Framing a Sampler in a Frame with an Old, Wood Backing

Dear Donia,
How do I frame a sampler in a frame with an old, wood backing?

framed sampler

Q. Dear Donia,

A client has brought a sampler from 1822, and it appears to be in the original frame. I've framed many old samplers, so I’m using all conservation materials, but never have had an old original frame like this. Now I am ready to return it to the frame. The original back is a piece of wood. Will my acid-free backing be enough to protect it if I put the wood back on? Or should I just discard the wood piece? Is there a proper way to handle this? Or should I just ask the client if she wants the wood returned to the frame? Thanks, Barbara

A. Dear Barbara,

What to do with old, wood backings from frames is a great question. These wood backings have caused a lot of damage to framed items over the years due to the acids and other volatile organic compounds found in the wood itself. In an ideal world we would not replace the backing but there are times that it may be necessary, such as in the case of labels or other documentary evidence. In this case, you would want to place a vapor barrier between the wood and the piece itself. The best vapor barrier you can use is a product called Marvel Seal. It is a true vapor barrier and will block all volatiles that come out of the wood. Of course, you would want to seal the rabbet of the frame as well to give the highest level of protection. If you can't get Marvel Seal, polyester sheeting or acid-free, lignin-free, buffered paper will block a lot but not all of the volatiles. There are options out there that run the gamut of costs but also the the level of protection so you will need to make the decision on a case-by-case basis.