Don’t Get Framed By Your Framer

By Anita Spitzhoff

This article first appeared in the NAN newsletter in summer 1990.

You have worked for weeks to complete your latest needlework masterpiece, and finally – it is finished! You decide to have the piece framed and you can hardly wait to get to your local framer’s shop to pick out a moulding and other necessary touches to aid in making your piece look ‘perfect”. But …WAIT A MINUTE!

Do you REALLY know what happens to your piece after the framer takes it to his back room to be framed?

Several years ago, I became interested in learning about the proper procedures for framing art and needlework so I enrolled in a framing school. I learned what SHOULD happen vs. what WAS happening in some of the local ‘professional’ framer’s back rooms. After finishing the school and becoming a framer myself, I decided to take apart a few of the needlework pieces that I had taken to local framers in years past. Needless to say, I felt like crying. My pieces had been framed…and so had I! The professional framer who promised to take such good care of my needlework had glued and stapled my prized possessions onto old greasy leftover cardboard that he had stuck away in the back room of his shop. Not one item that was touching the needlework was acid-free (used in conservation mounting procedures), nor was the procedure that he had used reversible. It would be impossible to save these pieces, but I certainly had learned a good lesson.

Some time ago, a popular ad stated that, ‘It’s what’s up FRONT that counts’. The average consumer checks only to see if the framed piece ‘looks” good. However, there is one other important point you must remember: ‘Looks can be deceiving!’ In framing, it is not only what’s up front that counts but it is also what’s inside that counts! This point is especially true if the article to be framed has personal and/or monetary value and you want the piece to be in good condition for years to come.

Prior to having your piece framed, you should:

  • Consider the quality and value of the piece. Is it an heirloom, antique, special keepsake, or a piece that will increase in value over time? If so, you will need to have it ‘conservation framed’.
  • Decide on the level of conservation that you wish to use and/or decide on the level of conservation that you can afford to use. A knowledgeable framer can give you several levels of conservation. Obviously, the higher the level of conservation used, the more expensive the framing job.
  • Ask questions of your framer. Have him ‘detail’ his method of mounting and framing. Ask to see an example of his work ‘in progress”. Ask him to define framing terminology that you may not be familiar with as he talks to you. Make sure you understand now he plans to frame your piece from start to finish.
  • Know how the framer ‘conservation frames’ his work. For every framer, there is a different opinion on how to conservation frame an article. The best rule to remember is that EVERYTHING that touches the piece of art or needlework should be acid-free.

Below is a list of materials or terms that are commonly used in everyday framing jobs. Next to the major headings, I have listed most of the common items relating to that heading and how it figures into the conservation method of framing.


Can be made of metal, plastic, or a variety of woods. Conservation tip: Seal the rabbet (underneath side of wood frame) with polyurethane or cover with strips of rag mat to help seal off acids that are emitted from the unfinished area of the wood moulding.


Single strength provides the clearest view of your art for the lowest price.

Non-glare glass mutes the colors of the piece but prevents glare from reflecting into viewer’s eyes.

UV glass is the most expensive glass product, but it protects from ultraviolet rays that quickly deteriorate art. Used in conservation and in museums over highly prized pieces. It is optically coated and has a rainbow effect from some angles of viewing. Three times the cost of regular glass.


Regular mats have beige inner core and are NOT acid-free.

Regular acid-free with color top, rag, linen or fabrics, filets, and black or tri-color cores. Acid-free with color top has a pure white inner core and IS acid-free. These mats tend to resist fading better than regular mats.

Rag mats come in a variety of plies, from 2 to 8 plies, are made of cotton rag, and ARE acid-free. Available in white, cream, and off-white. A 2-ply rag is a good underliner for a regular mat or an inner core between the back of the art and the final backing board in the frame.

Linen or fabric cover regular mats and are NOT acid-free.

Filet is a metallic thin paper mat or a wood accent and is NOT acid-free. There are newer plastic filets made like their wood counterparts. They are not advertised to be acid-free.

Black or tri-color core mats add a decorative touch to the bevel of the mat, but ALL ARE NOT acid-free.

Mounting Board

4 Ply rag x 2, 1/4′ foam core (regular and acid-free), 3/8′ foam core (regular and acid-free).

4-Ply rag (2 pieces cut the same size, each using opposite grains of the paper, and then mounted together with ATG tape is suggested for most needlework.) This is considered acid-free.

Regular foam core is a rigid piece of foam with regular slick finish white paper mounted on both sides of the foam. This is NOT acid-free. Often used as the final backing board or ‘filler’ in the frame.

Acid-free foam core is a rigid piece of foam with acid-free paper mounted on both sides of the foam. I do NOT consider this to be a true acid-free mounting board as some studies suggest that the foam breaks down with age and emits gases.

Add stretcher strips of pre-washed cotton muslin along the sides of the original piece following the grain of the fabric when additional area is needed to lace the piece to the mounting board.

For the best in conservation for mounting, use only rag mats. The remainder are to be used at the customer’s discretion.


This product is full of glue and is usually reprocessed scrap paper – content unknown! NOT acid-free. Should not be used unless you are truly concerned with cost.


Generally, are not acid-free, and much care should be given when using them. Should be avoided by those interested in conservation unless they are specifically labeled for use in conservation processes. Tapes must be used in some areas of framing and are generally acceptable as long as they do not touch the item to be framed.

Dry Mount

The act of mounting an art object onto a mounting board by heat, pressure and a heat-sensitive tissue that becomes a glue under the heating process. To be avoided by those who wish to preserve art Normally, this is considered an irreversible process and will damage needlework


The framing industry is changing quickly due to the demands of the customer. More and more products of acid-free/conservation quality are being made for use in framing and some of the notations above may be obsolete by the date of this publication. Check with your framer or have him contact the manufacturer directly if questions should arise regarding the product in question. Also, methods used in framing today may be out of use tomorrow. Be sure to work with a framer who ‘keeps up’ with what is happening in the framing world, especially in the area of conservation.