Family Archivist: Framing Your Heirlooms

By Sunny McClellan Morton Premium
When you’re framing an heirloom, your glass, matting and framing methods should all be archival. Monica Rattay, master framer and director of custom framing for Michaels <>, gives us some pointers.

Q. What are my options for archival glass?
A. Use conservation glass with UV protection so your images won’t fade or discolor. Michaels stores also carry Conservation Masterpiece glass, which has an antireflective glaze. Plexiglas is a lightweight option that doesn’t break—that’s great for kids’ rooms or fragile originals.

Q. What matting should I use?
A. Use acid-free, buffered mat boards made from cotton rag. Don’t use paper mats made of regular wood pulp—they carry acids that can yellow and damage your item.

Q. What about sealing off the framed piece?
A. Instead of tape, use preservation corners to hold a piece in place, or mounting strips for larger pieces. Archival
backing board gives you more acid-free protection; use acid-free paper for a backing or dust cover. Never let tape touch your original. Acid-free tape is technically safe but can still damage your original. Never use duct tape, masking tape or Scotch tape: The residue will stain and discolor surfaces.

Q. What about the framing process?
A. Glass should never come in contact with your original because glass can trap moisture—the framed piece needs room to breathe. Use a mat or spacers to create a ¼-inch gap between the piece and the glass. With wood frames, use aluminum barrier tape on the inside of the frame to keep the wood’s acid away from the original. If you need to mount something 3-D, hand-stitch it into place with fishing line.

Q. How would you frame artwork or needlework?
A. You shouldn’t put matting over canvas; just use a spacer to separate the frame from the original. If there’s smoking in your house, consider putting glass over canvas. Leave a little extra room for surfaces with raised elements, such as needlework, by adding spacers.

Q. How can I tell if my piece was framed properly?
A. Take a peek inside. If you see cardboard or chipboard, take it right away to a framer. Those acidic boards will yellow your picture quickly. Look at the mats: The beveled edge should be white. If it’s yellow, that’s not gold—it’s acid!

Q. Should I unframe something myself?

A. When removing an original from behind glass yourself, you risk taking off some of the surface. Sometimes the glass breaks when you take apart the frame, which can hurt you or your heirloom. Professional framers can safely handle this material—let them do it.
Resource Roundup
Use these archival resources for completing the projects described here.
Custom cut mats, $11.89 and up
Gaylord, (800) 962-9580, <>

Sectional frame kits, $4.99 and up
Michaels, (800) 642-4235, <>

Picture Placer picture hanging tool, $9.95
Strobel Marketing, <>

Canvas photo art prints, $15 per square foot
FedEx Office, (800) 663-3339, <>
Archival Action: Making Copies
Time: 60 minutes +
Cost: About $7.50 per square foot
Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could enjoy Grandpa James’ watercolor paintings? Create digital reproductions of oversize and odd-size heirloom photographs, art and needlework with these instructions from Michaels Custom Framing, FedEx Office and PosterSize-It <>:

1. If the original work is in a frame, have a professional framer remove it, especially if the piece is old or it’s in poor condition.
2. Take your original to a copy center with a large scanner (call ahead to check the size). Flatbed scanners are best for delicate originals, but they often can handle images only up to 11×17. Roll-feed scanners can work for larger originals, but this isn’t an option for fragile, dimensional or thick items.

If your original is too large for a flatbed scanner, send it to a service such as ScanDigital <>, which can scan your original in sections and digitally stitch the sections into a seamless image. Then print that file at a copy center or upload it to

PosterSize-It for printing.
3. Scan the item at a high resolution (at least 300 dpi) and save it as an uncompressed TIFF file, if possible. You might save the file as a JPG too, as a backup.
4. Print a copy on archival paper, if available. FedEx Office (formerly Kinko’s) even offers printing on acid-free canvas. Print copies for loved ones, too, or e-mail them a copy of the file.
5. Create backups of the file by burning it onto a CD or uploading it to a photo storage website such as Flickr <>.
6. Frame your digitized heirloom and see if anyone notices it’s just a copy.
Heirloom ID: Splitting Heirs
Friendship album with hair weavings, 1843
This friendship book of hair weaving (originally owned by Helen Marion Adams of Fair Haven, Vt.) is typical of the friendship books in my museum. In the early 1800s, girls would tie pieces of hair from friends into knots and glue them with pieces of material or ribbon into scrapbooks. This kept the ends from showing and the hair from coming undone. Sometimes they used cute little braid patterns, and in many cases, they’d write the name next to the little braid.

Leila Cohoon » Leila’s Hair Museum <>

From the May 2010 Family Tree Magazine