How to put a cover on a 400 year old mattress, and other things!

As well as the usual visitor route clean, and some more floor waxing, this week we found some time to go up to the store-room.  There is a huge backlog of work to be done in the store, mostly condition checking objects and re-packaging them to make them more accessible.  This work is currently hindered by a lack of space in the store.  A large area is taken up by one of the mattresses belonging to the James II Bed (now partially dismantle and being conserved at NT textile studio).

James II Bed mattress. About the size of a modern large double, but twice the height…and full of feathers! The tear can just be seen in the middle along the top.

To create a suitable work space the mattress needs to go back to the Venetian Ambassadors Bedroom where the remainder of the bed is.  This you may assume would be an easy task.  Think again! The original mattress cover has deteriorated quite badly and there is a large tear in the middle, any movement of the mattress causes feathers to come flying out.  There was no way the mattress could be moved from the table, let alone down 3 flights of stairs, and across 2 courtyards, up the Great Stairs and through the 3 show rooms.

Entrance end of our store room in need of reorganisation to create a suitable work area.

Following the advise from our textile conservator it was decided that a new outer cover should be made for the mattress that would contain the feathers.  The original cover is too fragile around the tear to sew it up, so this was the next best option.  Our fabulous sewing volunteer Kristine made 2 covers for us.  One to be the new outer cover, and a second cover to transport the mattress.  This Wednesday we finally had enough time and people to get the new covers on.

Lucy, Sarah and our volunteer Tom nearly have the new outer cover on.

The mattress took a bit of persuasive handling and some brilliant team work but we succeeded!  Now we just need another free morning with enough people, (and no rain) to get it over to the show rooms.  Then we can reorganise the work tables in the store-room and get the object condition checking under way.

Its on! Tom Velcro’s up the seam.

Wednesday continued to be a busy day as Sarah and Tom went in to another store, our temporary store during the building work in the Spangled Dressing Room.  We are carrying out weekly inspections of the paintings and upholstered furniture to check for any pest insect activity or active mould growth.  So we have ongoing monitoring we are using pest insect traps and one of our temperature and relative humidity sensors too.

Tom, an MA student studying preventive conservation, inspecting the upholstery of a stool from the Spangled Bedroom.

Unfortunately we think that some of the mould on a couple of the paintings has got worse since the room has become a store.  Due to the dust protection that has been installed it has created a sealed room with much less air circulation.  Until the room was sealed and contents put in we were unsure exactly what the environmental conditions would become. The many weeks of wet weather have not helped as the relative humidity has been much higher for longer than usual at this time of year.

This painting already had quite an extensive covering of mould, but it has got worse since being in store.

Hopefully we’ll be installing a fan, and / or a dehumidifier in to the store-room to maintain the relative humidity below 65% to stop the mould developing.  This will depend on whether or not our electricians can get a power supply to the room.  One of our biggest problems in looking after the show rooms and collection is the lack of power sockets and power supply.  We use what seems like miles of extension leads just to vacuüm the visitor route every day.

During Friday’s ‘Meet the Conservation Team’ event we vacuüm cleaned the upholstery of two stools from the Ballroom.  They were last cleaned three years ago, and each stool took about half an hour each to clean.  We used our adjustable suction setting vacuums with soft brush nozzle ends.

Stool from the Ballroom, the upholstery was due to be vacuumed cleaned, having last been cleaned in 2009.

After each textile is cleaned we empty the contents of the vacuüm bag so we can analyse the contents, compare it to the last clean and see the difference in the amount of dust removed.  We also check for any fibres of the textile, this will tell us that either the suction of the vacuüm was set to high, or the textile is deteriorating.

Inside the vacuüm bag.

Emptying the contents to out in a clear plastic bag for analysis.

Job done for another three years! Just four more stools from the Ballroom to clean now.

Interpretation demonstrating the variable suction settings of our vacuums.

Lucy, Melinda, Emily and Sarah.

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