How to Frame Textiles: The "Floating Island" Method

These instructions assume you have some knowledge of picture frame making and framing in general. It's an exacting skill, but with the right tools and a good teacher, the basics can be learned in a short time.

I wished I had photographed my process during the workshop, because I've managed to make it sound so much more complicated than it really is. I hope you are able to get some kind of an idea.


* A piece of textile to frame

* Foam board for backing the textile
* A piece of mount board smaller than the foam board above; the color doesn't matter for piece
* Tapestry T Pins; there are many sites that sell these, but this is one site I found with different size pins.
* Conservation tape

* Mounting board
* Foam board the same size as the mounting board, plus some skinny strips or plastic strips
* Frame and glass, conservation tape, double sided tape, PVC glue, saw tooth or D-rings or triangle hangers, and cord

* Craft knife, scissors, cutting board, straight edge, something with a right angle
* In addition, if you are making the frame yourself: mitre and saw or a frame guillotine, joiner-underpinner, Fleximater or Multimaster point driver, glass cutter (Most if not all of these should be accessible in a good workshop/class.)

* In order to make the textile appear as if it is floating, a deep frame is desirable.


1) Decide the shape and the size of the area of the textile you wish to show, then cut a piece of foam board slightly smaller than what you decided.

My needlepoint piece was not exactly a rectangle, so I placed the piece on top of a foam board, punched holes in the four corners of the design with a T pin, and drew lines connecting these holes. In the illustrations below, I'm showing you a regular rectangle foam board pinned with a irregular piece of textile.

2) Press the textile if appropriate. Flatten and stretch the piece over the cut foam board, and secure with a T pin in the center of one side of the board, followed by a second pin in the center of the opposite side. The third pin goes in the center of a third side; the fourth pin in the center of its opposite side. In other words, place pins in the same way you would tighten a drum. Stick the fifth pink on the first side, the sixth in the opposite side, and so on, until all sides are secured and the textile stretched evenly.(An alternative is to stitch the back of the fabric instead of using pins; this is more time consuming but no pins or stitches will be visible in the final display.)

3) Fold the corners into a square (?). (Teacher Lance said "hospital tucks" but we use fitted sheets!!)

4) Tape the turned part of the fabric to the back of the foam board with conservation tape. (Yellow strips below.)

5) Cut a piece of mounting board a tad smaller than the area of the foam board showing in the back. (The green shape.) Depending on the thickness of your fabric, you may wish to cut two pieces of mounting board, or a piece of foam board instead. This is to give the whole piece an even thickness, so the color or the texture of the mounting board is inconsequential.

6) Use double-sided tape and PVA glue to secure the mounting board to the back of the foam board and conservation tape. Place a weight on top if necessary. 7) If you are using a ready-made frame, measure and cut a piece of foam board and an appropriate colored/textured mounting board to go in the frame; they are usually the same as the glass. If you are making your frame, decide on the size and shape of the foam and mounting boards and cut accordingly. There is no need to, but you can secure the mounting board to the foam board.

8) Secure the textile-on-foam-board, textile side up, onto the cut mounting board with double-sided tape and PVA. Apply weight if necessary.

9) Decide how far the textile should be off set from the glass. Cut enough strips of foam board in that width to go all around the inside of the frame. (See pink below.) If your frame or mat is dark, you may wish to use a black foam board; there are clear plastic sticks for this purpose available from frame supply shops and possibly from craft or model supply shops. Personally I can also see using mounting boards, but you're best to ask a professional's opinion.

10) Assemble frame. Fit the foam board strips, sideways so the papered side is shown, all the way around the inside of the frame; use PVA to secure to the inside of frame. Sit the textile/mounting board/foam board piece on top of the foam strips. Secure the foam board to the frame with a point driver. Affix a setup of your choice to hang the frame.

If I were to cut the completed picture frame in half, the cross section would look something like this: The lighting is hideous today, but here are a few more pictures of my frame.

(Ooops, clean laundry in the corner. Thank you for putting up with my wordiness.)

(And the name, "Floating Island", I just made it up. There's probably a correct term somewhere...)

Halcyon Yarns has T-pins, 1.75 inches long, in a box of 35.


Meg said...

Using sewing pins or map pins with plastic balls at one end would make a Christmassy cheerful display!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Meg - good information and a lovely name for the effect.
Where do you get the conservation tape?

Meg said...

Judy, I think if you want just a little bit to try, picture frame/art supply shops or your friendly picture framer may be able to get you some - they are not cheap, though.

If you want to do this seriously, perhaps on-line shops (http://www.google.co.nz/search?hl=en&client=firefox-a&rlz=1R1GGGL_en___NZ357&hs=Stw&q=picture+frame+supply%2C+conservation+tape%2C+australia&btnG=Search&meta=&aq=f&oq=) and maybe even places in the US and UK may have better deals.

The ones we used were white - I think it's acid free paper with acid free glue, whatever they may be.

Dianne said...

Would the foam board not bow on larger pieces?
Love this voluptuous bottom.

Meg said...

Well, it appears foam board is now the standard for the final backing for framing, Dianne. I don't know if the foam boards used here are any different from "other" foam boards I've bought which have bowed. I wondered if adhering to frame moulding or mount board (mats) keep them straight?

It is, of course, a Jennifer Pudney design. I love her stuff.

Meg said...

By the way, we used the foams sandwiched between paper with no adhesives on the paper. I wonder if the paper keeps them straight, Dianne.

Dianne said...

Hmmm I was thinking of just lacing a piece onto foam and not framing. Adhering to another board would certainly help.
Was the paper acid free? Was that why it was used?
Seems framing is a science all on its own.

Meg said...

