Tapestrytastic!

A team of nine volunteers assisted by the Conservation Team spent two weeks at the beginning of November carrying out some essential preliminary conservation work to three of the five 17th century Flemish tapestries from the Spangled Bedroom. Representing stories from Ovid, they came to Knole at the end of the 17th century from Whitehall Palace. Therefore, they are highly significant, but centuries of hanging in the Spangled Bedroom have taken their toll, and these tapestries are now one of our highest priorities for conservation.

The tapestries show signs of substantial wear and tear and light damage. They are extremely brittle to touch and encrusted with dirt. To ensure their survival they require full conservation treatment which will include surface cleaning, washing and re-lining.  To be washed they are being sent off to the De Wit tapestry conservation studio in Belgium.

The work we were to carry out before going to Belgium was to remove the existing linings, vacuum clean the front and back of each tapestry and document the tapestry, including taking thread samples, recording damage and earlier repairs. Thankfully we weren’t going it alone. For the first day we were instructed by Ksynia Marko (NT Textile Conservation Advisor) and Rachel Langley (Senior Conservator) from the NT Textile Conservation Studio.

Ksynia demonstrates how to do a warp and weft count.

Ksynia demonstrates how to do a warp and weft count, this is part of the documentation of the tapestry.

Using a needle you count the amount of warp and weft per centimetre.

Using a needle to count the amount of warp and weft per centimetre.

The tapestries are very vulnerable to further damage and have already torn in many places where the textile fibres have deteriorated. To prevent further tearing during transport and the wet cleaning process Rachel showed the team how to sew in holding stitches.

A polyester cream thread was used for the holding stitches. The stitches are quite big and vary where they are sewn in depending on the path of the damage.

The smallest tapestry laid out before having its lining removed.

The smallest tapestry laid out before having its lining removed.

Sue documents the lining, measuring the components of the tapestry hanging mechanism.

Sue documents the lining, measuring the components of the tapestry hanging mechanism.

Val uses a scaple to cut the through the stitching attaching the lining to the tapestry.

Val uses a scalpel to cut the through the stitching attaching the lining to the tapestry.

Alexandra cuts through the stitching securing the folded galloon edge (the blue border).

The reverse of the tapestry is vacummed once the lining is removed.

The reverse of the tapestry is vacuumed once the lining is removed.

The front of the tapestry is vacummed as we roll it.

The front of the tapestry is vacuumed as we roll it.

The tapestries are stored on a roller. We unroll one end, work on it, and then carefully roll it to another roller.

The tapestries are stored on a roller. We unroll one end a section at a time, work on it, and then carefully roll it to another roller.

The process of wet cleaning the tapestries was patented by the De Wit in 1991. The method involves lying the textile flat on a suction table. The suction applied to the fabric is constant and uninterrupted and keeps the tapestry in this position until cleaning and drying has been completed. A cloud of steam, to which a very small proportion of detergent has been added, is produced above the entire fabric and is sucked through it.

The wet cleaning in action. Image from De Wit website

The wet cleaning in action. Image from De Wit website

Diagram from the De Wit website showing the wet cleaning process.

Diagram from the De Wit website showing the wet cleaning process.

 Thanks to our volunteers, Alexandra, Alice, Andra, Bekki, Jo, Lolly, Sue, Val and Vicky for all your hard work.

Alex, Emily, Lucy, Melinda, Sarah and Zena.

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