closer loops are still colorful as in the original fringe, but the matching colors do more justice to this rare purse motif.
This beautiful floral bag has an unusual two-color, dual length looped fringed that was worth preserving. Filling in the broken fringes with matching antique beads took less than 2 hours.
This exquisite French steel cut purse needed sewing repairs below the clasp, a few replacement beads in the body, and completely new fringe. The fringe beads, made of real steel, were bathed in a baking soda solution to remove years of tarnish and restore their original luster. Private collection, USA.