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How to Create a Tombstone Rubbing

By Courtney Henderson

Old gravestones are works of art, and they contain lots of family history information. You can preserve that history by making a tombstone rubbing of a relative’s grave.

You should only attempt a rubbing on a sturdy gravestone—don’t try a loose or crumbling one, because the process can further damage the stone. Be sure to ask the caretaker for permission first. (In some places with really, really old graves, such as Massachusetts, tombstone rubbings aren’t allowed.)

What you need:

  • several yards of nonfusible cutaway fabric interfacing (rub it firmly between your fingers—if it pills, it’s not the right stuff) or a roll of butcher paper
  • masking tape
  • tombstone rubbing wax or black jumbo crayon with the paper peeled off
  • scissors
  • picture frame or wooden frame
  • a helper

Instructions:

1. Cut a piece of interfacing or butcher paper large enough to wrap around the tombstone front.

2. Tape it in place to the back of the stone, then have your helper hold it taut.

3. Rub the broad side of the crayon or the rubbing wax over the fabric and watch the image appear. Remind your helper to hold on tightly! If the fabric shifts, the image will become distorted.

4. If you used interfacing, you’ll need a parent’s help with this step: At home, ask your mom or dad to “set” the crayon or wax into the fabric with an iron. Place the rubbing face up on an ironing board and lay an old towel on top to keep the wax from transferring to the iron.

5. Cut away any excess fabric or paper, and put your rubbing in a frame to hang on the wall.

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