Pin Couching

This message is in response to Ann Lane’s query about mounting quilts.

About 15+ years ago, I developed a technique called “Pin-Couching” for temporary mounting of a variety of textile types. This technique has proved to be equally successful for long-term mounting, and I use it frequently for blankets, quilts, rugs, tapestries, etc., with sizes ranging from a few square inches to a tapestry that is 20′ long by 14′ high, including very fragile archaeological textiles!

Pin-Couching is very quick–it takes about 1/2 hour or less to mount a typical quilt-sized textile. Later removal of the textile from the mount is even quicker–about half the time needed for the initial mounting. (It takes much longer to describe this technique than to do it!)

Pin-Couching is a very simple concept: instead of using thread stitches to couch the textile to a fabric support, stainless-steel ball-point dressmakers’ pins are used to couch the textile to a foam panel. The pins are thin and smooth and much less abrasive than thread. The foam may be bare, painted, or covered with a suitable fabric. It may be mounted to a wall or support with screws or nails either before or after the textile is mounted on the panel.

The most common pins available are 1-1/16″ long (#17). 1″ thick foam is strong enough for most applications and is thick enough to allow the full-length of the pin to be buried in the foam. Either “beaded” (white) or extruded (blue) polystyrene foam can be used, although the latter is a bit sturdier. Both are available in 4′ x 8′ sheets from building supply outlets at US $8-10/sheet. If desired, the pin heads can be pre-painted to blend in with the color(s) of the textile and to eliminate metallic reflections (to do this, push the pins through a sheet of heavy paper or polyethylene packing foam and lightly spray-pain only the heads with an acrylic enamel or lacquer).

If the textile is strong enough, only the upper 1/4 to 1/3 of the height need be pin-couched, allowing the remainder to hang free. If the textile is fragile or very distorted, the full surface can be couched if necessary. The panel can be full-sized or sized only to the area to be couched.

The textile is positioned on the precut (and prefinished?) foam panel and pinned in a pattern that is similar to stitching. For quilts, spacing between pins would probably be about 2-4″ apart, both vertically and horizontally, and the pins are usually placed through seams to avoid compressing the filled areas or perforating smooth fabrics such as silk. The ball-points help avoid splitting yarns or threads. The pins are typically pushed through the textile into the foam until flush with the textile’s surface.

I place the pins in a randomized pattern to avoid creating a grid appearance, and to avoid repeatedly intercepting the same warp or weft line. The all-over pattern of pins is continued until the desired portion of the textile has been secured. This couching pattern avoids stressing the edge or other weak areas. Each pin supports only a small area, a few square inches in the case of a quilt.

For quilts, pin-couching has unique advantages. The pins do not need to be pushed in for their full length, so it is possible to support both the front and back layers of the textile without compressing the structure, as would be necessary with stitching. The “risk” of a quilted appearance that might occur when pin-couching other textiles is obviously not a problem with quilts (provided pin placements are chosen carefully)!

If the textile has been mounted on a horizontal panel prior to mounting the panel on the wall (because of size, fragility, distortions, etc.) the pins are temporarily removed from the upper edge and lower corners to allow fasteners (screws or nails) to be placed through the foam into the wall. The textile edge and corners are then re-pinned after the foam panel is secured, covering the fasteners. The fasteners for the foam should be set deeply enough into the foam so that there is no risk of them contacting the textile.

There are available a number a subtle modifications to this basic technique that allow it to be used for virtually any flat textile and also for many 3-dimensional textile structures. It has been used for displaying folded textiles, partially rolled textiles, costume, draped textiles, heavy pile carpets, and fringed textiles (even those with fringe at the top!) All kinds of distortions can easily be accommodated and the textile need not have a straight edge at the top. I would be happy to advise off-list on any particular application.

Geoffrey I. Brown
Curator of Conservation
Kelsey Museum
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1390, U.S.A.
Fax: 734-763-8976