Following the removal of the two curtains from the proper left side of the bed back in October last year (Phase 1), (view the blog about that here), the curtains went to the National Trust Textile Studio. Now read what was discovered as the curtains were removed and what happened next, a report from our conservators:
To facilitate removal the proper left and outer foot valance also had to be removed. This revealed alterations to the foot posts which appear to have been cut down to allow the bed to fit into the room, but most importantly the foot post had dramatically bowed outwards. This observation, in tandem with the previous dislocation of the proper right cornice, would seem to confirm the suspicion that pressure was being exerted onto the bed structure from the ceiling above. This has triggered further investigation into the ceiling structure. No further removal of textile elements will be undertaken until more is known.
It also became evident that the head and foot curtains had been swapped around in the past. It was decided that rather than treat one curtain, a pair should be examined together in order to cover all possible issues in terms of conservation treatment.
Phase 2 – Examination, photography, documentation and research
It is important to become familiar with the object before embarking on treatment and the team has taken time to think through the various processes, weighing up what can and cannot be done, and revising treatment options and costs. Professional photography before conservation will allow comparison after treatment has been completed.
Detailed documentation of the make up of each curtain, the materials, fabrics and stitching patterns found will mean that their original appearance is becoming better understood.
Careful examination is revealing the complexity of the structure of the curtains which, in conjunction with research on their history before they came into the possession of the Sackville family, may help provide a clearer understanding of their original use.
Research has been undertaken into the removal of the animal based adhesive which had been used in a previous repair attempt to hold areas of applied decoration in place on the silk satin and which is now discoloured. This is on going. Several small pieces of silk satin are in store at Knole and these will be used to carry out initial tests. Wet cleaning is now being considered for both the figured silk linings and the embroidered silk satin, where the dust has become ingrained into the fabric.
Phase 3 – Deconstruction
Coarse red net encases both curtains and work has started on unpicking this and the stitch repairs which are worked through all layers. The linings are extremely fragile and very rare early damask and have been dated to between 1585-1610. The plan is to remove the linings, wet clean them and mount them onto a support fabric whilst further tests are undertaken on the silk satin.
Alex, Emily, Lucy, Melinda, Sarah and Zena