I would assume so, since it was part of the picture framing "kit". The conservation tape certainly was, and I assume so was the mat - the mount board. The PVA was the same one that was used in the book binding class, I'm pretty sure.

Sooo... Everything between the glass and the foam board was acid free, except, I have no idea about the needle point canvas or yarns!

Lynn Majidimehr said...

Thank you for describing the framing instructions, I really love the idea of the needlework floating in the frame, instead of trying to fit a mat up to the edge.

Meg said...

Pleasure, Lynn. I bet we all have lots of sample and swatch pieces that can be nicely displayed this way, too.

Cally said...

Well, well, well! I was googling for instructions on mounting textiles in box frames and look who is on the first page of hits? What excellent instructions they are too.

I am trying to work out how to display my Theo Moorman samplers and I reckon that this is the approach I want, so on Sunday I tried it with a leftover piece to see whether I was capable of doing it neatly enough - answer: more or less, which is positive enough for me to continue! However, I can't make up my mind about the pins. I liked using the T pins as I have always been rubbish at lacing a textile over a board, and this allows me not to do that. But I'd be interested in your opinion of the aesthetics of pins as I can't decide whether I like them or not...

On the plus side, I am presenting these pieces as "samplers" and the pins fit with that thinking. On the minus side, my mother will give me grief over them. That's not a deterrent in itself, but I will need a robust defence! I am not actually going to make frames myself as that is beyond me, but am planning to purchase box frames of a suitable size... and the visibility of the pins will also be affected by the width/depth of the frame, which is still undetermined.

So... Are you happy with the visible pins? Do you feel that they add some quality of their own, or do you think of them just as practical tools doing the job? Am I taking this far too seriously?

Meg said...

Oh, LOL, glad to be of service, finally, Cally.

The pins. Personally, I'm slightly on the side of no. It makes it rustic and homey, so it would definitely suit that kind of item/purpose. For me, a tiny, 'incomplete' sample or embroidery, e.g., inside a more "country" looking frame would suit, in spite of the shininess of the pins. Think of a cute display of laundry line with tiny wooden pegs attached.

As you say if they are for samplers, that's a difficult call. I think if you want to shout out, "These are just for fun and I'm not serious," then this works. No, I don't think it adds to a sophisticated finished piece; yes, I think it most definitely adds a certain quality, like those dead butterflies and moths displays; yes, one definitely gets used to it.

The most definite advantage for me was, as you say, not having to lace, and I tend to pull the lacing so tight it distorts the textile sometimes. And with the pin, you can always do-over the tension.

If I were to do this for an exhibition and it is not a homey piece, the first thing I would consider is to take a bit of magic marker and color the tops of the T pins to a color that doesn't stand out so much against the cloth, even if the luster is different. I don't think the colors need to match exactly, but just to make it less visible.

On the other hand, I would most definitely consider using this method if I experiment with things like eco-dye and especially artificially aging cloth to make them look like museum pieces. Something about the depth of the frame, (you probably want the surface of the textile at least halfway between the glass and the background matt,) glass and the pins adds the aura of the old glass cases and history/natural history museums. Which, in a different context, can be super attractive.

I would consider this method, in combination with a rustic-looking frame, for heirloom pieces.

By the way, Cally, as regards the frames, it is super easy (and fun) to modify them, too, with a bit of paint stripper/sandpaper and paint, so I'd look for the correct depth, size and profile in the first instance. I trust you have, or have access to, a book or two on painted effects?

Do show us when you're ready, please!!!!!

Meg said...

I think you can see that on my needlepoint piece, the T pins went into the un-needle-pointed (???!!!) white canvas part. It's silver on white. Depending on what the sizes of your sampler/s and board/s are, this would come into play.

My pulled my canvas too tightly at first, but needed to finish the job in the workshop. If I had time, after pinning, I might have rested it with perhaps a book on top for a day or two to see if the tension was right.

Suffice it to say, it looks different from the traditional way of framing textiles.

Meg said...

OR, Cally, as fashions recycle, it could be made to look super clinical and modern, metal frame and such.

Cally said...

Sounds as though your doubts are similar to mine... I was thinking that if I pinned first, as if that really were going to be the end finish, and then did the lacing as gently as possible before removing the pins, I might manage to achieve it without distorting the whole thing. Might. But then again, there's the "pinned sample" look, which could be good...

Part of the problem is that all my designs are squares and rectangles, so the least thing out of line looks dreadful! I do such ridiculous things to myself, sometimes.

That's a good tip about the depth of frame, thanks. I am a bit worried that the subtler patterns in the ground cloth will be lost behind glass, but I really won't know until I try.

I'm reminded of a recent exhibition by Jeanette Sendler, a local textile artist, which was based around dressmaking and pattern cutting. It was a beautiful exhibition, consising mainly of simple calico shapes but very reflective of the experience of sewing and of learning to sew. Very much a place for pins.

Procrastinating. Definitely.

Meg said...

Can't remember if I mentioned in my own post, (I'm not biased when it comes to gazing, not reading unless necessary!) but the designer of this series of needle point work never makes them completely square/rectangular. I remember discussing it with Lance the teacher, because he had seen so many pieces his students had needle-pointed (!!!?????) that were crooked. So we had to cut the backing board carefully - in my case I matched the crocked rectangle. And he thought the pins would be so much quicker for me. I had three goes at it, so it's not easy making it look instant, but one could most definitely be creative with the look.

Your Moorman is fine and square, so I'd be interested to know now only what you decide in the end, but what and how you sample different ways.

I've always wanted to do distressed, faux-heirloom/museum thing. Now I'm thinking of something along clinical specimen as well - you know, metal and metallic threads and glittery things... So CSI...

Best of luck, Cally. Perhaps you'll even invent a new way we can all borrow later!